Zoe Stiler explores light, dreams and fantastic stories in her first Colorado exhibition 

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Zoe Stiler’s story begins in darkness, in a world of vague forms and vivid dreams. The Taos, New Mexico, native was born with cataracts, and until age 6, she was blind. Throughout her life, she’s had dreams she describes as extreme, as well as a strong sense of connectedness to nature.

“You can imagine that all that makes for a person who really enjoys going into other worlds and into myself,” she says, now 39 years old. She lives in the desert outside Taos with three children and two dogs, in a home/studio she built herself after dropping out of the Rhode Island School of Design at age 19. If there are more people like Stiler, they’re few and far between.

On Friday, Feb. 2, Stiler’s doing her first show in Colorado, at the Pikes Peak Community College Downtown Studio Art Gallery. It’s titled Out of the Darkness: The World of Zoe Stiler, and it’s a collection of paintings and sculptures from throughout her career. It’ll be up through Friday, March 9. The Colorado connection came from a friend, Rowena Sabetta, a student Art Gallery Assistant at PPCC’s downtown gallery.

“[Rowena] told me about Zoe’s work and showed me samples which piqued my interest,” says the gallery’s director, George Sanchez. “I then made a trip to Taos to check it out.”
Stiler had recently finished a long-in-progress series of paintings. They explore what she calls “the story of the birth of light.” In a dark, moonlit forest, a creature is born with a lantern in its hand, and all the strange and fantastical creatures come out to see what this strange glowing thing is. She sets the eight pieces on the same backdrop, so the events depicted move like a play. Sometime in the future, Stiler and a friend hope to stage the story as a ballet.

Lanterns are a running theme in all of Stiler’s art — she’s made lanterns and chandeliers — as in her dreams. They come from when she was building her house, living in a tipi in the middle of the desert.

“I’d wake up in the middle of the night. So I started to make little lanterns, something I could focus on and [think] ‘Okay, go back to sleep. It’s gonna be okay.’”

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