Artists & Designers
Renée Stout (b. 1958)
Renée Stout was born in Junction City, Kansas, in 1958 and was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a child, she took art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art. It was there that she first encountered African art, which was to have a profound impact upon her mature work. Stout received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon University in 1980, with a focus on painting. Stout's early paintings were of her surrounding environment and executed in a photorealist style. In 1984, she encountered the work of artists Bettye Saar and Joseph Cornell, both of whom used found objects to create works, and she began to assemble boxes of collected items that explored her own psyche.
After moving to Washington, D.C., in 1985, Stout began to explore the world of spiritualists, palm readers, and folk medicine practitioners that she discovered there. In Pittsburgh, she had known of one house where a spiritualist lived, and remembers asking people about the woman, only to find that no one knew much about her. Stout was intrigued by the mystery. "What stimulated my imagination," she says, "is not actually knowing. Because there is a mystery, there are no rules set, I am free to use my own imagination." Her explorations into the world of spiritualists and "root" stores led to an interest in the vodun religion, which in turn, led her to African art and culture. Her interest in African art extended to the ceremonies associated with the objects she encountered, and the transformation of religions as they moved into new settings through the African diaspora, as well as the continuity of particular beliefs and practices despite formal divergences. "I'm attracted to spiritual societies. . .[spirituality] seems like a means of survival in a world you can't always understand."
Stout's mixed media assemblages draw from her own background while appropriating ideas, images, and religious symbols from other traditions to explore her personal history. Because her family history is not well-documented, much of Stout's past is a mystery to her. She often incorporates old sepia photographs into her work as references to the past, "almost as if trying to create a past for myself." Throughout her varied creative output, ranging from painting, sculpture, installation, and photography to performance, Stout employs objects and elements from diasporic material culture to explore contact zones between Africa and the Americas.
 Quotations are from phone conversations with the artist during June and July, 1989.
Alvia J. Wardlaw, Maureen A. McKenna, and Elizabeth Simon, "The Artists," in Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: the African impulse in African-American art, ed. Robert Rozelle, Alvia Wardlaw, and Maureen A. McKenna (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1989), 292-293.
DMA Unpublished material, n.d.
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
Learn more about Stout and her work.