Stephanie Maximovich thought she knew what she wanted to do with her life, but after hitting a brick wall, frustrated by her choices, she came to the University in 2014 where she said she found her true calling.

“When you want to be an artist, there’s this pressure to find a way to be successful, but there’s no clear path,” Maximovich. “I knew I had to support myself, and with pressure from my parents I went into 3D modeling for video games.”

Maximovich said she spent a year in Los Angeles studying 3D modeling at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in hopes of becoming a video game designer, having logged countless hours on artistically designed RPGs such as "The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim."

She said she thought she was doing exactly what she had always wanted, until she realized she had no connection to the art behind the screen.

“I got out there and found how technical it really is,” Maximovich said. “There’s a real loss of creativity, and you really need to babysit this program and continually troubleshoot it. You lose so much of the organic process that drew me to art in the first place.”

After losing interest in a project that had taken up an entire year of her life, Maximovich decided to come home, Kansas City, Mo., when she applied to the University.

Maximovich said she could never regret playing video games, having drawn so much from them in terms of influence, which can be clearly seen in her fantasy-styled landscapes, but said she’d rather get away from the screen and into the real world for her future works.

“I got really interested in Northern European lore and artworks,” Maximovich. “I’ve even been reading some Icelandic sagas plus I’m a huge Tolkien fan — it’s been a great source of inspiration, but I’m hoping to use my own experiences as influence rather than something I’m seeing in front of a screen.”

Maximovich, now focusing on painting as her chosen medium of expression, said the difference between her work now and only a few years ago has definitely relit her passion for art.

“The engagement is really different,” Maximovich said. “You don’t really get to see the product as you’re working on it — it’s very much just a grey matter that doesn’t have that reward of accomplishment until you’re finished. Painting is so very different; as soon as you touch the paint to canvas it has a more encouraging, visceral response.”

Not only has Maximovich found the passion she had lost here now that she's here at the University but said she’s also found great support, especially in Tanya Hartman, an associate professor in the Department of Visual Art.

“Tanya is more my therapist than anything else,” Maximovich said. “I see her at least twice a week, and one day she came in to see me, and I was just so stuck on this one thing, but she always says the best things.  I was trying and trying and failing and failing and it seemed like no matter what I did, I couldn’t make the thing I wanted it to be. She told me to just paint it out.”

In her studio space in Chalmer’s Hall, Maximovich has a few colorful pieces of paper scattered on the walls with meaningful messages from Hartman.

“She told me to just be Stephanie — to just be me,” Maximovich said. “She really helped me to think about not worrying about what I exactly wanted it to be but to allow it to be what it wants to be.”

Fellow arts student and senior, Dirk Betzer, said that he’s always looking at Maximovich’s work for inspiration.

“She draws a lot of inspiration conceptually from the romantics, but honestly her style is all her own,” Maximovich. “Her work is a figurative realism but is very dream-like in its execution, looking at her work has definitely informed the direction in which my own work is going. She has an amazing ability to build up color field in a convincing way that’s almost like an impressionist mark making that pushes towards realism using small planes.”

Betzer said one thing about Maximovich’s work that he respects is her ability to work from her mind.

“She rarely uses a visual or a guide when painting which I really respect,” Betzer said. “It’s amazing to watch and see what comes from her imagination with such fluidity, and it almost seems effortless.”

Betzer said he hopes his friend will continue to discover more about her passion, which might even lead her overseas.

“She definitely draws from nature and landscapes,” Betzer said. “I know she mentioned going to Europe which I think would be great for her with her connection to that sort of illustrative feel.”

Maximovich agreed that she may go overseas but definitely wants to head off to grad school where she’ll continue to discover more about herself and her paintings.

“Painting is like life,” Maximovich said. “When it comes together so effortlessly, it feels like breathing. But there are always those times when you’re struggling and you can’t get it right, and those times you just have to paint it out.”

— Edited by Shane Jackson