Who’s Kristin Meyers?

For Kristin Meyers, being an artist was never a choice or a decision; it ‘s what she’s always done and therefore who she is. One of her earliest memories of her sculptural interests: dismantling her own highchair using the back of a spoon. 

“My mother was horrified as she walked in to see the metal pieces organized on the floor, ready for reassembly,” Meyers recalls. “I was also obsessed with stacking; building towers from unlikely objects to see how many and how high I could precariously balance objects.”

As a child, Kristin was fortunate to be encouraged artistically and given sumi ink and a brush of her own very early. She would sit at the kitchen table for hours copying Japanese ink works from a myriad of Asian Art books her family owned.

For her the deal was sealed early on.

SOS: Who’s Kristin Meyers? How do you define yourself as an artist?

KM: I am a cultural producer interested in ideas regarding transformation of spirit in the human experience. I work intuitively exploring Ritual Practice in all its forms. I find that my first-generation immigrant experience is a continuing presence in all my explorations. I suppose it lies somewhere between my experiences of alienation here in the U.S. as an immigrant child and time spent in my mother country, Italy, where I was also seen as a foreigner. It seems there is a tradition in all immigrant experiences of rich storytelling, which informs my narrative voice. I find that there is that journey which unifies us. It is in all my work, be it seen or unseen. My practice is mostly installation-based, often integrating sculptural elements or assemblage with drawing. I often repurpose found objects to convey my message and believe in the idea that energies can be contained and infused in them. My classic understanding of human form through my figure work is a continuing interest in my pursuit to understand humanity.

My work is an investigation of Humanity and the Spirit Inside. My commitment to spiritual systems is an ongoing exploration in my life. It began early for me through my many explorations into the ritual practices of many cultures. I engaged in this practice from when I became aware of the spirit. My craft incorporates my knowledge of ritual practice into principles of energy transference through ritual techniques such as binding, capturing, and encapsulating.  I seek reflection through a contemporary lens on spirit systems departing from the African Diaspora and the many derivations borne from that journey.

SOS: What are some of your influences? 

KM: I am influenced by my environment and explorations into the world around me. My work is continually fed by my interest in the African Diaspora and all the cultural traditions of Africa, Haiti, Latin America, and other island cultures. From my perspective, the branches of the Diaspora are the root of life’s essence. I am influenced by the concept of spirit and explore ritual practice, which melds into my process in different ways. The mystery and poetry in nature is a constant fascination. As far as inspirational people, there are many: I studied with Marilyn Houlberg, who opened my eyes to the Diaspora; Rivka Harris, the renowned Egyptologist; I have read just about everything of Maya Daren, Katherine Dunham, Zora Neale Hurston, and Edwidge Danticat, whose writing continually motivates me; I listen to Celia Cruz and Nina Simone to stir my soul. In the realm of visual artists, George Liataud, Olowe of Ise, and Hector Hyppolite immediately evoke the spirit in their imagery. Figure-based artists such as Egon Schiele and Kathe Kollwitz have always been core inspirations. I admire the content and integrity in the work of Edouard Duval Carrie, Maria Magdalena Campos Pons and Carrie Mae Weems.

Many years ago I saw an exhibit of Edouard Duval Carrie at the Bass Museum. I sat in front of that installation feeling the energies of the Lwa and felt a transmission that my creative explorations were on track in a contemporary context. I knew someday I would cross his path and I have. He has been extremely encouraging about my practice and I am fortunate to have my work included in his private collection. The piece he chose was a part of an installation for the Lwa, titled ‘Something Peculiar: Idols & Fetishes.’ I was in the midst of creating this work for inclusion in a group show in NYC, when the earthquake struck Haiti. Due to the coincidental timing of this installation’s context, I was very wary of the reception it might receive in the aftermath of the tragedy. I discussed this with Edouard and he agreed I might be the recipient of misplaced anger, but he seemed to understand my intentions were to celebrate the culture and that gave me tremendous strength. I felt if he supported my efforts, I could take whatever might come. I did receive some negative comments during the exhibition, but generally not from the Haitian community. By the time the exhibition concluded, I felt I was able to communicate my intent for good. 

SOS: What mediums do you work from?

KM: In drawing, Japanese ink is a staple of my materials as is soft 6b lead pencil. In sculpture and assemblage I will use literally anything. I am a vehement collector, believing in repurposing materials. I am preoccupied with transforming and re-contextualizing what is thought of as junk. I haunt scrap yards and “junk” stores for my treasures, hunting and gathering to suit my installations. My material choices often fall into the Arte Povera classification, with the exception being that I am a stickler for good paper.

What was your greatest success and biggest setback? What has been the biggest challenge in the work you create?
My greatest success is connected to and follows my biggest setback. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the majority of my artwork. In the immediate aftermath, I was understandably consumed with finding friends and family while confronted by the overwhelming loss of humanity and history. The impact of losing my body of work didn’t hit me until much later. It was like losing my entire life’s history, yet for me nothing compared to the loss of lives we were forced to witness. I pushed the loss deep into the recesses of my mind until I began having a recurring dream of a man driving an old pickup truck with one of my drowned life-sized copper figures strapped on the roof. It was oddly comforting, yet I began to feel disheartened in beginning my creative process anew. Nonetheless, I continue to be resolute in my faith in New Orleans. I rebuilt my house and saved another one, which I transformed into my New Orleans studio. A previous collector let me know that he rescued Niobe; a life-sized figure bought several years prior, from his apartment. I realized the works sent off on their own journey to new owners were likely still safe. Since evacuating to South Florida, I now live in both cities, which has opened me to a new world. It is from this vantage point that I find my biggest success: coming to terms with my true fortune. Not only had I survived, but in time I realized that the thousands of drowned works of art still reside inside, and that can never be taken away. 

