Christine Kesler

Artist, San Francisco // June 2011
Art, along with the creative spirit and process are things that cannot be taken away from someone.

When Klea and I arrived at Christine’s front gate we were first greeted by a cheery dog, and then by a voice that seemed to tumble down the steps, passing through the wide open door to reach us in bright, lilting tones. The voice was Christine’s telling us to come on in, and so we headed up with her dog leading the way. Christine’s studio is in her Mission District apartment, where she and her architect boyfriend have converted their dining room into a workspace for both of them. Their desks sit right beside one another— above his hangs a pegboard with tools, painter tape and rulers and up on the wall above Christine’s desk is an assortment of collages and paintings, creating a vibrant and lasting effect. On the other end of the room, opposite from their desks, sits a big table that was covered in some of Christine’s collages; small layered pieces which evoked a haunting and indefinite longing in me. Christine showed us around, taking us out back to the veranda where vegetables flourish in pots and containers, and then back into the apartment, through the kitchen, their workspace, into the bedroom, and then settling in the small, cozy living room. Art is everywhere in Christine’s home, especially in the living room, and after telling us about a few of the pieces up on her walls the conversation began to run a bit deeper, a bit more intimate— we talked at length about her father’s influence and his own artistic inclinations, and how so much of Christine’s confidence and sense of identity as an artist is because of her father. I found that Christine did not hesitate around any subject matter; she was forthcoming and guileless, ready to go at whatever I threw her way. She also asks as many questions as she answers, revealing a keen interest in others and a sincere desire to have them open up along with her.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
It depends—if they are obviously asking about my work (art life), I tell them I make things that live where drawing, painting, and sculpture all intersect. If they are obviously asking about my day job and professional life, I tell them about that.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I work 40 hours a week, about 10 minutes’ walk from my home, for a non-profit that brings teaching artists into schools for residencies. I truly love it; education is so important, and having art in your life from an early age creates so many incredible personal experiences. So I feel good about the stability of the work, and the quality of what we’re able to teach to the young’ens. Plus, I’m surrounded by amazing teachers and a fantastic staff. I handle all the financials for the business, which I acknowledge is rare for an artist to be able to do but somehow I have the right stuff in my head to do it. We have picture windows and are quite high up in our building, so I can look out on the city all day. I’m not sure I’d want to be a full-time artist, I like the balance that my job brings to my life.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter?
What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work? Lately I’ve been drawing a lot, using soft graphite pencils to lay down curtains of marks on canvas and paper. I use an X-Acto for
cutting/trimming/opening/removing, practicing operations that just slightly shift the dimensions of a work or its meaning. Sometimes they become three-dimensional with just one motion of the blade— this simple act of transformation is pleasing to me because it reminds me that none of this is precious, that it could be destroyed at any point, even by me. In terms of content, I’m drawn to: Obfuscation, outlines, mystery, abstraction. A friend’s partner, Alexander Chen, wrote a poem a while ago about my work and I think it still works nicely to describe what I do:
Material tension. A cast of shape shifters. A simple but satisfying moment. Unknown at its base.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
Looking at Diana Molzan, Louise Bourgeois’ fabric works, and a series on the Himalayas done by Michael Palin and the BBC. Listening to Tortoise, John Coltrane’s album A Love Supreme, and this radio show on Sunday nights called Hearts of Space. All of which are about expansiveness, creating space, and experimentation in a way.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
In general it’s a bummer to deal with galleries— there are some exceptions. I know I will be making work for the rest of my life; it is one of the most central things I really care about and have always cared about. Realizing that and knowing that no art world crap or negative interaction of any kind can take this away from me is a comfort and a blessing. I’m lucky to have this need to make art. My friend Justin Cole once told me, in regards to navigating it all, “You just have to legitimately not give a fuck”… so I strive towards this. Also, working 40 hours a week sometimes cramps my style, but I don’t really think about it too much right now.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
I live with my boyfriend who is a creative fellow himself, an architect, and we are always scheming up new projects. Our neighborhood has created a whole new realm of possibilities, as has living together. I have a great appreciation for the resourcefulness of the local shopping-cart pushers and RV dwellers; we’re working on a project to map some of the incredible habitations in our hood and the elements of re-purposing they exemplify. I had to downsize last fall and move out of a separate studio space that I was renting, and now I work at home. My boyfriend and I turned our dining room into a workspace that we share. I’m cool with not having a separate space to make work in, because it seems like an unnecessary layer of compartmentalization, especially since I really love my home and want to be in it, making stuff beside my partner with my dog sleeping on the floor beside us.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
Yes, there has definitely been a shift. There has been a scale change— going down to more intimate pieces that are more linked to the fulcrum I’m currently attached to: this body sitting at this little desk, in this little dining room, on the second floor on Alabama Street. Physical space dictates so much of what kind of work I can make. I definitely see my work as autobiographical but I also want it to be more elemental and universal, as it is about being on the earth and being in constant negotiation with our responsibilities and our understandings. I read something Carol Anne McChrystal wrote about my work, how it deals with the artist’s hand invariably, “crystallized human labor”, she called it. The work shows traces of the most natural and perhaps humane repetitions we all go through in our lives.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’ve been photographing these creations, the collages I make on my kitchen floor and on my desk. Its quite ephemeral but the photograph gives it this additional life. I’ve been playing around with these kinds of construction processes, building on top of collages that no longer exist. I don’t have anything yet that I want to show, but that is kind of part of the magic. I’ll have something soon, to show, I hope.

What are you most proud of?
Still making work.

What do you want your work to do?
To make people want to look, and look, and look closer.

What advice has influenced you?
It’s not exactly one piece of advice (except for the whole “not giving a fuck” about the art market I mentioned above), but it is the words I’ve been able to listen to from people who really care about painting and about art that have touched me the most. Hearing someone speak about the obdurate nature of life and how painting is still a kind of redemption, a link to real sensuality— that is what keeps me going. Art, along with the creative spirit and process are things that cannot be taken away from someone, and even just looking at art can be a an incredibly powerful and vital experience.

How will you know when you have arrived?
I probably will never arrive. I don’t know that I would even want to. Are we talking about getting to a place when you’re completely and totally satisfied with your work and nothing needs changing or revision? Yeah, I don’t want to be there.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I’ll have a two-person exhibition at Hungryman Gallery in the winter. I’m currently just working towards that.

To see more of Christine’s work:
Little Paper Planes

And you can read what she has written about other people’s work here.