hen I look back at what I have been doing with my life,” says Atlanta ceramicist, Kirsten Stingle, “it was always storytelling. I started out in Gorilla Theatre, then I took a 90 degree turn. I wanted to try to make a difference in the world, so I went back to school and earned a public policy degree from Columbia University.”
Stingle became a social welfare policy researcher, interviewing families who were transitioning from welfare to work. She broke down the economic racial barriers and the need we all have to build a better life for our families.
“…And I thought it was important to do, but the longer I was there, the more unhappy I was. I wanted to get back to my creative roots.”
And then 9-11 happened.
“And that changed everything for me. I saw the disconnection we all have with one another. And the destruction that can evolve from that disconnection.”
“I knew I wanted to reenter the arts and that I needed to make a change and do it now. What was I waiting for? I started taking some classes, and I fell head-over-heels in love with sculpture, which feeds that need I have to tell stories.”
[quote]When I think about my work, it definitely has that theatrical sense to it, and that comes from my background. I feel like we’re all actors in our own dramas, but the sort of dramas I’m doing are not high Shakespearian drama, but rather, more gritty burlesquey, common man dramas, absurd and comical.[/quote]
[quote]In this new collection of artwork I’m doing, Shadow Circus, I follow the tradition of southern storytellers and looking at the shadow self. There’s a lot that’s going on subconsciously, and I’m trying to push it into my work. We all have a polite veneer yet we also all contain tragedy and brutality and absurdity. Most of the time we try to hide that. [/quote]
“We try to appear very normal, but how we struggle with those different layers makes us human. We need to not only look at them but recognize the choices we make. In this new body of work, I’m looking at the search for truth and struggle for redemption, as well as our own personal and societal limitations. How we adapt to those limitations is what shapes who we are.”
Stingle says that developing her new collection has been a year-long process. “I keep going deeper and deeper. It’s very cerebral for me. I wasn’t really conscious of what I was exploring when I started.”
Nor does she want to dictate to viewers what meaning they should place on a piece. “I want you to come to a piece with your own stories, or as you spend time and dialog with it, let a story slowly emerge.”
Has Stingle ever received a negative response to a work? If so, was that hard for her to take?
“As an artist, I give so much of myself to a work, so of course I always want a positive response. But saying that, I have to explain that a positive response can also include a negative reaction, if that makes any sense. I do not do things to incite a particular response, that’s not the purpose of my work, but I do want to reach and touch people, to create a tension between light and dark, knowing that the dark is not so much about me or my art but about the person viewing it.”
[quote]If you spend time with any piece of art in your home, you learn about yourself, just as I do working on each piece. Because I think that’s the journey in life: to try to figure out why we do the things we do, why we react the way we react, and how we communicate with others.[/quote]
The ceramicist says she also tries to create that balance between light and dark within each collection as a whole, being careful not to go so heavy on the dark that there is no room for soft introspection.
“When I feel like the statements are getting too strong, I try to balance with quieter pieces. I try to make sure my collection is not so aggressive, because that’s actually not how we normally are. As individuals, we have our aggressive moments and we have our quieter moments. I have two kids, two little boys, eight and ten, and they have that healthy ability to go into that dark room, but then the next second, be just very silly. My children help keep me balanced. You can’t have boys without developing a sense of humor.
Was the ceramicist mischievous herself as a child?
“No, no! It was really only when I found ceramics and learned how to really push my voice inside the work that this sense of freedom of expression has come out and now spilled over into other areas of my life. Although I wouldn’t call myself a rule breaker, I’m not willing to blend in to where I live here in the suburbs.”
Still, it’s her lingering tendency toward perfectionism, says the artist, that leads to the intricate detail-work you see in her pieces.
“For me every gesture is so important, so I spend a lot of time on the expression of the hands and face. I feel this is so essential to telling the emotional life of the story. But I am also trying to free myself up more. I have to keep telling myself as I work through the assembly of each piece: ‘Let go! Let go! Let go!’ As I make a figure, the tightness of that form is an expression of who I am. So now what I have to do is challenge myself to ease up more, become looser, though it’s always going to be that tight, well-defined form.”
Kirsten Stingle’s new collection, Shadow Circus will culminate in a museum exhibition from September through December of this year at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Fine Art (Marietta, GA). She will be showing with encaustic artist, Lorraine Glessner.
To enjoy more of Stingle’s work, please visit her website: http://www.kirstenstingle.com/