Meet October's Featured Artist, Kari Kristensen!

Kari Kristensen came to Vancouver from Ontario for vacation and—lived the story we all hear occasionally—never left.

Kari was bewitched by the mountains and natural landscape of Vancouver, and was struck by how people here “could live like this”. She used to manage a bookstore before moving to Vancouver, then she bought one of those leaky condos and proceeded to feel immense remorse upon discovery of what they were. She sold it and is now finally making art full time. At the time of our chat, Kristensen has just come back from a three-week vacation in Greece.

We sat down in her studio, with her pup, Frida, and chatted about the particular ancientness of the capital Athens that makes it different from other historic cities like Rome. Throughout the interview, she moved around her studio freely with a subtle yet firm sense of ownership, and showed me pieces of her past and present portfolio while explaining her artistic evolution. Kristensen is a disciplined artist, who hardly ever shares what her “intention” or message with a piece of work is. Rather, she is significantly more interested in viewers’ own interpretations. 

Kristensen joined the Vancouver Art Gallery Art Rental and Sales Program in July this year. All her nine pieces there are currently rented out. When asked if there’s plan to make larger scale works, she excitedly said that’s a topic also discussed with the Program and there’s plan to experiment with triptychs. All the pieces in “Imagined Landscapes” are titled I Shut My Eyes In Order To See, a beautiful sentiment that alludes to the visionary Modern icon, Paul Gauguin.

Kari Kristensen,  I Shut My Eyes in Order to See , 2017, linoprint

Kari Kristensen, I Shut My Eyes in Order to See, 2017, linoprint

Katherine Chan: When I think of printmaking, I think of it as flat. Your work has a texture to the print.

Kari Kristensen: I think what makes my work different than other people’s is, well, it’s printmaking. But specifically, like, painters can use colours to suggest shades and dimensions, whereas with printmaking you’re relying strictly on lino to do that for you. Historically, printmaking has a very flat, graphic element that appeals to people. For me, I’m trying to make a print that you’ve never seen before. One of the biggest compliments to me is that you can’t tell that it’s linoprint. That’s the effect that I’m trying to achieve.

KC: What is a linoprint?

KK: At its base, you carve into a piece of linoleum with a sharp knife.

KC: And you do your own carving.

KK: Yeah! The thing that appeals to me about this is the different processes that are involved. There’s the drawing part, so you have to have a good idea first and then you come up with the drawing. Next, you have to be good at carving, which is a skill on its own; it’s a lot about control. Then there’s the printing part. There are three separate skillsets that are completely different. You can have the best drawing and the best carve job, and then you get to the machine—you press too much or you roll too hard on it, then at the very end it can still screw up. The processes really do it for me because it’s so very specific and for me it feels like a very clean art.

Kari Kristensen in studio.

Kari Kristensen in studio.

KC: Have you always incorporated texture, or used linoprint in your practice?

KK:  I’ve done a variety of printmaking, as it is a huge umbrella of genre. I used to do some screen printing and for the last year and a half I’ve been working on this linoprint series [“Imagined Landscapes”]. I find myself always returning to linoprint because it’s my favourite. I think, as an artist, it takes a while to figure out your model. Mine has been to just show up. Just show up every day. It takes another while to figure out what specifically you want to say, and what’s different about my linos than everyone else’s. It took me a while to find that out.

KC:  “Imagined Landscapes”’s tone on the page, the geometry and lines remind me of Nicolas Sassoon’s digital pattern work, especially his waves series. While yours is handmade and like you said, there are three parts to it—drawing, carving, printing, have you thought about incorporating other media into your practice?

KK: For sure, I’d say anything is possible. I’ve already started working on my next series that’s called “Reflective Landscapes”, incorporating colours, etc.

Kari Kristensen in studio.

Kari Kristensen in studio.

KC: Is digitalness an element that inspires you?

KK: No. I think part of what you see as digital for me is graphic, and that’s what speaks to the medium of printmaking. Especially linoprint, because it’s such a graphic medium. It was originally used to make posters. One of the hashtags that I use on Instagram is #originalnotdigital, because I’m the antithesis of digital; everything is handmade. So, sometimes it’s hard when people tell me that my work is perfect, that it’s almost mimicking digital work. For me, that’s interesting and I love that I can take printmaking into a place where you can’t tell that it’s hand-drawn. But as an artist, I can point out all the flaws on this print! I do like that the digital and printmaking can merge like that. I like the idea of incorporating other media into my work, for sure.

KC: Right, but ironically that’s not the intention of your art.

KK: Ironically I’m trying to go as far away from digital as possible.

KC: What’s keeping the obsession with landscape?

KK: I think for me it’s hard to say. Having said that, “Imagined Landscapes” does allude to landscapes. Specifically, my experience with the Canadian landscapes, having lived on both east and west coasts, but they are completely fabricated. Like how I’m using lino to make something never made before, I’m also trying to create an image that you’ve never seen before.

Kari Kristensen,  I Shut My Eyes in Order to See , 2017, linoprint

Kari Kristensen, I Shut My Eyes in Order to See, 2017, linoprint

KC: So none of these are of real or any specific places.

KK: Well, except this one of Vancouver’s The Lions mountain peaks. It’s made for a collaboration with Six Hundred Four shoe company, so it’s going onto leather shoes. 6.4 percent goes to a charity of my choice, and they make 604 pairs. And of course, 604 alludes to the city. It’s a neat collaborative project.

KC: I don’t know if you make other kinds of art, but for me, writing has always been in my life because it does something specific to me, like sustaining my spirit. What does making prints mean to you?

KK: At this point, I can’t not do what I do. Being away for three weeks was actually quite difficult. I missed being here because I come here almost everyday, 9 to 5, I treat it like a job. Ideas are never going to come to you—it’s not like one of those things where ideas just occur suddenly—I’m sure that happens too, sometimes, but most of the time ideas happen when you’re here. One thought evolves to the next. If I’m not here, it just doesn’t happen for me. My art is one of those things where I need the printer, the knives, so I can’t be out simply drawing and sketching. My ideas actually come while I’m here, so when I was away I actually missed it. I just started doing it full-time three to four years ago. Before that I unfortunately had to have a full time job. 

Kari Kristensen,  I Shut My Eyes in Order to See , 2017, linoprint

Kari Kristensen, I Shut My Eyes in Order to See, 2017, linoprint

KC: What does the title of “Imagined Landscapes” mean to you?

KK: When I’m drawing, places just come to me, sometimes come out of me. I always tell people, when you start out as an artist, one of the things you do is you start out by drawing things that you’ve seen—the human body, still life, that kind of thing. As time, your style and skills evolve, for me at least, I started drawing things that I wanted to see.

KC: Do you have an imagined landscape for Vancouver?

KK: I think the closest would be the 604 Shoes piece—I Shut My Eyes In Order To See. It captures what I saw when I first stepped off the plane [in Vancouver], when I came here—”wow this place is incredible.” And that prussian blue, used in this entire series, for me is just the perfect marriage of sky and water.

Kari Kristensen’s studio at 1000 Parker Street will be open for the annual Eastside Culture Crawl between November 16-19, where you can find her past work and latest series, “Imagined Landscapes”.