The Moment of Goodness: The Art of Stickrust by Anna Cox

Like many of us, my interest in art goes past photography. In fact, in college I studied oil painting and still to this day paint on a regular basis. I guess you could say that painting is my first love and all of my other ventures stem from that love. When I stumbled upon Stickrust a couple weeks ago I was instantly moved and dug into his work. His work is guttural and raw and each one spoke to a soft part of me. As I moved through his feed, I was drawn to how open and friendly he was with all of the people who commented on his feed. When I approached him for an interview I had planned to play up the sharing side of his work to help it fit into We Are Juxt but I found out quickly that the creating and instagram are married within his process.  He wouldn’t do one without the other, so really, as far as mobile photography goes for Stickrust it is a tool, an enabler, and source of encouragement. – Anna

Stickrust: I really only started painting two years ago. My undergraduate degree was in art and illustration, but I stopped making any artwork for fifteen years. So really, I guess I took a fifteen year break.


A:Was it hard to come back or did you know exactly what you were going to do?

Stickrust:  Starting again was a total accident.

There wasn’t a plan that I was going to start. Truthfully, it was one of those moments in life where everything falls apart and changes. I was left asking myself, “What is left?” The answer was painting. It is hard to explain, I just knew it was time to start painting again.

A:I totally understand what you mean. I feel like art is very cyclical creatively and there are just times you slide into a new genre or medium because that is where you are supposed to be at the moment.

Stickrust: I hadn’t painted in so long that the beginning was really a process of remembering. My whole goal in the beginning was to get back to where I was fifteen years ago. Day after day, I practiced. I truly wasn’t planning on showing anyone.

The sharing on Instagram was a total accident. I thought instagram was just for people sharing photos of kids, food, and pets. I really just started posting because I was bored. Amazingly, sharing on instagram turned into this incredibly great thing.

A: I agree! I was blown away with the community on IG and other sharing sites once I got into it.

Stickrust:  I never have had an online experience that is as positive as IG. This was the first time I actually feel connected to people online. In the beginning, when a few people would “like” a painting I posted – it was so encouraging to me.

The pattern of how I work is quantity.

In one sitting I will make 5-7 paintings. After a few months on IG, I began posting the images live as I was making them. The instant feedback I received was simply amazing for me. It is such a rush to have people responding to a work I just finished. Having this open channel of communication has been especially motivating to create a habit of working, creating, and sharing.

In the truest sense, I am practicing. I am doing it and doing it and every so often something small changes within the process. There have been these waves of growth week after week over the past two years.

A:So we know you work by quantity, could you share your process with us if possible? I think that is what caught me in the beginning.

Stickrust:  The process itself is simple.

I have a piece of plexiglass and black acrylic ink. I put my hand in the ink and draw on the plexiglass and then transfer it to a piece of paper. All my work begins in this way as a monoprint. I cannot imagine doing it any other way.

I do not have a lot of control over how the end product looks. I like that. I want to be surprised. When everything is working as it should, it feels like the process is not entirely under my control. At the heart of it, for me, is the balance of control and uncontrolled expression.


Once I pull the paper off the plexiglass, I start deciding whether I like it. If I like it, I leave it as is. Other times I go back in and add color or small line work. I usually do this with my hands. But I also drag color on top using things like a clipboard. I also will use pastels for the small line work.

When I am not painting I am an acupuncturist and massage therapist I use my hands all day. The directness of using my hands when painting feels so natural to me. Brushes will too distant, like an abstraction. I like the pigments on my hands.

I mean really, if I had a superpower, I would want to pigments to come directly out of my hands.

A: So from what I gather your style is free flowing and gestural and changes from time to time. Do you have anything to add to that?

Stickrust:  I think the better ones are the ones that are more actualized, more “real”.

To me that “realness” is what is interesting. Not visual realness. Not a rendered realness. But a “real” quality of spirit. I want faces to hold a degree of spirit and light.

The faces I like best are hovering in a moment of transformation –  an internal moment of change, insight and power.

