Kristin Bauer is an artist and writer living in Tempe, Arizona. She received an MA from Ottawa University in Phoenix, AZ, her BFA from Arizona State University, and also studied at the Dante Alighieri Scuola in Florence, Italy. Her work has been exhibited at locations including the Tucson Museum of Art, the Phoenix Art Museum, AG Gallery (Brooklyn, NY), Modified Arts (Phoenix, AZ), eye lounge (Phoenix, AZ), and belongs to the collections of the Mesa Contemporary Art Museum and the Kimmel Foundation. Alongside her studio practice, Bauer is a frequent contributor to the online art magazines Fecal Face and Beautiful/Decay.
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Kristin and I met in undergrad while studying art at Arizona State. I recall numerous hours working in the studios there together, drinking way too much french press coffee, and chatting about art. It’s been such a pleasure to reconnect with her and to see how her work has developed since those formative years that we shared. We had a lovely time over our winter break visiting her studio in Tempe, once again chatting about art with the coffee flowing.
Andrea Evans: Thank you for having us by your studio during our visit to AZ. To begin, can you talk a little about your work in general and the main ideas running through your practice?
Kristin Bauer: My work is informed by so many different components of my life and background as well as the way that I move through life. I currently focus on painted multi-panel (or multi-surface) works and text interventions. The majority of my object-based work contains some combination of text and image, and at times, design elements that are more movement based.
I began creating text-based work after I completed my Masters program in Art Therapy, in which I had heavy training in cognitive therapies. Instead of moving forward with the work as a therapist, I became incredibly inspired by all the research and brought it fully into my studio practice. I’m interested in how humans put together bits of information, especially when word and image are combined, and I’m terribly fascinated by the assimilation of visual information into personal identity, emotion and ethos. But I take this approach into a more personal dimension – I feel that a number of my works become more like over-arching narrative fragments, because of the nature of the content I use. The running themes of what drives humanity forward, our search to make meaning and to find truth, and the different types of recycled archetypal moments that we embody often become the focus of my work.
AE: Much of your work is comprised of fragments of images, text, color, pattern, shapes, and they come together like pieces of a puzzle. However, they rarely match up exactly. As a viewer, I’m really aware of the breaks between the pieces, the points where the text or image is cut off, where I’m left hanging, so to speak. Where do the different references for your pieces come from? Some are more visible than others: looking across your work, one can see everything from religious icons and images from art history, to song lyrics and the infamous scene from the film E.T. How do you determine the groupings of different fragments; do you have a clear idea in mind when you begin, or is it more of an intuitive process?
KB: I often draw from fairly iconic references – historical figures, films or excerpts that capture continual thematics in the human experience, but I try to use references that are not always identifiable, so that they can function as a fragment. Generally when I use text that is from classical literature, I use either parts of the first or last lines of the literary work – such as The Great Gatsby, The Odyssey or Catcher in the Rye. In a poignant work of literature, the first line establishes an emotional environment and the last line will hammer home the strongest philosophical elements of the narrative. Occasionally I use my own stream of consciousness text and design elements.
I find myself using seemingly disconnected sources within a piece, as this creates an opportunity for tension and a new departure for “making meaning.” My process is generally pretty intuitive and I find it akin to writing a poem – which I also do. The same way I use symbolism, rhythm and structure in writing poetry is the same way I assemble visual art. I want the separate panels to dance and struggle – I want there to be ample negative space for the piece to shift its shape. In that regard the breaks in between the panels are similar to the line breaks and separate stanzas in a poem.
AE: There is a real sense of play in your work. You juxtapose different ways of communicating information and ideas, through text, through image, through abstraction, through symbols. You also experiment a lot with technique and craft: at times you use digital stencils for clear, crisp imagery, and at other times, the work is much looser and expressionistic. These different approaches each communicate in a different way. What interests you about these different kinds of “language”, or forms of communication? What directs your decisions in technique, craft, and form, for example, in a piece like “The Thread of Your Undoing”? This piece incorporates stenciled imagery, text, spray paint, and even moves from the flat surface of the wall, onto the floor, and into three dimensions with the wood cubes.
KB: My work does feel a lot like playing, like putting together puzzles. I began painting multi-panel pieces partly because as a mother of two young daughters there was a period where my studio schedule became very fragmented – so I naturally began approaching assembling a painting this way. Then I realized there was a sense of mobility that was happening with the work, and I began to explore that sense of mobility in the process of putting the work together, and I feel now that it lends itself to increased movement and dynamic energy within the works. Almost like a conversation taking place between the separate panels and elements.
