INTERVIEW WITH LOCAL ARTIST KRISTIN ECKSTEIN
Born and raised in New Orleans, Kristin Eckstein has spent much of her life paving the way to a promising career as a professional artist. Visually, her artistic style is abstract, however the same cannot be said about the clear and thoughtful approach she takes when creating a work of art. Each of her pieces tell a story, many of which containing hidden images or figures visible only to those who take a deeper look into the meaning and purpose behind the artwork itself. With her paintings currently on display at the Clair Elizabeth Gallery (April 7th - 27th), we sat down with Kristin to talk about her creative process, visual influences, and rapidly progressing career as an artist.
It's clear you have natural talent. Did you grow up aspiring to become a professional artist? If not, what was it that led you here?
Fortunately, I grew up in a creative household where the arts were always encouraged. My mother was always enrolling me and my sisters in painting classes, arts focused summer camps, pottery lessons, artist competitions, [etc...]. You name it, we did it! As I got older, the artistic process remained a part of my life that offered a unique sense of accomplishment, self-expression, and connection with the natural world. Growing up I was insecure, but through my involvement with the arts I was able to form a more positive identity as an artist. It was a natural progression for me to keep the arts as an integral part of my career choices. And now, here I am 30 years later, pursuing art as a professional career while also working as an art therapist.
Throughout your career you’ve lived in multiple cities, each having vastly different cultural influences and geographic landscapes. Have you found that your surroundings directly impacted your work?
Oh, absolutely! As a painter, I have the fortune of being able to share a very personal look into my life experiences through my art. Everything I have ever loved, lived, and been drawn to has formed my artistic voice and visual aesthetic. Growing up in New Orleans I was surrounded by a culture deeply rooted in the arts, which encouraged me to look at life through a creative lens. The unique and alluring aspects of the southern landscape always fascinated me. I felt a strong connection to Mississippi River and found its immense power and grace enchanting. Traveling out west exposed me to new exotic landscapes, like the Colorado mountains and the stoic monoliths of Utah’s deserts. Now, living in New York, I have incredible access to a plethora of artistic inspiration. Everything from the museums to the city streets bring a great deal of vibrancy and sophistication to my work.
There’s a common theme of textural depth and chaotic motion throughout your paintings. What are some of the techniques you used to achiecve this?
Each of my paintings is built up over time by mixing various layers of watery colors diluted with paint thinner and heavier more potent applications of paint. I don’t really go into it with a set idea of what the finished painting should be. Instead, I let each piece follow its own natural progression through color and line. I always joke that in the beginning I “mess up” the canvas using chaotic and spontaneous marks and then spend the rest of the time trying to “fix it” with a responsive and deeply intentional touch. Sometimes a painting will call for the use of other materials, like graphite, charcoal or recycled paper to define the lines and build the composition. Truthfully, I never really know what elements a painting will call for until I begin the process and I see what it needs as I go along.
"FIRE ON THE ATLANTIC" : STAGES OF PROGRESSION
What are some of your primary sources of inspiration?
I find inspiration in the organic quality of life and the organized chaos found in nature. Things others may pass by and not even notice, I find very attractive. To me the most beautiful things are those that show the process of time, like worn down bricks or rusted metal. I’m often drawn to the intricate patterns found in root systems and in the way that rivers erode away the land. And of course there are the works of my favorite artists, which also inspire and inform the choices I make in my work.
And who are some of your favorite artists that have inspired your work?
I have always, always, always loved abstract expressionists! Robert Motherwell’s color pallet has had a huge influence on my color choices. Franz Kline, Clyfford Still, Cy Twombly are just incredible as well. Some of my newer pieces that are featured in the show were heavily inspired by the works of J.M.W. Turner. But I have to say that one of my all time favorite artists is a female sculptor, Lee Bontecou. Her works from the early 60s are so raw and beautiful to me. She’s not very well known, so if you haven’t heard of her I recommend you look her up asap!
While raw talent and technical skills are essential to becoming a professional artist, it’s how you set yourself apart from the rest that makes one’s career successful. What is it about your work and creative process is that makes you stand out among other contemporary abstract painters?
Well, if I tell you the secrets of my techniques I’d have to kill you … just kidding! It’s hard to say, but I believe, while sometimes a bit heavy and dark, the rich, organic tones found in my color pallet are pretty different from other, more commercial pieces I see so often. However, I think it’s the organized chaos behind my work that really sets it apart. My spontaneous process and repeated layering of paint allows for beautiful, random details that can draw you in. I like to think of my paintings as fractals. If you were to zoom in and crop the painting to any size, that detail could become a new abstract painting that stands on its own. In this sense there are an infinite number of unique and interesting compositions inside of any one of my paintings, which allows the viewer to get lost in the work and always discover new moments in the same piece.
At what point would you say you experienced a breakthrough in your career? What was that like for you?
I don’t know if you would call this a “breakthrough,” but the greatest opportunity and highlight of my career so far is definitely participating in the “Artist in Residence” program with the New Orleans based foundation, YA/YA Inc. I really thrived working in that creative environment, alongside the other “Ya/Ya’s.” My time there really motivated me to build a strong body of work and develop my voice as a New Orleans artist. The best part of all was that the program culminated with a solo-show at the Contemporary Arts Center which remains to this date as the shining achievement of my career. It was such an enriching experience that provided me with many rewarding “breakthrough” opportunities.
How has your work changed or evolved since the start of your career?
I would have to say, that the catalyst for the themes and intentions found in my work began my senior year of college. For most of my time as a student I was inspired by the painting style of Jasper Johns, and used bright primary colors and patchwork compositions in my paintings. However my senior year, I began to notice the astounding beauty found in roots, rivers, deltas, coastlines, [etc..] and started to incorporate those themes into my work. After that everything changed. My colors went from bright, synthetic reds and yellows to deep, rich earth tones like ochre, umber, black, and sepia. Doing so created depth and sophistication I hadn’t achieved before. I moved away from painting concrete subject matter like faces and figures to a completely abstract methodology, which allowed my paintings to capture raw and complex emotions. Since, then my art has gone through several stages. There were extended periods of time where I didn’t paint at all, and each time I returned to the canvas something slightly new came out; sometimes this was very challenging because I yearned for some of the things found in my earlier work but it has also allowed the work to evolve and bring about changes I never could have dreamed of.
In addition to painting, what other creative fields are you skilled in? Which do you most enjoy?
Well, I secretly miss working as a sculptor and hope I get the opportunity to work with metal and wood again. However, my current career as an Art Therapist offers another deeply fulfilling way to channel my creativity and compassion for others. There is no question that the creative process, and art making, hold remarkable healing powers. I feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to extend this gift to others in need by assisting in their therapeutic growth with art.
Living or dead, who would you most want to commission you as an artist?
Ahh, this is a tough one! There are so many wonderful possible answers… But I think I would have to say Brian Wilson or Lou Reed. All my life music has played such an important role, and both musicians really stand out as truly brilliant artists. I am constantly relying on their music to get me into my painter mindset and inspire the direction of my work. Creating a piece just for them would be such an honor.