I really hope I capture that and that it comes across.

There are definitely bad days where I am just grumpy, and they look angry or sad but when it is working well within the strokes there is something bigger.


A: The day I found you I looked through a ton of your work and the one thing that struck me and seemed to be a reoccurring theme with your portraits is the exploding eyeball. Can you explain the symbolism behind that?

Stickrust:  To me, it really is a kind of spirit – a manifestation of personal power. I think about it as a light or a glowingness. The eyes in my paintings are an expression of power and wonder and change.

I am really interested in the moment when people see themselves in a bigger, more wonderful, more powerful way.

That moment, when it is happening is a difficult moment to embrace.

It can be hard and scary and painful. But that moment is also beautiful and full of power. I think that is the experience being expressed in the eyes… and really, in all of my work.

Peoples eyes are so super expressive. In Chinese medicine, there is this thing called “the shen”. It is the person’s spirit and emotional state. You can see it in the eyes and face. We all have this. We all have that light coming out.

A: Are you drawn to one thing more than other?

Stickrust: The faces are the main thing and then everything else has grown out of that. I did flowers for a while and now the birds. I did an elephant recently. Now I am working on more four legged creatures. I feel like the faces will always be the foundation from which everything else builds.

A: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Stickrust: Truthfully, the work. The work is what is what inspires me.

Without sounding all Buddhist/meditative, if i can get out of the way of my brain… I feel like if i can just get out of the way, the work will create itself. That is why I work in quantity. If I make a bunch of images my brain gets bored and then the good ones happen.

What’s exciting to me is when I get done and I have no idea how I created the piece. There are four or five pieces that I don’t even know how I made it. I look at them I do not see my hand in them at all. Those are the ones that I am inspired by. That is what inspires me.

A:Tell me how instagram and sharing across sites has changed the way you work

Stickrust: Out of all the questions, this one is the most important to me to explain. This was never something I planned. There is no separation between sharing on IG and my artwork. It wasn’t like I was painting first and then I started sharing it. I started painting and sharing at the same time. The work was born on IG.

I wouldn’t be painting without the community I have on instagram. None of this work would exist. It is a symbiotic relationship. The sharing and my work are not separate. Posting is more like the DNA of the whole thing. I don’t think I would be painting the way I am or at all without instagram.

People have been so nice to me. They were the motivating fuel to the engine. I am incredibly grateful and thankful to anyone who has ever followed me. I never thought people would follow me and my work. It is such a gift. I really wish I could buy them all dinner.

I share everything, good or bad, on IG and let people follow my process of growth and change. I try not to be precious about the work. I try to show the warts, the growth, the dead ends, shifts, and changes.

A:Thats fantastic! I love the way you described the relationship between your work and IG. It is really interesting to see how one is dependant on the other. I don’t think I have come across an artist that shares in the way you do.


Stickrust:  The paintings evolved with my Instagram friends. Not just my paintings, my whole identity as an artist has grown because of the people encouraging me on Instagram.

I try to say it as often as I can. I am truly thankful to all the people who look at my work. For the longest time, I didn’t do anything. It is just astounding to me pay attention.

A: I think it is always astounding when people respond to something that means a lot to you. But it seems for you, that this goes hand in hand. You paint because they respond, and they respond because you paint.

Stickrust:  I don’t know that I have the right words… so much of the fuel for me working and painting has been the sharing on Instagram.

One of the aspects I hope that comes across is a bigger story about work and growth.

It isn’t like I woke up making these paintings. It was night after night. I am not magical, this is work. I do this, and I do this, and I do this. I try to show that part.

I try not to censor that process. I will post images I like and images I truly dislike. I do not only want to post the “good” ones. I post all of them.

The “bad” ones are the ones I learn from. I have posted images I hate and then if people respond positively I have to ask myself, “Ok. What am not seeing?” It is interesting. It gives me whispers of directions to explore.

That feedback is crazy amazing.

My life is entirely different because of the kindness of my IG friends. I am tremendously grateful.

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Anna Cox