The painterly gestures of an unruly gardener

As a young person, Stefanie Leigh Kirby dreamed of being a professional dancer, but like so many youthful dreams of passionate pursuits, Stefanie found herself facing reality.

Stefanie worked hard to learn the intricacies of contemporary jazz, but a kindly, forthright dance instructor told her that she just didn’t have what a dancer required to warrant the arduous commitment. 

Fortunately her mother did recognize a creative spirit and encouraged Stefanie to journey down other avenues of personal expression, and that led back to a canvas that Stefanie has loved exploring since childhood.

The Unruly Garden, 60×82

After completing the Ottawa School of Art portfolio program, Kirby attended the prestigious Mount Allison University School of Fine Arts where she received her BFA in 1997, and the Hewson Philip Award for Best Drawing. She started in oils and eventually switched to acrylics because of concern for her family due to the fumes that would accumulate in her in-home studio.  The plastic quality of acrylics perplexed her at first, because “it doesn’t move, it doesn’t flow”, but Stefanie, the dancer at heart, soon discovered the tension and movement inherent in acrylic chemistry.

Regardless of the medium, the act and action of painting has become a channel for Kirby’s thoughts, emotions, and reflections on the human condition, something she explores in great depth as a nurse practitioner.

Stefanie loves to contemplate and practice her art when she is not providing care to her patients, and her studio process stands in stark contrast to the regimented environment of a medical office. “In my medical career, there’s a lot of structure and time management and I like to lose that when I’m painting, so letting go of that type of structure I find very freeing.”

That freedom and action is evident in every work displayed in her studio and around her home. Stefanie’s big, bold canvases begin with an inspirational thought that is quickly layered revealing or obscuring colours, marks, and brush strokes. Her process is methodical and fluid, deliberative and improvisatory like a dancer in motion.

“When I am involved in the act of painting I often do not look at the image I am creating”, she explains. “Instead I am engaged in the process, the colours, the expressive marks and the humbling physicality of painting.” It is an approach that guides the creative journey of each painting and allows the artwork to form its own identity. “There is a subtle interplay between conscious thought and turning off all the noise in my head. This is challenging and pushes boundaries…the hardest part is to not look, yet see the feeling and allow the paint to tell the story.”

Springs Awakening, 60 x70

“I don’t really like gardening” Stefanie admits, “I have this love/hate relationship with gardening, so I think in a way it’s kind of whimsical. I’m an unruly gardener and my approach to these paintings is an unruly and provocative and beautiful exploration of paint. I’m not fearful and I want it be a bit uncomfortable.” And yet flowers are her passionate subjects time and again. “I’m trying to push myself and not be bogged down. I want the feel of the organics and the actions of gardens to be the main focus.”  This is the abstract expressionist sensibility in Stefanie’s creative practice and a stylistic and technical tribute to the work of her artistic heroine Joan Mitchell, a noted member of the American abstract expressionist movement for much of the 20th century.

Stefanie Leigh Kirby’s canvases can be seen regularly at Galerie Côté Créations, 98 Richmond Road just west of Island Park. And, she’s thrilled to have been selected to show her artwork this September as part of a juried exhibition at The Other Art Fair in Los Angeles. 

To learn more about Stefanie and her artwork visit