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Six of the Best, Part 34

After a long break, here is the return of the interview series in which I pose the same six questions to different artists. Today's contributor is Krista Svalbonas, a mixed media artist who is based in Chicago, USA. Beginning September 29th, 2015, her installation Home is a Name will be exhibited at the Spartanburg Art Museum, South Carolina.

"In the Presence 16"
Philip Hartigan: What medium do you chiefly use, and why?

Krista Svalbonas: That’s a difficult question for me to answer. I paint, I photograph and I create installations. I have a hard time remaining true to one medium and find myself often mixing or moving fluidly between media depending on the focus of the work. Recently, I completed a series of large-scale paintings on industrial felt that combined silk screens, slats of wood, rusted metal and oil paint. At the same time, I was working on a photographic body of work using aluminum dibond, CNC routers and gold leaf. I find that very often the ideas in the work are what help dictate the execution. I started working with felt when I began tackling issues of modernist housing and its use of industrial cheap materials such as concrete, stucco and brick. I wanted to use a material that spoke to industrialization in its use and color, but at the same time offered me the flexibility to carve, build and cut away the surface much like a architectural rendering. My residency at Bemis, directly inspired this new series on dibond. I began researching Omaha’s first public housing development, the Logan Fontenelle complex. Created by Roosevelt’s New Deal, it was among the first public housing projects established in the United States. Getting my hands on the original architectural plans was what led me to using metal, in this case dibond, a material often used in architectural and commercial applications.

Philip Hartigan: What piece are you currently working on?

Krista Svalbonas: I mentioned above the two bodies of work that I have been working on, one in painting and the other in photography. I have some small touchups and tweaks along with some laborious gold leafing to get the work where I want it to be, but mostly I’m in finalization and digestion mode. I find that it can take me some time to process a body of work, what it means to my practice and me and then have that inform the next series of work I do. I’ve often reminded myself that just because I’m not “making” in the studio it doesn’t mean that I’m not working on the next body of work. Looking, jotting notes, staring out the window, reorganizing my studio, making studio visits all counts and are all necessary steps in the start of the new.

"In the Presence 20"
Philip Hartigan: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

Krista Svalbonas: For a while now, I had been very curious about experimenting with laser cutting. Although for this newest series on dibond that wasn’t possible because there were issues with formaldehyde gas, I did use a similar process with the CNC router. Working in a new way always creates surprises, some frustrating and some enlightening. There will always be a learning curve. Having a design background, I rather enjoyed the labor in creating the precision files that are used in both of these processes. This experience has made me more open to using fabrication tools in the future.  I love the feeling of “what if”. To me, that is one of the best surprises a work can give you.

Philip Hartigan: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

Krista Svalbonas: Teaching. I’ve been teaching at the college level for almost 10 years now, and it’s always fed my creativity in one way or another, whether by learning or being surprised by my students, or by constantly keeping up with the ever-changing medium of Photography. It can be exhausting, time consuming and frustrating, but also amazingly rewarding. One thing has always remained true: it keeps me on my toes. I’m constantly thinking, considering, questioning and staying alert.

"New Deal 06"
Philip Hartigan: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

Krista Svalbonas: At Bemis the artists have opportunities to engage with the local community now and then when a tour group passes through. Tours range from grad to elementary students. On one occasion I was speaking to a group of elementary students aging from 5-8 years old. Among questions about length of time to make a work and when I first thought of being an artist, this same question came up and I drew a blank. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it and I’m still not quite sure. It’s been in the back of my mind ever. First piece… was that the popsicle sculpture I made at an after school program, the snow sculptures I made ever year in the yard, the jewelry I made at a metalsmithing class in 8th grade… or is it the first time I realized I was making something I wanted others, in a broader sense, other then my mother, to appreciate? I suppose High School was when I really began to start making with a more critical awareness. My parents helped me set up a darkroom in an alcove under the stairs and I spent hours there developing images. The camera always gave me a license to explore. One series I particularly remember was of industrial buildings in York and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I created a hand bound book with each image printed as a Van Dyke Brown or Cyanotype on watercolor paper. I remember that feeling of magic watching each image develop in the sunlight.

Philip Hartigan: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

Krista Svalbonas: Is there a choice? She asks with a smile.

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

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