"I invite my viewer into my experience of awe and fullness of presence to something mundane and often missed. My hope is that my painted colors resonate and evoke a response of wonder."
Lauren Kindle (LK): How did you decide to become a painter? Describe your educational path and various experiences that have molded you as an artist.
Kristen Peyton (KP): I began painting at a very young age. My childhood babysitter first had the inclination that I would be an artist. She told my parents she had never seen another child color the way I did, focused and devoted. Soon, weeks of Art Camp and extracurricular art classes filled my childhood summers and school years.
I continued my engagement with painting and drawing through high school and into college, receiving a Bachelor of Arts, from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, in May of 2012. William and Mary provided a comprehensive studio art education built upon an extensive foundations study, focused on drawing, painting, and print-making from observation. My William and Mary professors were engaged, passionate, and practicing artists, who greatly enriched and deepened my understanding of and confidence in the visual arts. I am grateful for their lasting influence and continued encouragement and support.
Although a dedicated painter from a young age and a student of art in college, I struggled after graduating to take charge of my own artistic development and find adequate time to paint. I spent the next three years working in non-art related fields, yet, with each profession I wrestled with dissatisfaction, discovering through trial and error that art was clamoring to become my life’s vocation. Thus, I began to intensify my focus. In the summer of 2015, I attended the Mount Gretna School of Art in central Pennsylvania. MGSoA taught me how to be the agent of my own development as an artist. The following fall, I moved to New Hampshire to pursue a Master of Fine Art in Painting at the University of New Hampshire. I graduated in May of 2017. After earning my MFA, I attended the Jerusalem Studio School’s Masterclass in Civita Castellana, Italy, where I met Lauren and formed a lasting friendship with her and other dedicated painters.
I currently live in Richmond, Virginia, and work as the Director and Curator of the Flippo Gallery at Randolph-Macon College and adjunct instructor of studio art at Randolph-Macon and William and Mary.
LK: Describe your process of making a painting from beginning to end.
KP: I am interested in small, unassuming scenes that present instances of visual tension created through the juxtaposition of opposing aesthetic elements. These simple moments amplify an intriguing phenomenon I seek to capture in my work—any given motif can be banal and yet, mysterious. Much of my work lacks figure or set-up, not because I do not enjoy painting these subjects, but rather, because I am attentive to what surrounds me. I am always on the lookout for intriguing color interactions and geometries by which I can make a painting. I am constantly composing paintings with my eye and mind before picking up brush and paint. Once I have spotted what it is I want to paint, I overcome the obstacles to set up and paint in front of what I’ve found. At times, this has meant driving two and half hours to return to a painting I composed in my head while driving and setting up to paint on the side of the road. Usually, this simply means that I drag my easel to the back yard or side street.
I begin painting by going after the geometries and color interactions that had originally caught my eye. I negotiate in tandem the picture’s color relationships and compositional structure. Color and composition relate to one another like sides of a Ribik’s Cube, as one decision impacts and dictates another. I mix paint with a palette knife to pursue a specify and clarity of color. I apply paint with both palette knife and brush and use little to no medium. The final and hardest part of my painting process is deciding to stop when the painting is done. The ability to pay close attention to my painting to know when to set down my palette knife and stop and when to keep painting is a skill in which I am still maturing.
LK: Who are some artists that have influenced you, both past and present?
KP: I have been most impacted by artists whose works I have had the privilege to stand in front of and see. It is through an experience of awe with the physical presence of an artist’s work that I have been most influenced. I shared one such experience of awe with Lauren while looking at the work of Masolino and Masaccio in the Brancacci chapel in Florence last year. We both stood awestruck at Masaccio’s monumentality of form and vitality of color. This experience recalled a similar one a year prior in Arezzo of being enveloped and invited into the serene presence of Piero della Francesca’s fresco cycle. Likewise, I hold with me the feelings of wonderment I felt in front of Degas’ experimental and poetic monotypes at the MOMA in 2016. Artist such as Diebenkorn, Matisse, and Cezanne have demanded my attention and instructed me in new ways of creating pictorial space and compositional structure. Vermeer, Morandi, Vuillard, and Bonnard have illuminated to me new possibilities of color sensibility. At other times as with the work of Arthur Dove, Bill Traylor, James Castle and Paul Klee the what of what it is I am learning is less obvious to me, but I find myself fascinated.
Yet, I imagine it is my friends and past teachers whose influences I carry most closely at hand. I have had the privilege to study under Susan Jane Walp, Gillian Pederson-Krag, Brian Rego, Catherine Drabkin, John Lee, Nicole Santiago, Elizabeth Mead, and Brian Kreydatus. I have learned much from both their paintings and their presence.
LK: What do you find is your biggest challenge or block to your artist life?
KP: I am at my worst when I become self-conscious and get trapped inside my own head, which I hate to confess does happen especially when I am preparing for a show. I find my work suffers most when I demand too much from it—wanting it to impress, hoping to win the affirmation of others or wishing my work to be sellable and monetarily sustaining. I have found an acute difference lies between striving and straining in painting.
LK: What advice would you give to artists just starting out, or to yourself ten years ago?
KP: Seek to study under generous and good teachers and find places, whether through residencies, workshops, or organically, by which you can form and nurture painting friendships. It is your teachers and friends who will challenge you, inspire you, and advocate for your continued development. Cultivate an ability to learn from all things, even if it is simply what not to do. Take charge of your own learning and devote time for your continued development. You are your own best advocate. Set up studio visits, visit museums, buy paintings you like and can learn from if you can at all afford them, be disciplined and sincere in your work but don’t take yourself too seriously, you’re painting in 2018 after all!
LK: You have said “Color is what I’m after in my paintings.” Can you elaborate?
KP: Although color envelops us it is not easily named or pinned down. It is elusive, dynamic, and temporal, presenting a game of cat and mouse for the artist seeking its capture. Color and its incomparable ability to portray a sensation of light upon canvas is what I am after. With each painting I respond to surprises of color discovered in my everyday surroundings and seek to paint its intrigue.
LK: Your upcoming show in Easton PA is called “Resonance.” Why did you choose that title?
KP: Resonance evokes a musical fullness and variety of sound. Merriam-Webster describes it as “the intensification and enriching of a musical tone by supplementary vibration.” As with music, the rich and versatile identity of a color is revealed only in its relationships to supplementary or neighboring colors. Merriam-Webster adds to resonance, “a quality of evoking response.” To borrow the words of Euan Uglow, “I am painting an idea not an ideal”—a remembered impression rather than a meticulous rendering.
I compose structured paintings that aim at depicting a satisfying harmony of control and abandon, imbued with poetic emotion. I invent, omit, and simplify whenever necessary, intending to arrive at a pleasing balance between described observation and remembered impression. I invite my viewer into my experience of awe and fullness of presence to something mundane and often missed. My hope is that my painted colors resonate and evoke a response of wonder.
LK: How does teaching art inform your practice as a working artist?
KP: Teaching creates a hunger within me to paint. In my 2D Foundations class at William and Mary I spend a portion of the semester teaching students how to perceive and paint sensations of color. I have found that when I spend time opening my student’s eyes to new ways of seeing value and color, my eyes are subsequently primed and my sensibilities fine-tuned. For me, there has been great reciprocity in teaching and painting as one mutually nourishes the other.