Thursday, January 2, 2014

Painting with a Purpose: The Art of Michelle Streiff

by Stacey Larson

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Michelle Streiff, a St. Louis area artist whose artworks are featured in Art Saint Louis’ Pop-Up STL exhibition series along Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis. Her bold paintings all feature dogs—not stale portraits of dogs or cliché puppies wearing bows. Instead, she paints the story and spirit of the animals that have been rescued by Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Michelle has been volunteering at the shelter for 13 years, and the time spent with these animals has changed her reason to create art as well as what she desires to present in her pieces.

Michelle Streiff. Dante. 2012. Oil on Canvas, 40”x30”.

A resident of Wildwood, Missouri, a far-West suburb of St. Louis County, Michelle makes a 45 minute commute to the Stray Rescue shelter located in downtown St. Louis 2 to 3 days a week. One of her shifts begins at 7 a.m., meaning that she wakes up at 5:45 a.m. She walks the dogs and also has a position at the shelter reviewing new volunteer applications. Plenty of people volunteer at the shelter, but what the shelter really needs are homes for the strays. Some of the dogs have lived in the shelter for years, and some will live out the rest of their lives there, never to be adopted. So, after years of spending hours with the same dogs and coming to learn their stories, it is inevitable that the dogs would find a way into Michelle’s art.

Michelle Streiff. Bus Stop-Unchained. 2013. Oil on Canvas, 24”x36”.

In college, Streiff took oil painting for one semester, but it wasn’t until Stray Rescue was interested in a dog-themed mural for their new location that she picked up the paint brush again. And after that, she was pretty much hooked. She now takes painting courses at the St. Louis Community College Wildwood, and has repeated the courses over 10 times. Michelle is involved in the Fine Arts Club at the College, helping enable and promote fellow emerging artists by organizing their artworks to be shown in various locations in the area, from Starbucks to Wildwood City Hall. The class doesn’t become dull; the course creates a community for painters to utilize and flourish within, and the feedback from her classmates helps her style and skills evolve. The technique she utilizes to apply paint is constantly changing, from glazing her oil paints to applying them with a palette knife, and most recently using hand-drawn typography, incorporating text into the urban setting she creates around the canine focal point. She doesn't stray from using dogs as her subject matter because over time, the story of what she wants to show and tell about the dogs evolves, and each painting finds a greater way of relaying that message.

Michelle Streiff. Timberlake. 2012. Oil on Canvas, 40”x30”. This paintings was purchased through the Art Saint Louis Pop-Up STL exhibition series.

Michelle graduated from Southeast Missouri State with a degree in Graphic Design, and for many years worked in that field, and was once the Illustrator at News Channel 4 for their news stories. Today, Michelle spends her time painting the dogs working in oil paints. She uses the photographs that she takes of the dogs on their walks as visual reference and uses the hours of time spent with the dogs each week as a mental reference. When she paints her subjects, she strives to capture the spirit and energy that is unique to each pup. The end result is a compelling painting that tells the story of a dog who may have had a rough past, but is prepared for it’s bright future ahead.

Michelle Streiff. Oran. 2013. Oil & Paper on Canvas, 24”x36”.

Streiff’s paintings have a purpose, and I believe this sets her apart as an artist. She uses her talent and passion for painting to create lasting images that are able to promote the Stray Rescue shelter and raise awareness about the dire need for permanent, loving homes for the countless strays. Having her pieces displayed this Fall and Winter in Art Saint Louis’ Pop-Up STL art displays on Washington Avenue has proven to be an excellent breaking-out experience for her art. She has sold multiple pieces and taken commissions for her unique portraits. Michelle is gaining exposure in the community and benefiting the shelter, and ultimately helping the animals become adopted. She has found a niche between her two worlds, forming an admirable symbiotic relationship.

Michelle Streiff. Mr. Witherspoon. 2012. Oil on Canvas, 36”x24”. This painting was purchased through Art Saint Louis' Pop-Up STL exhibition series.

Streiff tells me that with two Jack Russell terriers, and two more dogs adopted into her family from Stray Rescue, her home is currently at maximum animal capacity and she is not able to adopt any more pups. But knowing that her paintings have the ability to change the course of a stray’s life in another way, is a very close second.

Michelle Streiff. Heparin. 2013. Oil on Canvas, 40”x30”.

You can view Michelle Streiff’s paintings through the end of January in three sites along Washington Avenue between Tucker and 15th Streets (situated on the South side of Washington) in Art Saint Louis’ Pop-Up STL exhibit program. The paintings are on display in the business windows and can be viewed from the sidewalk day or night.
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In addition to having her work featured in Art Saint Louis' Pop-Up STL exhibition series, Michelle's work has been featured in two exhibits in the Art Saint Louis Gallery: "Food, Glorious Food" (2012), a juried exhibit, and "Varsity Art XVII" (2013), an invitational exhibition where Michelle was one of two students with works representing St. Louis Community College Wildwood. ______________________________
Stacey Larson has been serving as a Fall 2013 Intern at Art Saint Louis. A graduate of Maryville University (May 2013), she holds a BFA in Studio Art with an emphasis in metals and ceramics. Her jewelry is sold online at her etsy site: www.etsy.com/shop/CastOutToSea

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