In Conversation with artist Kirsty Black

  • 18 January 2017
  • Sarah Holden

Kirsty Black is one of The Little Gallery's painters and artist volunteers, regularly helping out at our Victoria Park Market gallery. Working from her home studio in Maraetai, Kirsty creates bold abstract paintings in a distinctive style that is loved and appreciated by many of our visitors and artists. We had a chat with her about her work and how it has come to be the success it is today!

How did you first come to start painting? How would you describe your relationship with your painting?

I’ve always painted, and love anything to do with art - my best present as a kid was a big pack of felt tips. We also travelled and moved countries often - providing endless inspiration, so I would entertain myself drawing and painting. I doodled on literally everything! Then in 2003 my husband and I lived in Seoul, South Korea, and this gave me a chance to focus purely on painting and discover my own style. Over the years I’ve become more comfortable with the process and learned to enjoy the journey of painting rather than expecting every piece to be a success.

I know you have talked a lot about materialising the intangible through your paintings, and investigating how formal painting elements like colour, form, composition and repetition can be worked with to achieve this. But there’s also another side to your work that is interested in landscapes, nature, and not-quite-abstraction. Do you try to find some sort of reconciliation between the pure abstract and the representational? What do you see your work as being about?

I don’t try to reconcile pure abstraction with the representational and never paint with a particular scene in mind or from a photo. The ‘not quite abstraction’ is more about the suggestion or awareness of the world around me - industrial, domestic etc., as well as natural. For the pure abstracts I view my work as daydreams that, unconsciously or otherwise, unfold on canvas - snippets of memories that create an atmosphere and tell a story, however obscure.

Many of our gallery visitors love the playfulness of the colours and shapes in your work – and particularly the ambiguity – I feel there’s often a fine line with painting, between giving too much away and not giving enough - that you seem to work well with. Could you talk about this?

While I’m outgoing and sociable, which I think is reflected in my work, I am also quite private and happy to be by myself which perhaps creates a sense of ambiguity. And my background has given me an extensive and varied visual catalogue of impressions and memories that I reference. This, I think, gives the viewer a glimpse rather than the whole picture. Hopefully, it also allows them to discover their own stories in the piece – to me that is one of the joys of abstract art.

I find the repetition very interesting – both within your paintings themselves, and also the way you sometimes revisit the same paintings and compositions. It's as though your paintings are memories of each other - sort of like Chinese whispers, where each version differs slightly from the previous. How does this fit into your process?

When I dream, I often serial dream and will pick up where I left off - and to some extent am able to steer the course of the dream. I guess that my paintings are like that, in the sense that there is a rhythm, which is carried through my work. It isn’t necessarily a conscious decision, rather something that I am attracted to and like to repeat – almost obsessively.

Painting can be difficult today when there are so many painters often doing similar things, and the long history of the medium can be hard to work with. It is impressive that you work as a full-time artist. How do you maintain your practice and differentiate yourself from the many other painters in New Zealand?

I treat my practice like any other job in that I put in the hours, including the humdrum stuff. Essentially I keep going, keep practising, enjoy myself and keep painting.

In terms of differentiating myself, I don’t try as such. Rather, I try to let my personality live in the work and once I am lost in the process of painting I think that happens naturally.

Currently I’ve noticed a bit of a transition in your work – venturing out into a brighter, bolder palette and more distinct forms, compared to your less recent work which had a more toned down, earthy palette and more fluid, loose forms. Can you tell me more about this and what influenced the change?

My more recent paintings revisit older work in terms of a brighter, bolder palette and distinct forms, however the colours now are more considered, less primary and the forms less simple. The pieces are more layered, and while repetition is still evident, the work is less reliant on pattern. A part of the change I think simply comes down to being comfortable as an artist and while my preference is for brighter, bolder colours, colour is emotive and the combinations used reflect the stories that I’m trying to tell.

What artists do you admire and why? Do you have any dream collaborations?

Gosh the list is endless – Rothko is a particular favourite, as is the sculptor Anish Kapoor. I love the simplicity, scale and power of their work. I can quite happily get lost in it. I would love to collaborate with a sculptor and particularly admire Judy Millar. I love the way some of her work is both painterly and sculptural.

Do you have some idea of the direction your work will take in the future? Any plans or upcoming projects?

I am keen to work on some larger scale paintings including large diptychs and triptychs, and I’d like to paint a black and white series – for me that is quite a challenge, colours keep hopping in when I’m not watching! Other than that, keep learning, keep painting and getting out of the studio to see what great work others are doing.

Kirsty will be participating in our Artist Demonstration Evening at our Auckland branch on Thursday 16 March, where you have the chance to meet her as well as artist Jo Dalgety, and see their art-making processes in action! See our Events page for more information.

Images courtesy of Kirsty Black


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