Pia Stern thought she would go to law school after graduating from The University of California at Berkeley. Unsure of her major, she spent her junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence,the town in the south of France where Paul Cézanne lived and worked.There she took her first painting course and felt instantly at home with her instructors’ philosophical and visual perceptions of the world.
Returning to UC Berkeley as a senior, she enrolled in the art program. During these years, Pia was greatly influenced by several artists who were integral to the Bay Area Figurative Movement:Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, and Joan Brown, to name a few.But it was Elmer Bischoff , with whom she worked very closely, who had the greatest impact on Stern’s development.After completing her senior year and receiving her BA in art in 1975, Stern was admitted into the graduate art program at Berkeley and received her MA in 1977 and MFA in 1978.
Stern is primarily a process painter.Using oil paints and drawing materials in an intuitive manner, she rarely approaches her work with a preconceived idea.She may put down a quick gestural stroke, a dab of color, or a general shape, yet this is just a starting point for her. Like an archeologist, she approaches the canvas as if on a ‘dig’, adding and subtracting, waiting for the meaning of the piece to reveal itself through the mark making process.
Many of Stern’s works, although primarily abstract, incorporate symbols and imagery.Scratched into or added to the surface of the works are often images of ladders, crosses, animals, windows, waves or moons.Certainly her family background (Stern’s parents escaped Nazi Germany) has influenced greatly her subject matter - much of her work is existential in nature, appearing to deal with the tension between light and dark – both metaphorically and formally. Stern states, “I view painting as a disciplined activity akin to meditation or prayer.It is something that I must do on a regular basis so as to feel fully engaged with life on a spiritual level.The work depicts a kind of dialogue with myself -a process that reflects a search.Ultimately, I view my paintings as visual interpretations of psychological and philosophical dilemmas that confront me.”
After teaching painting at the University of Hawaii for ten years Pia Stern now lives and works in La Jolla CA.