Arts feature: Catching up with artist Stephanie Rond

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
[Photo by Rob Hardin]

Stephanie Rond has been planting. That's the short version.

That Rond's art elevates the discussion in the streets, in galleries and online is pretty much a foregone conclusion. She's always had something to say, and said it first with her art, allowing people to come around to the notion that there are issues to be contemplated — issues such as justice, gender, power and compassion.

The Columbus native has exhibited work — street art most definitely included — around the world, but she's also clearly a prophet with honor in her hometown. Her work is one of those things that defines where the city is and shapes where it is going.

And so we find her planting. At an elementary school in Dublin, in an alley in the Brewery District, in a Short North gallery, outside a North Campus restaurant. Rond is planting seeds of kindness, which, not coincidentally, is the title of her current solo exhibition at Sharon Weiss Gallery. But she's not doing it alone.

She's doing it with the help of some students at Eli Pinney Elementary School. Rond led a two-year program there that began with an exploration of kindness as a way to raise the students' self-confidence. Suffice to say, theirs wasn't the only confidence raised.

“I worked with a specific grade — they were in fourth and fifth, now they're in sixth — and we asked, ‘What does kindness look like, sound like, dance like,' as part of certain classes,” Rond said in an interview at Sharon Weiss Gallery. “I campaigned for kindness. The opportunity came as I was thinking about how I could campaign for something that I feel we need to focus on more.”

That focus carried over into the exhibition at Sharon Weiss Gallery, both thematically and physically. Rond incorporated parts of a closing project with the students into “Seeds of Kindness.” “We let them pick a message to pass on about what kindness means,” Rond said, “and they were pretty stoked to have their voices spread into this exhibition.”

Also helping with planting are Weiss, who was on board immediately with both Rond's concept and the technique she employed to realize the vision, and Rond's recurring “Ghost Girl” character, who is seen repeatedly in the exhibition in a particular pose.

“Since 2011 I've been toying with the idea of using photos in my artwork, but I'd never had the opportunity to do a whole exhibit with the idea, and I really didn't have an idea how to do it. So this is really an opportunity for me from Sharon,” Rond said. “I'm lucky Sharon was interested in my work while I was working at the school. It made sense for me to double up this message about kindness. If I'm on a campaign for kindness with kids, I'm on campaign for kindness for myself and for my community.”

“So the exhibit has Ghost Girl, who's really kind of Mound Girl here, essentially planting seeds of kindness wherever she goes,” Rond added, referring to a stenciled image of Ghost Girl and a Native American mound (originally from a piece Rond made with Roger Williams for a project on the Hilltop in 2012) placed in scenes the artist captured from around Columbus.

Weiss also opened her gallery to Rond's own S.Dot Gallery, a dollhouse Rond reimagined eight years ago as a tiny gallery for which she curates regular exhibitions by artists who want to make work on a (very) small scale. “We usually only show S.Dot online,” Rond said.

Threads from the exhibition turn up in unlikely places. A large work on the gallery wall features bubbles, an element that began in a 2016 project and has also found a home on a to-be-released can of a North High Brewing beer, “because I'm an artist and my life and my work are the same thing,” Rond explained.

The can is emblematic of a busy summer for Rond that also included new murals at Baba's (“Echoes of Kindness”) and Shadowbox Live (“Hero Mural”). The Shadowbox work pays tribute to the company's founder, Stev Guyer, who passed away earlier this year following a battle with cancer, and is a collaborative piece with Nick Stull and Gabe Guyer — yet more evidence that all this planting Rond is doing is not a solo effort. And Rond isn't taking it easy this fall, either, as she's prepping for an exhibition in Kathmandu, a project with Oakland Nursery and the third annual Columbus Open Studio and Stage, which she co-founded.

“Being busy means that I'm doing what I'm responsible for as a citizen, not just in Columbus but globally,” Rond said. “We think that art is this thing on the wall, but it's an experience, something we're in together.”