Salon 91 is filled with new paintings by Kirsten Sims, marking her second solo exhibition at the gallery. Loose brushstrokes mix colours creating landscapes that enchant and intrigue. Gazing at them we become voyeurs peeking into the lives of others in settings that bewilder and surprise. The gestural quality of her work is evocative, allotting each canvas with a different mood – some reflect solitude while others embrace companionship.
“This body of work is both an exploration of narrative on a larger format and an investigation of how abstract mark making can be combined with figurative story telling. Telling stories on a larger scale feels overwhelming and exciting and that feeling is what I want to investigate with this exhibition. Using old magazines, personal photographs and the infinite rabbit holes of the internet as my points of departure, I explore the landscapes and stories from the area ‘where the pin drops’. As always my focus is on people, places, parties, palms and pets,” Kirsten says.
Your exhibition is titled ‘You are Here’. Where might that be?
‘You Are Here’ is more of a philosophical idea than a real place…it directly correlates to my first solo exhibition which was ‘The Middle of Nowhere’. The titles of both shows are significantly indicative of the personal space I was in when I approached the work. I’ve been on a little journey between ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Here’. The poem by Walt Whitman, ‘O me, O life’ which I have up at the show beautifully expresses my sentiments on how the two bodies of work came together. I interpret it to mean that although you may be a tiny speck in an infinite universe, you are here right now, you exist, and what you have to say is important.
‘In between spaces’ is a constant theme in your work. Why do you feel compelled to explore them?
I think the ‘in between spaces’ represent the silences in conversations; sometimes awkward, sometimes peaceful. I like eavesdropping – I like observing the way people have conversations, the dynamics between people and the things they don’t say. I’m definitely more of an observer than a participant – so I think I often paint the things I wish I’d said.
How do you feel your work evolves with each new exhibition?
I’ve become a lot more experimental with canvas size and colour.
Who or what influences your aesthetic sensibility?
I think my influences go very far back. The characters, stories and illustrations from Enid Blyton, Doctor Seuss, Hans Christian Anderson and Roald Dahl – especially the illustrations of Quentin Blake definitely got stuck somewhere. I love looking at pictures I drew as a child and seeing how something like my gran’s freehand embroidery influenced the way I drew – I still see a lot of that coming through. I studied illustration under Michael Taylor for 3 years and his approach to drawing had a big influence on me. In more recent years I’ve been influenced by illustrators and artists like Oliver Jeffers, Laura Carlin, Edward Gorey, Carson Ellis, Andre Francois and Peter Doig.
What made you decide to take up painting, and what do you value most about working in the medium?
I am an illustrator by training and I think I will always approach painting from an illustrator’s perspective. Illustration is about communication and conveying a specific message, usually in the most efficient way possible. I started painting with gouache in my second year of studying and I loved it as it was an efficient way of creating an image because it dried quickly and scanned well for reproduction. I enjoyed the medium so much that I started to paint for fun and started working bigger and looser and slowly moved over to acrylic. What I love about the medium is the freedom it gives me to be experimental, accidental and playful.
Your paintings are a combination of the literal and figurative. What informs your choice of colour?
Of all the locations you’ve explored, which has had the most effect on you and why?
Mossel Bay. It’s where I was born. It’s where I grew up. It’s where I go to rest and reboot in between adventures and chapters. It’s steeped in personal memory and history and nostalgia. Every street, every tree, every corner has a story…so of course it has been the star of many of my paintings.
Your work is evocative, visceral and tells many stories. Is this an organic or planned process?
I’d say it is organic. I do sometimes start with a plan but I very rarely follow through. The planned stuff is usually quite static and dull.
People are often part and parcel of a larger and omnipotent natural environment. What do you make of the relationship between humans and the different landscapes they frequent?
My landscapes and party/people scenes have a very different energy. The party scenes are more frenetic and detailed with a focus on specific characters and the dynamics at play vs. the landscapes which are more soothing and quiet. When/if there are people in them they are usually sparsely placed and really more a part of the landscape than an actor or participant in the picture. Sometimes the trees and mountains take on their own characters and personalities. Monique from Salon91 who curated the show put it beautifully. She said that she thinks the viewers of my work experience what the characters in the landscapes and peopled scenes experience – that some people feel recharged by being around people and others renew their energy in the solitude of nature. I feel both and I think the way I choose my subject matter shows that – interactions with people and the natural world are equally important.
‘You are Here’ is showing at Salon 91 until 23 April.