Katy Diamond Hamer speaks with artist Kristen Schiele on her exhibition Spirit Girls, on view until October 12th, 2014 at Lu Magnus in the Lower East Side.
KATY DIAMOND HAMER: You’re exhibition Spirit Girls is on view at Lu Magnus in the Lower East Side. The title is great in relationship to what I know of your work and your own spirit and strength. Can you talk about how you arrived at the title?
KRISTEN SCHIELE: The title “Spirit Girls” has hopeful, positive and an aggressive teen-vibe. I found the title in an abandoned essay a young girl had written about her summer camp. It hit me that the preteen or new teen time in a girl’s life is marketed strongly in either a “Lolita” or “Mean Girls” cliché. I wanted to honor this young girl without the focus on her as an object, but rather on her freedom and power. What better way to twist the soft cliché than have a show open in New York City with fairy-like words “spirit” and “girl.” In all of my work I like to tread a fine line in what is pretty and seductive but with materials and intentions that are two-fisted such as; yes, this pattern came from a quilt but then I printed it, cut it up, spray painted it, scanned it, drew it, taped it off, painted it again and then cut it in half with a power tool. YEAH!
KDH: Having written about your last New York solo exhibition, I love seeing how your work is aesthetically evolving. An artwork titled “Heavy Metal” is an amalgamation of various surfaces that together equal one painting and is particularly strong. Was this a natural progression for you to move from dimensional layers to a larger surface plane?
KS: That painting is my favorite. I have always used different forms of working from installation to what I called three-dimensional shadow boxes, or layered paintings in a frame and then painting on canvas. For this show I painted on wood cut into strips, shapes or several panels. The abruptness of a cut panel or a clash in painting/ drawing/ printmaking technique in one work keeps the practice of painting exciting to me, and keeps the picture plane jumping around. I like to feel like I’m entering a story or a movie and the more you read of the story the more you see.
KDH: Since we met, you now have a new addition to your family. How has having a daughter affected your art making process, not physically or literally but in the metaphysical “Spirit Girls” way?
KS: When I chose to have my daughter Evelyn I had no idea what an amazing experience it would be. I’m sure if I did not decide to go down this path, I could have given myself a journey to deeper connection and understanding in many other ways but for me, to have my child is such an incredible experience of pure animal states of being. Time is much more precious. As a friend of mine said to me before I had my girl, kids kick you in the ass, in the RIGHT way. Besides making me more focused and time efficient, I have a real commitment to the world around me with much more grace than I had before. When paintings were my children I was not taking enough time to let dreams into my process, or the ease of the world. I work on my paintings twice as long as I ever have and with an ease that I needed to let in.
KDH: In the exhibition, there is an installation on the far back wall of thin strips of color marked wood. They could be staffs, measuring sticks, or one of your paintings cut into strips and then frozen in an animated state. At the opening, you mentioned that this work is site specific yet malleable. Can you talk about how you’d like to see works like this installed in a collector’s home?
KS: This wood came about while I was working on abstract pattern paintings. I was making purely abstract paintings over and over for a year to push materials, color and pattern understanding. I loved the work but I could not be satisfied with the paintings as objects. By having these detailed highly energetic patterns in strips on painted poplar strips, suddenly they had a freedom and surprise. The way they are mounted onto the walls make it easy to remove and reposition the work in relation to others, I do not need to dictate which way the work is presented. These strips are free and open. They can hang on the wall in groups or stand in a room as totems. There is an ancient comfort to both patterns and sticks they are modern primitives.
KDH: Lastly, there is something about your work that is airy and light but with an edge and hint of darkness. Does that come from your punk rock days in Berlin? There are moments in each painting that seem to capture what could be described as a structured façade filled with architectural loneliness. Is this something you’d agree with?
KS: My teen years in Tennessee and Indiana were filled with experiences of drinking in basements, Baptists and bored, Military grade, police officers. That part of my life turned out to be as punk rock as the underground clubs and East German squats I lived and played in during my time spent in Berlin. Deconstructing spaces to truncated interiors exposing the exterior is a dollhouse move, it is also a theatrical stage move and in my way, it abstracts time allowing the viewer to be in a Giotto-like environment, deep in the distance or up close to a poster or detail in the room. Laura Mulvey is a feminist film theorist who has influenced my awareness of domestic interiors and the gaze. Her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema“, in particular, has been important to my practice.
Lu Magnus Gallery is located at 55 Hester Street. Kristen Schiele will be giving a talk at the gallery on Sunday October 5 at 4pm and Saturday and Sunday October 11 and 12 at 4pm. She is also participating in a group show at Gallery Poulsen in Copenhagen.