As far as the text goes, I believe in the power of good editing. The weight and finality of a highly visual full statement versus the sense of possibility in a fragment of speech evoke completely different assumptions and emotions within us. When the chosen text is presented with other visual components in a composition we instinctually look to the other components to create meaning of the whole.
I use varying two-dimensional and three-dimensional surfaces to create movement and direction between all my painted elements. I want the wall works to have a sculptural presence and fluidity and the more three-dimensional works to still feel like paintings, too.
AE: One of the things I loved from the first moment I stepped into your studio, and I remember this even from back when we were at ASU together, is how you work and how you use the space. You likened yourself to a “squatter” in your studio spaces; you just take advantage of whatever space you have. A lot of times you work flat on the ground, you have tables that you work at, even a little porch off your studio where you can use spray paint. Right now, your studio is at home. How do you like working there, versus working in a separate space away from home? Do you feel like you are more productive? What’s a day in the studio like for you?
KB: I definitely occupy my studio like a squatter. I guess it’s partially due to the fact that I moved my studio 11 times in the past 12 years- although I have been in this one for two years. I just kind of make a disaster and even though I have easels and drawing tables I tend to sit on the floor and paint. This is the first time I have had my studio at home in many years and I have found it terribly productive, with having kids. Since they have grown up around art since day one, they know studio etiquette and they even come in and quietly work on little drawings or paintings- and they’ll even cheer me on, which is awesome. Since my husband (Emmett Potter) and I met, we have generally shared studio space in one way or another. We have had a number of shows together and working side by side with him is awesome.
AE: In the studio, we talked about your move into some more site-specific work. Some of the locations you have been working with are actually within your home. Pieces like “So Far So Good?” and “It Slowly Takes You…” are interventions into your own “domestic” space. While we often see artists working with ideas of domesticity and home, it seems to be much more rare to see an artist working physically within their own domestic space. It’s almost like there is still something a little taboo about it, particularly for a female artist. I think it’s pretty courageous and interesting to actually work with and within these kinds of spaces. Can you talk about how these pieces evolved, and your thoughts about working within your domestic space?
KB: These pieces are much more intuitive, spontaneous and personal for me. The first site specific pieces I did were in a residency studio at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. I was there for two weeks away from my family, and while it was awesome to focus on my work, the level at which I missed them and the isolation in the studio made me start to see the space I was in as a sort of found object, infused with so many fragments of poetry. When I came back home, this instinct followed me.
I spend my life in my house. All the roles I am in as a mother, an artist, a wife and a writer happen here, and at times I have internal struggle between those roles. Any guilt, excitement, longing, stress, loss or victory I experience happens here. So the walls, the driveway, the garage door- I just respond to them with text.
I have plans to do several more interventions within my home this coming year and open it up for a one night happening so that I can share these works that really don’t belong anywhere else.
AE: You recently did a collaborative work with your husband (and fellow artist), Emmett Potter, which took the form of a 43-foot mural in Phoenix, at the corner of Central and Camelback. Is this the first time you have worked together artistically? What was the process like? Any future collaborations in the works?
KB: Emmett and I had only collaborated on one other piece before. We had such a blast designing and painting the mural and it was a really fluid process working together. Creating art in public is so energizing! We have plans of doing another one soon, but no details yet to share.
AE: In addition to your own practice, you also frequently write for the online art magazines Fecal Face and Beautiful/Decay, as well previously for Phoenix’s Java Magazine. What kind of relationship does writing have to your artwork? Do you see it as an extension of your art practice, or something separate?
KB: I happened into arts writing over a year ago and found that I loved it. It’s a way for me to continue to think critically and discover new artists, movements, places, etc. on a regular basis which is important to me, and the act of processing and writing about all these things keeps me engaged in art as a whole on a deeper level. And I’ve met some of the most inspiring people who I feel have taught me a lot as an artist- whether they know it or not.
AE: You’re currently working towards a few shows; can you tell us more about them, and what you are working on?
KB: I have a huge show with Emmett at the Joseph Gross Gallery at University of Arizona that opens in May. It’s such an incredible space so I will have some installation work with some video components in that show. I also am working on paintings and sculptures for a couple of really exciting shows coming up this spring and in the fall- but I can’t say much about those shows yet.
AE: Well it’s been a pleasure looking at and talking about your work. Thanks so much for your time!
KB: Thanks Andrea! I so enjoyed sharing my work with you.
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For more information on Kristin Bauer and her work, check out: