‘Evidence’ of Potential

Local artist, Kirsten Reynolds gets boost

Newmarket artist Kirsten Reynolds will use her $26K grant to bring her art national.

By Jeanné McCartin

Posted Oct. 9, 2007 at 2:00 AM

Collapsing buildings, oozing black blobs and odd creatures have made Kirsten Reynolds $26,000 richer. The 35-year-old Newmarket artist is this year’s recipient of the Artist Advancement Grant, awarded by the Piscataqua Region of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

“When I sent in the application, it was a busy and intense time between two shows and I thought ‘well I’ll try next year,'” she says, laughing. To say she was surprised is an understatement. “It’s really amazing.”

Reynolds took the top prize with a very individual art; large, space-specific installations that are a combination of sculptured creatures, architectural elements and items she refers to as “evidence of the narrative.” Hopefully the combination leads to more of a narrative, one created by the viewer who enters the art, she says.

Reynolds, mother of a 10-month-old boy, did her undergrad work at Syracuse University with a focus on video. Her preference was sculpture, which she also pursued. But video seemed to be the best bet for filling the fridge. There was a year’s work at commercial video after college, not a favorite period. Then, after moving to the Seacoast with her husband in the mid ’90s, she started to concentrate on fine art.

“I knew if I was serious I had to dedicate a lot of time to it.” She set up shop in “a little tiny space in the upstairs room,” and started exploring painting and drawing. “I was really attracted to the discipline of it, the discipline of looking and the discipline of bringing hand and eye together, and frankly stripping out the technological apparatus that was making that more difficult — the (world) of video.”

The direction changed when her husband, Peter Lankford, a designer and model maker, brought home high density polyurethane, an industrial grade material used for sculpting. “I was just messing with the stuff, coming up with organic forms that I thought were really interesting. And that body of work along with some of the paintings are what I submitted when I decided to go to grad school,” she says. “And then in grad school the sculpture really took off. The little creatures found their own environment, in a way, through the installation.”
Describing these alternate world environments isn’t easy. But Reynolds takes a stab at it.

“The installations are really …; theatrical spaces that a person can physically walk into. The (viewer) in a way can become one of the characters in this implied narrative. So there’s the combination of a creature and architectural elements and other pieces of evidence, like the drips, or the oversized cartoony tacks, or sometimes I use a large, oversized, black rope (evidence of the narrative); it’s all part of the experience.”
Reoccurring themes are imminent collapse and perpetual construction; these “suggest an event teetering on the verge of an accidental becoming,” she says in her artist’s statement. The creatures may appear as witnesses or even mischievous perpetrators of an implied, yet inconclusive, narrative.

Reynolds turns to “Evidence,” an actual installation exhibited at ArtSpace in New Haven, Conn., to explain further. When the person entered the room they immediately encountered a large yellow wall that was leaning as if falling in on them, she explains. As they walked around the corner, they entered a space with a creature hanging from the ceiling, which they had to walk under.

“There are also a lot of these black drips under the creature and under the person’s foot path. And on top of the creature there is a stack of fake bricks …; as if to cause it to be crushed,” she explains. There is also a large, black rope, obviously cut, that appears to have once held the now tumbling wall.

“What made this piece interesting to me is when you walked into the space behind the wall where the creature and the black drips were, there was a window from ceiling to street level, part of the actual gallery space, so that anyone walking past the outside of the gallery would look inside and see the person featured as if they were on a stage with these strange creatures — along with the evidence of some sort of ‘crime.'”
The path leading Reynolds to her current work was merely “series of steps,” she says. “You keep making work; one informs the next and each opens questions for you.”

“The questions dominating the period of time I was painting and drawing was how can I represent the tension between order and chaos. …; And when the creatures came about that was the next manifestation not only of seeing this tension …; but having an object that provokes it. There’s something so mysterious and wonderfully about an object you can touch but not name. So it was a leap from 2-D to 3-D — but the nature of the question was similar.”

And exactly what are these little creatures? “Well, it’s important that they don’t have a name; that they are difficult to identify. I think about that a lot as I came up with their forms. People come up to me and say, ‘they sort of looks like this or that.’ Some of the references are clearly biological. But what it is never comes together exactly.”

“The idea is that people have a series of encounters that bring something to mind …; a rational awareness or perception that is simultaneously undermined by the irrationality of what exists with the sculpture and the way the whole thing comes together. Perhaps the easiest way to think about it, once past the rational expectation, is its an awareness which is almost childlike; preverbal.”

She’s also partial to creating a feeling of discomfort, like when you encounter something like a Lamprey eel, she says: discomfort and anxiety, “like you don’t know how to place it. I think a lot of people have that experience, the encounter with something we don’t understand. Often it’s organic or a body, animal or human. There are things about it that can cause anxiety.”

Few installation artists make money at their finished product. So Reynolds, like many in her field, taught. What is commercially viable are the working drawings, models and photographs taken of the art. The grant will allow her to further develop these elements.

It will also afford her an assistant to help with the production work. Key components are “very, very labor intensive,” she explains. The installations use real and faux wood — either way it’s painted to look cartoony. “The insulation foam painted to look like (real) wood can do wonderful things, like hang in mid air. (But), it takes an enormous amount of time.” The wallpaper is all silk-screened. In addition the proposals, each designed for an individual space, are very time-consuming, as is the model that follows. Once again, the grant will help move things along.

But Reynolds primary focus will be promotion in an effort to go national. “I’ve been working hard in the Northeast. This award will allow me to commit resources to research new national venues, meet with curators, and allow me to (ship) my work, which with large work is very expensive. (Size) has kept me in the Northeast area. …; Now I can think about the Midwest or West Coast. That’s a big turning point.”