Kristen Bartel • American Dreaming
January 13 – February 22, 2018
Artist Reception: January 26, 2018, 5:30-8:00pm
Artist Dialogue @ 6:30pm
American Dreaming is an exhibition of prints and photographs that look at the incongruous relationship with have with our landscapes. Looking at both the large and small aspects of constructed landscapes, this exhibition is an inquiry into how we understand the natural.
My most recent body of work, American Dreaming, takes a hard look at how we gauge ourselves against one another and the consequences these relationships have on landscapes, environment and climate; these landscapes range from the preserved to the contrived. The artworks I am creating explore the impact of consumer culture on natural resources within the context of the American Dream. I am compelled by the costs of this idea, both large and small.
I am using print and digital media to create paper-based works that seeks to understand constructs and signifiers embedded in the classic definition of the American Dream. I seat related, yet incongruous images next to one another to better see hidden aspects of their relationships. Photographs shown upside down communicate a sense of disconnection to the viewer. While my use of cookie-cutter shapes reference mass production, which relegates landscape as a thing that is consumable. I hope to call into question my use of duplicable media in relation to mass production. For me, print media is innocent and democratic, yet suspect and accessory to the collective building of “bigger, better and more” thinking.
As an artist invested in contemporary print-media and traditional printmaking, my process remains firmly rooted in multiplicity and duplication. I continue to engage with the idea of autographic versus reprographic modes of production as they relate to my Western understanding of visual culture.
KRISTEN BARTEL is originally from the Southwest and currently lives and works in Southeast Wisconsin. She is a multi-media artist with an interest in historical and contemporary aspects of the American West, ecology, consumerism, and duplicable media. Her current work combines traditional print techniques with drawing and photography. Kristen draws inspiration from her personal and family history and travels regularly to seek new influences. She holds a BFA from the University of Texas, Austin and an MFA from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where she studied printmaking. Kristen exhibits her work nationally and was recently Visiting Artist in Residence at St Michael’s Printshop in Newfoundland. Kristen Bartel is an Assistant Professor of Printmaking and Digital Photography at University of Wisconsin-Parkside and has work in permanent print collections
The following questions are intended to provide insight into the artist's process, how they got started and what inspires them.
Was there a person or event that got you started creating your art? Does that person or event continue to influence the work that you do?
If there were one person to name it would be my mom, Katheryn. She is an artist, designer, (an amazing) classically trained musician, and person who has just lived a really crazy, diverse life. It’s kind of funny to think about, but I remember my brother making this really awesome painting using a Bob Ross book. It was totally done with my mom’s encouragement. I remember being really envious that he made something that looked so good and “right”. I was making art at that time too and it didn’t look anything like his Bob Ross look-a-like. My stuff was rough and raw and looking back on it, super experimental. I was sort of annoyed with him and his perfect painting because between the two of us he was supposed to play the guitar well and I was supposed to draw well. By that point, we had distinctly worked out those roles within our house, but there he was infringing on my territory. I don’t think he ever made another painting. Likely because he wasn’t influenced to do so. Looking back I realize that the territory I felt him infringing on wasn’t my identity as the house artist but it was on me and my mom’s relationship–like art was the special thing that I had with my mom and he just got too close to that. For a long time I probably made all my “art” for her. I think she influenced my brother and me more than we could ever really know.
At what point did you consider yourself an artist?
Yeah, as the house artist growing up, I guess I formulated that identity pretty young, but as an adult I feel mildly uncomfortable saying, “I’m an artist.” I never said it out loud as a kid and rarely say it now. In some ways I think being an artist is sort of suspect–mostly because I think that people use that term so loosely and really casually take on some prescribed way of being as it relates to a very watered-down notion of what it means to identify as an artist. I guess it’s a role that I don’t take lightly, so I don’t just throw it around like it doesn’t mean anything. There are thousands of years worth of image making that came before me. I’m humble to that and don’t claim much.
Who or what inspires you and why?
Inspiration comes in strange forms for me. It can manifest in a conversation, a radio interview, a song, a general feeling, a view of a landscape and the color of the sky on a particular day or the way the air might feel. Inspiration is a strange phenomenon. I can never really put my finger on it because once I do it fails to inspire in the same way it did before. I try to let inspirations flow in and out of focus, but that feeling of authentic inspiration mostly occurs when I’m outside. The people who inspire me are the people who persevere through hard times and seem to come out the other side enlightened in some way.
What was the first piece of art you made? Do you remember why you made it? What materials did you use and why?
This makes me think about what does and what does not qualify as art, which is a pretty fluid and ongoing conversation I have with myself. My understanding seems to change constantly. With that said, I honestly couldn’t answer that question with any accuracy. However, I do remember the first piece of art that I was proud of–the first piece that I consciously considered art and I put time into. It was a chalk pastel portrait of Jim Morrison. I was a sophomore in high school and really in to The Doors at the time. I still have it.
Are there any programs or learning opportunities that you wish you had as a young artist?
Someone told me recently that wishing is an empty activity. Sure, my youth could have been different, but what it has made me who I am today. I had the luxury of having a very creative mother, an artist in her own right. I also went to a very good high school where no expense was too great for supplies and instruction. Yet Mrs. Bullock, my high school art teacher, gave us nothing but freedom in our approach to making. I actually can’t remember there ever being a single “assignment”. It was her way to just have very high quality materials and some light demonstrations on how to use them–then she turned us loose. I also took private drawing lessons from a local artist as well as a couple of portraiture classes at Laguna Gloria in Austin, Texas. I had a lot of resources as a young person. Sure, there could have been more opportunities, but what I had was more than what most had and I’m grateful for that.
What would you say to a young person to encourage their study and practice of art?
Just make and don't think too much. Materials are made to be used and manipulated.