My biggest challenge in the work I create comes from being an artist interested in themes that seem to tread a delicate balance. For example, exploring spiritual systems seems to be a type of work, which is not easily contextualized, as are some other contemporary practices. My interest in a myriad of cultures (which I am often not a part of) can lead to my point of reference being questioned in ways that undermine my message, and my intent. Ultimately, I ask that people be open to accepting the beauty of what makes us different and see more clearly the connections that are not immediately apparent.

SOS: What are you working on?

KM: I am currently working on an installation inspired by the Marassa and the Ibeji, which examines the energy of twin deities and the connection in that journey.  The work looks at twin ritualization in conjunction with the concept of preserving ritual in our contemporary world. It is born from a series of nine sets of twins created from found objects and repurposed materials bound and embellished to build into figural representation, a large shrine, and a series of drawings acting as a “map” or a “key” to understanding the connections across perceived cultural boundaries.

Concurrent to the twins installation, I am working on a series of drawings which are well outside my normal comfort zone. As a departure point I began thinking about memory and historical reflections. The idea of selective memory and the idea of a misinformed romanticism.

I would like the viewer to reflect on the work and at times for it to quietly disturb them, possibly re-framing the preconceived notions of our differences and awaken the senses to our unified collective unconscious. I would like my work to be thought of as substantive. Sometimes I fantasize about giving someone goose bumps in the same way certain vocalists, writers, and artists have done to me.  I would like to be remembered for following my own vision and creating dangerously, to borrow from Edwidge Danticat’s book.

I enjoy the freedom and luxury to express myself in a larger contemporary context. Recent events have shown how much censorship pervades the art world, from institutions and museum directors. I continue to create without fear of being persecuted for my choices.

SOS: What are your favorite pieces of work that you have done and why?

KM: One of my favorite pieces of work is one that survived Katrina. It is a shrine for Ellegua, built back in my days at the Art Institute in Chicago. It’s an early example of my interest in ritual work and stands the test of time. Another favorite is a large installation I have not yet shown, which was built in Miami right after Katrina. It’s titled ‘Sacred Essence.’ For me, it is seminal in its exploration of the African Diaspora and the journey of the spirit. I feel very strongly about it 
and hope it will eventually find a wide audience.

SOS: What did you like and dislike about your art education?

KM: I was fortunate to have amazing teachers at Parsons in NYC and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Karl Uretsky of Parsons nurtured my passion for figure and took me to explore behind the scenes at the Met and other institutions. He was dreaded as an instructor due to his strict teaching style, but he taught me the valuable skill of truly seeing what I was looking at. Marilyn Houlberg, from SAIC was instrumental in exposing me to ritual and the Diaspora. The Museum was the best education for me, looking at and absorbing the diverse collection of ancient and modern works. I was lucky enough to study advanced figure later at Lorenzo de Medici in Florence where classes were held in a church. The light filtered through the stained glass and fell upon the live figure models while tumbling on the sarcophagi buried in the well-worn marble floors. More recently, I attended a residency in Vallauris, France where the Madoura pottery studios of Picasso fame are located. There I met many artists who worked for and with Picasso. I worked in ceramics both independently and collaboratively and found it extremely intriguing. I truly cherish my time and the people I met there. What I didn’t like about my education was actually being in school. I was not a traditional student in the normal sense as I found the classroom to be distracting and confusing. So, whenever possible, I opted for independent study. In that I thrived, holding my own figure sessions with fellow artists, hiring a live model and inviting artists and even teachers to join in. I brought my work in for critiques and made it through that way.

SOS: What would you say is the most important lesson you have learned in your life as a graphic designer, and how do you apply it to your art?

KM: My mother went from harvesting silk from silk worms in mulberry trees in Italy to building a successful design business in Chicago. Even before her success, she always provided my sister and me with a beautiful environment. I obtained a measure of understanding of design early through some form of genetic osmosis. I worked for her, in design, at times over the years. In the past I kept my design sensibilities separate from my thoughts on art production, but as I developed my practice, I accepted that all my work is informed by my artistic sensibilities. My art making informs all my production.

SOS: If you could go back in time and tell your old self one bit of advice concerning design what would you say and why?

KM: If I could go back in time I would say to myself to appreciate your knowledge of design, which was in the past framed as a strike against you as a fine artist. Those lines have now blurred to the point of being almost non-exisistent. Many contemporary artists are exploring combined avenues of design, architecture, music, multi-media, and translating through them through their own art practice.

Visit Kristin online. She participates in the open figure groups at both Bakehouse and South Florida Art Center. She also enjoys the lectures given at both MOCA and the Bass Art Museum. She’s also exploring other programs in South Florida Museums and looking forward to developing relationships within that engagement. She’s been accepted into several online groups such as the Armory Show, Contemporary Art News, Art Exhibition Group, SAIC alumni, Contemporary Sculptors and Mutual Art, among others.

Kristin was recently honored to be selected for the ‘Sin’ exhibition at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood. This was a group show comprised of Miami-based and international artists, curated by some of Miami’s top curators. Two of her pieces were selected for the show: ‘Gluttony’ selected by Bonnie Clearwater of MOCA and ‘Greed’ curated by Silvia Karman Cubina of the Bass Museum. Kristin is included in several independent curators’ proposals for exhibitions and she’s preparing to propose several new projects as well. She’s always interested in opening her New Orleans studio to curators and collectors and will do the same once her Miami studio is up and running.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: