Interview with KIRSTEN VALENTINE
"I don’t remember a time when art wasn’t my main preoccupation. I drew constantly as a child and I was obsessed with Da Vinci by the time I was in kindergarten."
- Kirsten Valentine
“Mostly people in their underpants.” That’s how Kirsten Valentine describes her work. Precise messy brushwork and drips covering the canvas revealing our true selves in our most vulnerable form. Deliberately unfinished paintings leaves you participating with the work and searching for the identity of her subjects. Strangers that are all too familiar at the same time. The work is a love letter of sorts to those she paints. We are accepted in our truest of moments. This is what we are all searching for at the core of it.
We had the opportunity to talk to the talented artist about her work. We asked her why people in their underwear, what inspires her, and about her favorite place to see art. Kirsten is an artist to watch and we are so excited to showcase her work and can’t wait to see where she goes with it next.
What’s your earliest memory in art?
I don’t remember a time when art wasn’t my main preoccupation. I drew constantly as a child and I was obsessed with DaVinci by the time I was in kindergarten. I learned that he said that it was better to draw a bad sculpture than to copy a wonderful drawing because the sculpture requires you to find the light and shade yourself. I didn’t have sculptures so I drew my toys, teddy bears and Barbie’s, or myself. One of my earliest memories is climbing up on the bathroom sink to draw myself in the mirror.
What lead you to people in their underwear.
It’s something that happened really organically, I only started working from found photos a few years ago and I found pictures of people in their underwear really intriguing. I think the first were photos of hazing rituals in old yearbooks. My little tag line on Instagram: “Paintings of people, mostly people in their underpants,” came about because someone put forth a challenge to write an artist statement in 10 words or less and I felt it was funny and honest.
Why did you choose that as a subject matter?
The nude is a revered tradition in Western art, particularly the female nude. I’ve spent a lot of time drawing from the model and worked as a model myself. When you disrobe in front of a room full of students you want to do just that, disrobe. If you’re unhooking your bra or stepping out of your panties it’s sexual, if you toss off a robe to reveal a nude body and go immediately into a pose it’s professional, it’s detached. A friend of mine teaches drawing at a college in a small town and when he first wanted to bring in life models the school insisted they wear underwear and he adamantly refused. Ultimately he was able to convince them that the underwear were, in fact, titillating, but the nude was not.
Underwear makes the figure vulnerable and more familiar, and I focus on imperfect bodies, old, overweight, and mostly male. If I do paint a beautiful woman it’s usually in a silly, unflattering pose, it’s never a sexy butt, it’s a funny butt. My figures aren’t looming, powerful figures, like Jenny Saville or Lucien Freud’s figures, they’re dumpy and lovable and human. The underpants make it feel like you just walked in on someone’s grandpa in an awkward moment.
What elements are important to you when working on a piece?
I usually focus on a few bits that make the figure really individual, a face or hands or bit of torso and omit the rest, I rarely give a clear indication of the figure’s environment.
How important is being bold in your work?
Boldness isn’t something I really think about, but I guess it’s how you define it, I think it’s important to be honest and to continually push yourself, I think you have to fight against doing things the easy way, but what’s easy is different for everyone.
What are some other artists that you admire?
This is the hardest question because the list is endless, if you’re talking about the great dead dads of art I would say DaVinci, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, and Francis Bacon. Contemporary artists, I love Adrian Ghenie, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Robert Rauschenberg, Nicky Nodjoumi and Kerry James Marshall. I’ve found so many incredible artists on Instagram, Lou Ros, Jordy Kerwick and Florence Hutchings are amazing and I’ve been fortunate enough to collect works by Karim Hamid, Isabella di Sclafani and Mychaelyn Michalec.
Finally I’ve gotten to collaborate on two projects with Pizza In The Rain, who is extraordinary, and in 2020 I’ll be collaborating with the amazing Sidney Teodoruk.
If you could ask any other artist, dead or alive, one question, who would it be and what would you ask?
I would ask Picasso how he was able to abandon realism. It’s a huge challenge for me, and, I suspect, a lot of artists who labored to be able to paint realism, to let it go. Picasso’s early paintings are academic in every sense and he clung to bits of that through the Blue and Rose periods, but then he was able to completely discard it and conquer abstraction.
What was the last thing you saw that inspired you to create?
Everything is such a lazy answer but it’s close to true. I walked past a guy painting a hallway white this morning and that was inspiring, a spill on the sidewalk can be inspiring. But, I don’t put much stock in inspiration. It was really kind of beautiful to see that guy painting the hallway but I wasn’t in my studio and by the time I get there the feeling may have passed. I have to make myself work, I can’t wait for inspiration to hit.
Is your work spontaneous or planned out?
Usually spontaneous. A lot of times I’ll get stuck on something and have to go back and make the sketches I probably should have done in the first place. I tend to paint very quickly and spend long spans of time staring at my work deciding what needs to be done.
What is a piece of advice that has always stuck on you?
I wasn’t a good student, I had a lot of family turmoil throughout high school and I was just a misfit. When I graduated and the principal handed me my diploma he said, “Nobody gives a shit about high school after you graduate.” He was a very straight-laced man and I had never heard him curse. I took from that comment that you can always move forward, that who you are isn’t determined by your past, although, maybe that isn’t really advice, just a statement of fact, but it meant a lot at the time.
Favorite place to see art in the world?
I can’t really choose one place - I think the most important thing is that it’s not crowded. I went to the Louvre and I didn’t bother trying to see the Mona Lisa, but the rest of the museum was practically empty. I found two rooms of Rembrandt and there wasn’t anybody there. When you can be alone with a great work of art it’s extraordinary.
Images by: Kirsten Valentine
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