In the Studio: Christina Klein

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

I’m a Kansas girl from a town of less than 300 people. I think that’s shaped my art and personality the most. Even though I’m living on the other side of the country, I still have that small town mentality that everybody within a 5 mile radius of where I’m living is a neighbor.me

My upbringing also made me super scrappy. My dad made all of the cabinets in the house and figured out how to build a spiral staircase without a plan. My interest in woodworking stems from watching him work. My 

current series is definitely a nod to my mom, who is equally DIY. She’s a great seamstress who taught herself how to reupholster reclining chairs and couches. Both of my parents taught me how to build and sew, not to mention have been mega supportive of my artistic pursuits.

 

2. It appears as though you have moved away from paintings and into a more sculptural space with your work. Would you speak to that process and the challenges it has brought?

While living in Tallahassee for my MFA, I collected wood from trees that were bulldozed for construction. This led to my first installation where I suspended those fragments in my studio and started painting from those images. Now I seem to flip back and forth pretty regularly between building and painting where one idea fuels the next. Sometimes I need to create a model to paint from, and occasionally I build a model that resembles my paintings. The main thread that ties everything together is the recycling factor. In rural Kansas and places like it, abandoned homes are often burned down. Trees that were planted along fence rows to help with wind and erosion are also being bulldozed. This sense of change and destruction is where my fractured imagery comes from. It also makes me passionate to use found materials before buying new. I ripped up floorboards from a house before it was torn down to use as canvas stretchers. I also use recycled fabric and clothes to make canvases. Admittedly I do buy new acrylic paint for my paintings, but I work to create a balance between the old and new so my artistic practice can be more sustainable each year.

Cardboard is my latest obsession. It’s so readily available and after I de-install an installation it can be easily recycled. 

My ultimate passion project would be restoring one of the collapsed homes where I grew up. There is such beauty in the old framework and they don’t put crown molding like that in new homes! That idea might not happen for a while, but I’ll keep you updated. 

 

3. In your submission, you mention rural life and the role that has played in inspiring you work. Forgive me if I am wrong, but it appears as though you have made a move or spent a lot of time overseas. How has this affected your work and inspiration, if at all?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s a fair question and it’s something I ask myself often enough. Moving away has brought the most clarity to my work, and given me the distance to see that there was something special about my hometown worth painting about. It wasn’t until after I finished my undergrad in 2012 and moved back home to work on the family farm that I gave much thought to the abandoned houses that inspire me now. One of my lifelong neighbors, who was 92 at the time, started telling me stories about local history and how agriculture has changed in his lifetime. I started recording interviews with him and others in the neighborhood to learn more. This led to a portrait series of neighbors, the coffee crowd regulars at the Co-op and Thursday night regulars at the only bar in Fairview. 

From there I decided that it would be important to do similar research in Germany, since that is where much of the local heritage lies. I had also collected stories from residents who could remember their family speaking German in the home. That information led to my Fulbright Fellowship in Germany. One aspect of my research was simply asking questions to see if rural communities in Germany were similar or different to places in rural America. Rural communities in Germany face similar population declines due to younger residents(like myself) moving to metropolitan areas for work. But there are towns working hard to combat that change and talking to them was my goal. My research abroad involved interviewing rural residents, a local mayor working to curb rural flight, city planners, a dairy farmer and town historians. These sound bites from interviews have been included in my sculptures to tell parts and pieces of what’s happening in different communities. 

Most of my work is abstract in nature, but still continues to have imagery from Kansas or Germany. Although I enjoy doing more realistic portraits, I think the abstract series allows for more interpretation, while still telling the narrative about loss and change.

 

4. How has social media affected your studio practice?

 I’d like to think not at all! I go through phases where I post a lot and I got through periods where I have to hold myself back from instagramming a million pictures of my cat. For the most part I share just enough that people know I’m still out in the world creating things. The vast majority of my projects never make it on social media, especially the homes that I document or the people that I interviewed. That information is information is special and just for me. That may change, but right now I’m in collection mode. The goal is researching as much as possible without the pressure of putting it all out there online.

 

5. What’s a project that you’re looking forward to?

I found myself coming to a natural end to my previous interview project about the past that involved recording interviews with people in their 60s-90s. Now I’m starting to ask questions about the future to people of all ages. I want to know what people are interested in now, what their main cause is and how they envision the future will look. I want to know about what keeps people up at night and what gets them going in the morning. I think these interviews will work as a sort of time capsule and become more interesting with time. If anyone who is reading this would like to be a part of that, they can email their voice clip, or we can set up a skype interview!

 

6. My favorite question to end with, is what advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

My current series is about making what makes me happy. I think sometimes artists (myself included) get bogged down with theory and trying to hold a mirror to society. Right now I’m happy dumpster-diving for fabric, sewing it together and cobbling sculptures together. Sometimes I have big ideas about what it all means and sometimes I’m happy just painting the day away for no reason at all. There’s a lot going on in the world, and just finding happiness through art is what it’s really all about!

 

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