Hi Kirsten! You’re based in Sydney, Australia, and you also teach! Can you tell me a bit more about yourself?
I started off studying Graphic Design, however quickly realised that a life behind a computer screen, moving type around and ruling lines, was actually completely incompatible with my skill set! So in my 20s I ended up working odd jobs and travelling. At one point I was teaching English in Japan, and realised that maybe teaching was something I could do. Teaching art to high school students suddenly seemed really appealing, although my high school self would have been horrified to learn of these developments.
I studied Art Education in my late 20s and was fortunate enough to get a job in a government high school after graduating. I have been at this school for over ten years now, and have had two sons in that time also, who are now 7 and 9.
As I was teaching visual arts to high school students, I realised that part of me longed to be the art student, painting and experimenting with media all day long! So I did some further post-graduate study part time over 2015 and 2016.
What first interested you in picking up a paintbrush?
I have always been intrigued by visual imagery. I can still clearly picture illustrations from story books that I had as a child. I remember going to an old cathedral or castle when I was young and lived in England, and doing some charcoal rubbings from some of the old metal detailing. It seemed magical how the image appeared before my eyes.
In high school I was definitely part of the ‘pale and interesting’ set. We would stay behind after school in the dark room processing and printing experimental photos, and spend out lunch times drawing on each other or painting liquid paper on our nails and filling in little vistas over each nail.
You work in abstraction and are interested in how the physical materials interact on the canvas. Why do you prefer this style or method?
I work primarily on paper/card, although sometimes on I incorporate canvas and fabric. After many years of being influenced by German Expressionism as well as artists like Roualt and Matisse, I suddenly became enamoured of pure abstraction, and minimalism. I am influenced by the lyrical abstractionists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Ellsworth Kelly, as well as by the Japanese Gutai movement (1954 – 1972) where the intention was to create are that explored the connection between the human spirit and material.
I am drawn to expressing aspects of the human condition via abstraction, however rather than using gestural marks and/or impasto to create dynamism and energy (the way that artists such as Cy Twombly and Willem de Kooning do so successfully), I try to create a kind of controlled super-flat surface that still manages to generate energy and intensity. I am really intrigued in the paradox of this I guess. I use collage, spray-paint, printed digital canvas, acrylic paint and monoprints among other things.
Do you have any particularly influential mentors or other artists who have impacted the way you work?
I took private lessons with abstract Australian artist Marisa Purcell during 2014 which marked a turning point for me in how I viewed Abstraction and how I saw my potential as an abstract artist.
How much do you plan ahead in your work, or is it pretty much entirely intuitive?
I spend a lot of time actively not creating or painting, and I go over ideas in my head a lot. Then I set aside a couple of days if possible to spend in the studio, and create work using these ideas as a starting point. However, things often take very different turns once I am immersed in the work during this phase. Right now, for example, I’m thinking of silk-screen printing using barriers such as confetti to create the pattern underneath.
What is your studio like?
My studio is a spare room in my house, which also doubles as the laundry cupboard. Recently I have been having issues with things getting out of hand very quickly in there. This is partly because I have generated boxes and boxes of painted card that I use for collage – the cleaning/organising process easily takes as much time as the creating process for me.
What do you consider to be the most daunting or challenging aspect of trying to make it as an artist?
I used to worry that I will never make money from my art, however since I work as a high school teacher and can generate some income through this, I have recently made a decision to stop worrying about the financial aspect of making art, and accept that it may never be something that brings in money.
Sometimes I worry that I’m not as good as I’d like to be, and I feel intimidated by the gap between where I am and where I want to be.
Sometimes I feel pigeon-holed as an ‘older’ female artist, who is also at the same time an emerging artist.
On the other hand, what is the most rewarding or fulfilling aspect of doing what you do?
I feel proud when I have created something that I think is good and interesting and unique. I love selling work, to know that someone out there connects with a piece of mine and wants to own it is a lovely, lovely feeling.
Have you received any memorable advice along the way?
Always celebrate your successes, no matter how small. The path of an artist is paved with rejection, so hold on to those times someone compliments your work, reaches out to make contact, buys a piece or invites you to be part of a show. Have a glass of champagne (if finances permit!) or take a moment to reflect on it.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
I am part of a group show at Cat Street Gallery in Hong Kong curated by Graziela Guardino (16 and 17 March 2017) as well as a show in Sydney at Factory 49 with Chris Casali and Nancy Constandelia (22 Feb to 4 March 2017). I am also excited to be having my first solo at Boom Gallery in Geelong (near Melbourne) which runs from March 30 to April 22.
Find more at kirstenduncombe.com!
+ + +