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Meet Sylvan Streightiff

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sylvan Streightiff.

Sylvan, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in San Diego, California. My parents encouraged a thirst for learning. They supported activities like learning musical instruments, competitive swimming, and community service efforts. I was diagnosed with Type-One-Diabetes at age eleven. Creating art and giving my time serving others became outlets for coping with my illness.

Type-One Diabetes propelled me to help others living with the same illness through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. As part of my service, I designed body injection site sheets for a local hospital. These sheets contained labeled diagrams on the bodies of Spongebob and Hello Kitty that brought a light-hearted and safe perspective for children when injecting themselves with insulin.

At California State University Long Beach (CSULB), I began to focus my artistic expression on oil painting. While pushing my art, CSULB has also provided opportunities to leave a positive impact. I’ve worked as an Arts Ambassador and Commissioner for Environmental Justice. These positions showed me how education, personal contribution, and a productive dialogue can contribute to solving societal issues. After graduating this spring, I’ll be attending an MFA program in the fall. I am looking forward to seeing where my passions for art and service will go.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
My mentors have expressed possible challenges to the subject matter in my paintings. Discussing religion is something that is not as widely accepted as other subjects in contemporary art. However, the most important thing for me is to be honest with my practice. Creating art fuels my curiosity and desire to understand the world around me. The formal challenges of depicting what I discover in a new and intentional way is what inspires my work. If I tailor my paintings for others, I lose a lot of what motivates me in art.

At this point, the largest challenge has been finding a balance between painting and my relationships with others. Creating art is something that can be consuming and isolating if I let it. Time in the studio often takes priority over social events. With this, I have learned that critical conversations contribute to my practice and to seek relationships which support my goals as an Artist.

We’d love to hear more about your art.
My paintings use both figurative and abstract language to question and critically analyze my personal belief system. Figures give the viewer something to connect to psychologically while the abstraction reflects my own emotions and thoughts. This dialogue between coherent physical forms and metaphysical expression are elements in how I understand my upbringing in the Lutheran Church. As my focus becomes more specific, painting serves as a tool for examining larger concepts.

During weekly services, I would sit and stare at a single stain glass window on our church ceiling. I began layering oil paint on canvas to mimic the luminance of stained glass. I continue to use oil paint as my primary medium because of its history with religious painting and how it can be manipulated inflexible but direct ways. Oil has a slower drying time than acrylic which allows me to reflect on conceptual and formal decisions during the painting process. The medium is also the most similar to human skin making it possible to address bodily forms or actions without directly depicting them.

My goal is not to convert the viewer but to create something that gets them thinking. The viewer does not need to understand my exact beliefs as long as my work sparks critical conversation. I have focused mainly on how differing interpretations of belief systems unfold and continue to be valuable ways of understanding our world. Moving forward, my work will be aimed towards challenging my personal beliefs.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Nothing, but if the opportunity came to reassure a younger version of myself I would pass along a few notes:

1. Boredom is valuable.

2. Balance is necessary.

3. Follow your questions.

4. You may never be fully satisfied with a painting and that is okay.

5. The only person you need to create work for is yourself.

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