Artist finds balance in contradictions

Artist finds balance in contradictions
Stephanie Bell May, an artist from Fairbanks Ranch, said she likes to be surprised by her work and lets it take the lead in how it turns out. Photo by Patty McCormac

RANCHO SANTA FE — Stephanie Bell May is drawn to the yin-and-yang of life. 

The ebbs-and-flows; the ups-and-downs. Those observations are reflected in her compelling artwork that explores those contrasts, which she calls “accidental encounters with magic.”

“Through painting, living and exploring, I have realized that I am perpetually attracted and captivated by the balance between contradictions and counterparts,” she said.

With that in mind, she lets her paintings lead the way in what they will turn out to be.

“I would rather it dictate to me, rather than stifling it with parameters with preconceived notions,” she said. “I don’t want to decide what it should look like. Each one has its own life. They really tell me when it’s going well and when it is time to stop and what to do with it.”

She said she keeps painting until something “unexpected” and “magical” happens.

“I think it happens to everyone in the arts, like music,” she said. “I’m sure tons of people want to write the perfect song and they have an idea, but it comes to them by accident. Some of the best things in life come unexpectedly with a little magic and you don’t know why or how. I am surprised every time and every step of the process. I want to see what magic may happen in every little layer.”

Many times in her work, she uses the forms of man and woman.

“I really like simplifying the human form to the most basic line, like a continuous line. I don’t know why I am drawn to that sort of thing, but I am very interested in the experimentation process that takes place with all the different textures and colors and all the materials and media I may use in my paintings,” she said.

May said she “hates to shove the subject matter on the viewer.”

“I want there to be nuances. I kind of like to hide it a little so the viewer can bring forth the importance of textures and colors,” she said.

She says she likes the subject matter to be subtle and for the viewer somewhat serendipitous.

“I don’t want it to look like it came from my hand. I want it to appear that it somehow appeared by itself,” she said.

She believes she was born an artist.

“Forever, as long as I have memory of myself, I remember being lost in art and in myself and in my mind. I remember first taking notice of it when I was 4 years old. My mom could take me anywhere and sit me down with watercolor paints and papers and I could be lost for hours,” she said.

Her mother was the first to see her talent.

Later, her teachers began to take notice. One of them submitted one of her paintings to a contest. She won. Her prize was having Hallmark putting the image on a greeting card. She said she never saw that particular card.

May went to Pepperdine University on an art scholarship where she was singled out with an award that named her as leading artist of her generation.

The award is not given out every year or every five years. It is bestowed sporadically. The last one bestowed on any artist before May’s was 10 years prior.

“It gave me confidence that maybe this was something I should really take notice of. I had always liked my art, but I hadn’t noticed anyone else could like it,” she said.

She earned her master’s degree in art at the Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City, her hometown.

“It is a very historically renowned school,” she said.

She said Diego Rivera trained there and the walls of the school are filled with his murals.

“It was like you were stuck in a time warp, but in a good way,” she said.

She was taught the same techniques Rivera and his visionary contemporaries were taught.

“You learn to mix your own paint,” she said. “Also, you don’t paint just to be painting. They made students paint for a cause like a political statement.”

She took her artwork commercial a few years ago when an interior decorator friend of hers began commissioning paintings from her for her clients.

“I’ve also been lucky enough to show them at many charity events,” she said. “I donate my paintings to some of the charities in the area.”

Her next show will be this summer at Pebble Beach.

“I feel like I just started,” she said. “I’m just now trying to promote my art.”

She has been married to Alberto for 15 years and they have two sons, ages 13 and 11. They make their home in Fairbanks Ranch and spend just about every weekend at the beach.

To learn more about Stephanie Bell May, visit



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