Art Treatise: Beauty and Change

by Kathryn Manis
September 2016

The still lifes of Kristin Gibson

A still life is by definition a depiction of something that is inanimate, not moving, but artist Kristin Gibson says the form is fluid, always evolving. Even an individual painting can communicate change.

"The genre of still life reflects daily life, and how it can change so quickly," says Gibson, whose bright, expressive paintings of flowers and interior spaces are deeply rooted in her personal life and experience.

The still life has been an important genre of painting in the West for centuries, and dates back as far as ancient Greece. The form has undergone many developments and changes over time, holding, for example, complex narratives, moralistic messages, and symbolic meaning during the Italian and Northern Renaissance periods. Some famous practitioners from this era are Albrecht Durer and Caravaggio.

In the 19th century, artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Paul C?zanne brought the genre to new heights. Van Gogh's floral paintings and interiors did not just depict scenes but interpreted them, conveying both the scene and the sense of viewing it in a precise moment. C?zanne's still lifes granted a sense of monumentality to the everyday objects they depicted, and his geometric, grandiose style inspired many Cubist artists.

Gibson cites C?zanne, along with Matisse, Bonnard, Braque and O'Keefe, as artists who have impacted her work and provided inspiration.

"C?zanne painted almost 200 still lifes, focusing on simple household items," she says. "He loved the rich colors and basic shapes of fruit. He also liked the challenge of creating a great painting using everyday objects. He appreciated fruits and flowers as the products of nature, as well as common domestic objects like pitchers, jars, and bottles, which he felt held an admirable sense of craftsmanship. 'I will astonish Paris with an apple,' he once said."

Gibson shares C?zanne's appreciation of the everyday. And like the Impressionist painters, her work impulse extends beyond mere representation.

"Flowers signify changes of seasons and changes of life; fleeting moments of vibrant bloom," she says. "They speak to resilience, buds pushing through frozen ground. Flowers are hopeful. Flowers and bouquets are symbols of special occasions -- joy, birthdays, thankfulness, cheer, and anniversaries -- yet mark times of great sadness, grief, and regret too. I do not paint each flower as it truly is, or each petal and leaf. My flowers evolve into color, composition and texture."

Still life commonly represents and celebrates daily life and the pleasures in material comfort. It can also be a reminder of the ephemerality of the everyday and the quickness with which things can change.

Gibson, who studied surface design and painting at East Carolina University and had a formative work/study experience at the Penland School, the famous craft school in the Blue Ridge Mountains, explains that she has come to understand the changeability of life particularly well in recent years.

"I've come to appreciate it all too well, knowing how unrecognizable life can become when you have a child or loved one in health crisis," she says. "I have great empathy for all who find themselves there."

The artist was originally drawn to the genre of still life in early motherhood, appreciating a connection between the blossoming evident in nature, and the growth and development of her family. Later in her career, the subject matter took on different meaning, reminding her of strength, potential, and hope.

Gibson recently relocated from Wilmington to the Raleigh area.

"It's too soon to know what will emerge in my artwork as a result of much life change, but I do know that trading the salt air for long walks in Duke Gardens and Umstead State Park has been my self-care and continues to stir my desire to paint flowers," she says. "Each week in Duke Gardens there are different flowers, new blooms, new plant life, new colors and textures."

"Blossoms and Brushes," which juxtaposes an arrangement of lilies, hydrangeas and irises with a cup of artist's brushes, alludes to artistic potential and natural beauty. Likewise, "Camellias and Sprouted Onion," a colorful and swirling depiction of regeneration and domestic finery, brings to mind the hope and intimacy that Gibson describes as part of her impulse.

Her paintings, made exclusively with Golden Heavy Body Acrylics, showcase the artist's lively and emotional brushwork and warm and inviting color palette. An affinity for bold color mixing originated early in Gibson's career. Out of college she worked for textile manufacturers Culp Inc. and Health-Tex designing, painting, and coloring fabric collections for ticking, upholstery and apparel.

"The impression of yards and yards of fabric printed in dynamic, repeating patterns" stuck with the artist, who creates hand-painted and hand-dyed silk scarves, along with her canvases.

Work experience in the furniture industry also immersed Gibson in floral designs.

"Much of the home furnishings print market was flowers and floral motifs," she says. "I was exposed to both U.S. and European high-end studios, which were creating really layered and sophisticated artworks. This foundation in textiles certainly carries over to my canvases."

Gibson's finished paintings feature an impasto-style application with many layers of thickly applied paint. This reveals each mark of the artist's hand and invokes a desire to reach out and touch.

"Plum Vase with Persimmon," for example, is all about color and texture. The foreground features an elegant floral arrangement whose petals have been abstracted just enough to blur the lines between individual petals and blooms. Because of Gibson's use of color and dramatic, textural brushstrokes, the boundaries between the foreground and background are indefinite, and one gets the sense of experiencing the work, rather than simply viewing it.

This textural, painterly style is one that Gibson has cultivated over time.

"Many have inquired or thought that I use a palette knife, but it is all brush work with some layering and scraping, and sometimes textural layers of gesso to start," she says. "I've developed a technique where the jars serve as a palette and I mix the paints in the jars, on the brush, and on the canvas itself."

Despite the complexity and labor of their composition, the interiors begin as simple drawings. Starting out with a round brush and Van Dyke Brown, the artist starts by sketching.

Gibson moved to Carolina Beach in 1995 and highlights the Wilmington arts community and prodigious local support as greatly influencing her career. Meaningful relationships with those who collect her work, the galleries who represent her and other artists have impacted the artist's happiness and success.

"I greatly admire and appreciate the hard-working and devoted galleries I have been privileged to be part of, along with a wonderful circle of artists," she says. "I am incredibly thankful to the collectors who have followed my work and continue to bring my paintings into their homes and lives."

In describing what she would like for her audience to experience when viewing her paintings, Gibson uses words once sent to her by an appreciator of her oeuvre: "Your work has organic unity and a cohesive palette that yields many delights in a narrow range of colors. Your painting also does not give up all its secrets in the first look, it makes you wonder. It also makes me think, 'I wonder why I never saw such beauty in a simple arrangement of objects before?'"

"This," she says, "is more than I could hope for someone to find in my paintings."

 


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