About the Artist
Kirstin is a painter living in Providence, Rhode Island and working in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Kirstin studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating with an MFA in 2005. She began her studies as a literature student at Brown University, graduating in 2001 with Bachelors degrees in both Literatures in English and Visual Art. Kirstin’s work has been shown in venues across the country and abroad, recently showing in group shows at the Carole Calo Gallery at Stonehill College in Easton, MA The Duxbury Art Complex Museum in Duxbury, MA, New Bedford Art Museum in New Bedford, MA, the Wassaic Project in Amenia, NY, the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, CA, the Yellow Peril Gallery in Providence, RI, the Lentos Museum in Linz, Austria and Bunker Projects in Pittsburgh, PA among others. She has attended residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Bunker Projects, the Wassaic Project, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation. Kirstin's has shown work in two person shows with the nonprofit gallery Darger HQ gallery in Omaha, Nebraska, most recently in 2016 with artist Anthony Hawley in the two person show “A Hex, A Host, A Guest, A Ghost.”
with Lucy Commoner, May 2017
You have a history of involvement with the Wassaic Project. How has your engagement with the Wassaic Project impacted your practice and also your interest in teaching art?
I attended the residency in January 2016. It was such a relief to come into contact with a group of artists that were authentically interested in community. I felt so supported and welcomed in Wassaic that I just kept coming back! As a direct result of the print project I did at Wassaic last May, I have begun making silkscreen prints a larger part of my practice. As a result of the weaving demonstration I did while a resident in January, I have branched out into alternative community-based locations for my teaching practice. I feel the improvisation that the Wassaic Project allowed me, gave me the space to contemplate shorter, more casual teaching opportunities as equally powerful and rewarding.
Your work encompasses predominantly small-scale gouache paintings in a variety of styles and preparatory pencil drawings as well as curated installations of your paintings grouped together in intentional ways. Can you speak a little about your practice in general?
I developed my installation practice as an outgrowth of the miniature gouache paintings. I think that a short selection from my artist statement says it most clearly:
“I collect skulls, taxidermy, ribbons, fabric, vintage photographs and paper ephemera. I organize these objects and stage compositions. I create abstract pictures and portraits, large and small, to add to the still life objects staged in space. My recent work features both acrylic prop-paintings and miniature gouache paintings informed by the arrangements of these props.”
So basically, I create the miniature gouache paintings from arrangements of my own paintings and props in the studio. The installations are an outgrowth of the practice. Initially, I was really interested in seeing what a still life would look like with paintings in it; that’s how I ended up with the pictures of pictures, salons, and arrangements you see now. I became really interested in the arrangement of paintings as a form of painting.
In this exhibition you have chosen to show your paintings in a salon-style installation, with somewhat disparate style works grouped closely together on the wall. The salon-style dates originally from the late 17th century-18th century when the Royal Academies in France and England held regular exhibitions that provided a way of exposing the public to a wide range of art works in densely packed installations. This evolved in the 19th century into the first public art museums. What is your intention in hanging your works in a salon-style as opposed to the more typically modern style of separating each piece with neutral wall space?
I started by looking at curiosity cabinets and early museum modes, as you suggested, mostly as a means of organizing information. I found the depictions were particularly interesting to me when they had strange taxonomies that had some kind of illogical organization. I am particularly interested in the way collections were organized according to the tastes of the owner, not scholarship per se. I think artists already organize work in this manner, and I am interested in mining the limits of this kind of visual organization in a humorous and irreverent sort of way. I make associations that are more felt and emotional, much the way you organize a bedside table of significant objects. I want the objects to comment upon one another, to relate, but I don’t want the relationship to be fixed or always clear.
Additionally, I frequently mention looking to the work of David Teniers the Younger, a Flemish genre painter in the 1600s, who curated and depicted the royal collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria. I am interested in how Teniers’ paintings of paintings displayed ownership of objects, but also served as informal catalogs of what was in the collection.
I am fascinated by the idea of curating my own collection, though in my case, I would handle all aspects of the collection, the making of the work, the hanging of the work, and the documenting and re-imaging of the collection. I find that creating salon walls has been a way for me to posit work to myself and create new still life images. It is important to me that I work in multiple modes and genres, as I find the genres speak in different volumes and in different levels of seriousness. Sometimes irreverent political speech can only be heard next to beautiful flower arrangements.
Several of your paintings appear to be pointillistic, pixilated, and based on the grid-like structure of counted embroidery. What attracted you to pursuing this technique in which the image is created from separate dabs of gouache paint that from a distance coalesce into a fully coherent image?
I was looking for a way to include a photorealist element in my work, and as I had already been investing a ton of time in gridded “sweater” and textile inspired paintings, these seemed a natural outgrowth. Initially I started working directly from vintage embroidery patterns I found in antique stores. I tend to work from a variety of paper ephemera, but I like to work directly from some sort of flat visual object or still life set up. I was particularly interested in the idea of this frenetically busy woman in a corner making twee charming pillows, and I was thrilled that I could make identical parallels in paint. I wanted my labor to literally parallel a kind of unnecessary and decorative domestic labor for women. I also tend to copy women’s still life paintings (Rachel Ruysch’s late 17th century flowers, for example), as they are some of the first images women were permitted to paint. I want to reinforce some of the limitations I still see on the pretty and the decorative, while also subjecting myself to those norms.
I have been thinking about textiles since I was a graduate student. RISD, where I did my MFA, was initially conceived, at least in part, to train artists for the burgeoning textile industry in the United States, particularly in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where I have kept my studio much of the time since I graduated. I find working in studios in converted textile mills and seeing the hard-edged graphic pull of much of the work I admire in my fellow RISD graduates, just re-enforces my interest in textiles as a rich locus of inquiry for my work. I am depicting textiles primarily in admiration, a devotional practice or loving copy.
Can you speak about your color palette, which seems very distinctive?
My color palette is distinctive partially by choice of source. As I mentioned, I frequently work from paper ephemera, mostly dating from the 40s – 70s, which has a particular print color profile. The imagery in my work is derived from cookbooks, greeting cards, penny arcade cards, vintage pinups, and headshots of old Hollywood starlets and singers. I work directly from antique paper ephemera, which favors the meandering, homespun and gawky.
When I make prop paintings, I tend to favor astro-bright colors, primarily pinks and neons. I enjoy the contrast between the bright neon pinks and the chalky and de-saturated florals, portraits and pinups.
The props and paper ephemera are frequently leaned and arranged in a white-walled studio, but I primarily choose to place the arrangements upon a deep sepia brown ground, to reference the Dutch Vanitas paintings that inspired the still life compositions.
What insights/feelings would you like an observer to take away from your installation?
When I talk about my installations I have a particular statement that I use that is particularly clear:
“ I reintroduce the traditionally feminine lap-crafted originals as less diminutive cherished objects and more a billboard for the feeling of a handmade and intimate craft, here restaged in paint. The girlish whimsy of pinks and saccharine decorative marks gives way to sardonic text and lonely pinups and portraits. I want to both overwhelm and overfeed with sweetness and also quietly chastise that impulse and its attendant guilt. I’m hoping for a kind of stifling, claustrophobic saccharine space, intimating that maturing into my gendered role was not all I’d hoped for or all I was promised.”
So, I don’t want a particular experience from a viewer, so much as a feeling of time, delight, weight and maybe a little dread. Sometimes I feel like the text in the works is a kind of neo-sampler, a light warning, chastising the painter and the viewer to be conscious of our advantages and freedoms so that we might keep them.
Photos by Walker Esner