Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
I’m originally from Summit, New Jersey, a suburb outside of New York City. I’ve moved around a bit in New England, as I went to undergrad and grad school here, but primarily I’ve been in Rhode Island. I currently live in Providence, Rhode Island and work in a studio in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I find Rhode Island to be the most New Jersey-like of all the New England states, people are really warm and friendly. I love the old mill building in Pawtucket where I have my studio, as well as the welcoming and diverse art community in Providence.
Your paintings always have such an unusual array of quirky objects (books, antlers, a can of beer, a Jello mold). How do your still-lifes come together?
My studio is littered with props! As is my house! I worked as a painting and drawing instructor for a while so I have amassed a bunch of still life props. I was also a visual merchandiser for Macy’s, so I was always eyeing the second-hand props being sold in the break room. Humorously enough, once you start amassing a certain kind of stuff, people also become interested in that collecting habit and join in, bringing you oddities and wonders.
I have a penchant for collecting green Depression glass, vintage arcade cards and photographs, vintage textiles and cookbooks, statuary and vessels, and any sort of vintage taxidermy. Something about the immediacy of observing objects became clear to me as a graduate student and I really never looked back. Everything I could think of in painting became reframed in terms of a still life. So the still life, initially piles of discards and food, morphed into restrained love letters to beloved masterpieces and questions about depiction. Each still life is a kind of a personal curio, to be unpacked and read like a poem or a rebus. I frequently see these pictures as a kind of consistent and constant revision of a cabinet of curiosity or a salon I’m curating.
Kirstin's studio wall
Who are the women in these paintings? Are they real or imagined?
The images of women I create are kind of a hybrid. So I mentioned my love of arcade cards and vintage photography. Frequently I work from these images as a kind of prompt. I don’t get too close to the original, but just close enough. Unless I’m trying to depict Bette Davis or something, I really don’t try for a likeness, just skate around the proportions so the girl I’m depicting looks familiar. Sometimes I copy historical paintings in this manner as well. What is most important to me is the depiction of these images as a kind of icon (or misrepresentation) of female beauty and its relationship to whatever is next to it.
Cheney Deerpile, 2006.
Some of your older work has obvious political references such as "Cheney Deerpile." Do you see your current paintings as political in a different way?
I love that you asked this question. I hope these pictures still are political. But maybe not in a heavy-handed way like my Cheney picture or my other pictures with president’s heads. I love heavy handed and blunt pictures. I’m really a very concrete thinker. I also love political cartoon, which can be blunt but isn’t always concrete or straightforward. Some of my favorite pictorial touchstones are Thomas Nast’s images of Tammany Hall fat cats, Currier and Ives political prints, and the paintings and drawings of Daumier. I hope the new work is imbued with this love of political commentary even as it is quieter.
In your artist statement you refer to "activities of personal disorder and disaffection" in your work. I'd say that your work toys with the absurd. Would you agree?
Absolutely there are elements of the absurd, but also hopefully juxtapositions that don’t read as nihilistic or empty. The activity of amassing objects, juxtaposing and displaying them to create personal meaning is a strange activity, one that I readily acknowledge is a pastime of my own, and part of the subject of the work.
A recurring theme in your new work is paintings depicted within the painting. What does this playful repetition mean to you?
These pictures of pictures appeared in my work soon after my discovery of the painter David Teniers the Younger and his paintings of the collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. Teniers was charged with amassing a collection for the Archduke, and then he painted depictions of the collection as a group and in separate images creating a kind of reproducible catalog for engraving and dissemination. After discovering Teniers I began looking for other reproductions of collections, curios, and cabinets. I found the task of re-depicting paintings to be the most engaging, so that is where my work is now.
I find that adding the depictions of depictions creates a kind of self-reflexive doubt within the picture. The picture doubts itself and presents another picture to bolster itself. But it also allows for the joy of rediscovery. For example, I found myself moving toward images of early 20th century and 1970s abstract painting for some of my source material or mark-making language for my bootleg paintings. I found the subtle politics of this abstract language acted upon the classical landscape or portrait in a very different way than text or other kinds of images.
I should mention, I’m making my own abstract pictures to place in the still life, as well, and this has added an extra layer to my studio practice that I truly enjoy. The abstractions and pattern pictures that you see are sometimes studied from life in the studio, sometimes invented, and are sometimes a variation on a painting from art history.
Portrait of artist by Kristen Cronin with permission from Ann Street Gallery.
All other photography including all artwork by Karen Philippi Photography.