Teen artist Stephanie Angelica Solis-Kortlang, who often goes by Stephanie Solis, looked more like a journalist than a high school student when she walked through the giant double glass doors at Tempe Center for the Arts one July evening. A camera with giant lens hung around her neck, and she walked toward The Gallery at TCA with what looked like a real sense of purpose. Solis was there to attend the opening of an art exhibit called “Family Matters,” which celebrated and explored the multiple meanings of family.
Solis was one of eight teens whose work was selected for a special “Teen Wall” featured in the exhibit. Each of her three works of digital photography featured black and white images of her own family members. While people admired Solis’s work “Sisterhood,” the two girls featured in it—8-year-old Nicole Solis and 7-year-old Andrea Solis—sat nearby at a child-size table coloring flowers and handprints with a fat set of markers.
A second Solis work, called “Two Generations Embracing,” showed two intertwined hands, one layered in wrinkles, set against a soft desert landscape. A third, titled “Seizure,” featured a trio of photos capturing family members helping Solis’s 18-year-old sister Daniela Natalie during the seizures that make their lives more unpredictable than most. Eleven of Solis’s family members, spanning four generations, attended the exhibit’s opening reception that evening. The youngest was 2-year-old Ian Solis, the oldest her grandmother Rosa Solis.
Eighteen family members with roots in Germany, Mexico and Spain now call Tucson or the Valley home. Several have lived here for more than two decades, but Solis and her family are relatively recent transplants; they moved here from San Diego in 2005. The move was hard on Solis, who was just finding her stride in social circles. “Art saved me,” she says. “Photography saved me.”
Today 16-year-old Solis is a junior at New School for the Arts and Academics in Tempe, studying photography with Phoenix artist Betsy BretHarte and dreaming of a photojournalism career. The trio of works exhibited at The Gallery at TCA was part of a school project, but Solis remembers cameras being a part of her life since she was a toddler, when her parents loved snapping Polaroid pictures. “I started taking pictures of everything when I was about 10,” recalls Solis.
Today her family’s South Phoenix home is filled with more than 100 works of art, from tapestries to paintings, all made by family members. When asked to pen an artist statement for the “Family Matters” exhibit, Solis knew just where to start. “My grandparents were both artists,” she wrote, “and with their inspiration, my passion sparked.” Solis even has works by her grandfather, Diederich Kortlang, stored on her cell phone. For this young artist, family really does matter.