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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Kristin Calabrese

Inglewood,
United States

Kristin Calabrese, b. 1968 San Francisco, is an artist-curator who lives and works in Los Angeles. The focus of her work includes psychology, humor, politics and formal issues of composition and representation, primarily through painting. Calabrese mines her own life and experience as a source to attempt to locate a small piece of the human condition. Solo exhibitions include Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, Brennan & Griffin in New York, and Michael Jansen in Cologne. Calabrese has also curated many group exhibitions, including at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and Honor Fraser Gallery. Her work is included in numerous collections including Saatchi and The Armand Hammer Museum.

Feminist Artist Statement

My artwork is about my personal reality. My experience is not the same as every woman. I grew up in the 70s in a middle-class white American suburb. I had an authoritative father, and my mom was a housewife. All the kids I went to school with had stay-at-home moms. Because we moved around a lot, my mother was lonely, bored, and miserable. My childhood was a cliche of sexism. My father wouldn’t allow my mom to work. She had to ask his permission to buy things. She didn’t feel she could leave him because she didn’t think she would be able to take care of me and my brother. I vowed to live a life as different from hers as possible.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” gave voice to my paintings. Edith Wharton is another strong influence because her writings describe the ways that women were supposed to look and act (“ladylike”) and had to resort to indirect communication.

I am primarily an oil painter. My paintings speak plainly, make jokes, and are irreverent. I was drawn to the medium because a painting is both a picture and a real object that cannot be denied by the viewer. Even though my paintings don’t make actual sounds, paintings are articulate in the language of imagery and physicality. I paint to make my thoughts, feelings, and experience into monuments that mark my small and large, personal existence.

<p>Mom’s Dress</p>

Mom’s Dress

Mom’s Dress is a 5 x 6 foot painting of a small area in the lap of a dress, blown up.

It’s a 4 year old kid’s eye view of Mom when going up to hug her legs. I didn’t realize the painting would be this when I started it. My goal had been to put many different colors on the canvas, but have them illusionistically look like one surface, that was not the surface of the canvas, but maybe an inch or two below the surface, and on the peaks, possibly appear to be in the room, forward on the canvas. The dress I took the pattern from to paint is a floral fabric. The painting ended up still really looking like a dress in the painting - a dress with the kind of fabric my mom wore in the early 70s. She would make her own dresses and small versions with the same fabric for me. I didn’t realize the content of the painting - that it was about the memory of being a kid - until I was well into the painting of it.

Mom’s Dress

Mom’s Dress is a 5 x 6 foot painting of a small area in the lap of a dress, blown up.

It’s a 4 year old kid’s eye view of Mom when going up to hug her legs. I didn’t realize the painting would be this when I started it. My goal had been to put many different colors on the canvas, but have them illusionistically look like one surface, that was not the surface of the canvas, but maybe an inch or two below the surface, and on the peaks, possibly appear to be in the room, forward on the canvas. The dress I took the pattern from to paint is a floral fabric. The painting ended up still really looking like a dress in the painting - a dress with the kind of fabric my mom wore in the early 70s. She would make her own dresses and small versions with the same fabric for me. I didn’t realize the content of the painting - that it was about the memory of being a kid - until I was well into the painting of it.

Fear of the Poor

This is a painting of eight homeless people. I spent a week photographing homeless people in Los Angeles for this painting. I gave each homeless person $5 and asked them if they would pose as a monster for this painting. I photographed many more than I used. I made the people larger on top than on the bottom of the painting, so they would look like they are looming over the viewer. I painted this painting because, as a progressive, I was feeling conflicted by my negative feelings towards homeless people that I was having because of aggressive panhandling. I don’t want to have negative feelings about the poor.

When Life Gives You Lemons

This is a painting of a very distressed abandoned interior with beautiful furniture and a dinner for two waiting to be eaten. This painting is about denial. It comes from thinking about dysfunctional families. Terribly dysfunctional families are kept together because the participants pretend that nothing is wrong. In my own family of origin, my dad was a violent alcoholic, and my mom acted like we were just a normal American dream family. This was hard for me as a child because it made me feel like my memories were unreal. I’ve done a lot of work in this area.

Hold Your Breath

Hold Your Breath is a painting of a colorful bouquet of flowers in front of a wall with some colorful spray paint lines on it and some painted depictions of torn bits of floral sheets from my bed. I wanted to paint this painting because I love the flower paintings of Brenna Youngblood and Nina Bovasso. I like the way Brenna uses many kinds of materials spontaneously, and because of the collision of colors and materials, her paintings are mind blowing and overwhelming – they erase thoughts. I wanted to be able to do that, so I thought that I could combine rendering of different kinds of materials to create the same effect, although in a slowed down way – more like a car accident when time slows down. I thought that I could mimic loose naturalness and make something look natural that’s completely controlled. I had to work hard to copy a natural gesture or a natural flower.

My Only Regret

My Only Regret is a painting of some words that I overheard at a bar and found funny, on a background of a rendering of my husband’s painting table. I like that the sentiment is someone’s regret of not doing something bad, rather than the regret of not doing something good. I think a lot of people don’t admit their bad motives to themselves.

Big Funky Chicken

I write all over the walls of my studio. Big Funky Chicken is a painting of my wall with feathers stuck on it. I made that painting in response to a viewer who remarked that one of my interiors was “just a still life.” Technically, an interior is not a still life, since a still life is commonly a painting of fruits, flowers, musical instruments, meats, and vessels on a table; however I think the viewer was referring to objects arranged and painted, including furniture and other objects depicted in the painting. In that case, I reasoned, all realistic paintings are still life. I said, “I could just stick feathers on this wall and call it a still life. The idea struck me as funny, so I decided to paint it. I also thought that rendering my wall with the words all over it was similar to a trend of artists putting their studio walls in their shows, and also I thought it was interestingly personal – a bit of a self portrait of my thoughts. I called it Big Funky Chicken because it’s a big thing with colored feathers on it – mostly again because it gave me a chuckle. The dimensions of this painting are 63 x 63 inches – the same as my height by the with of my arms stretched out.

For Your Own Good

For Your Own Good is a life-sized painting of me, crouched in the corner, holding a knife. The painting sits on the floor and leans in the corner, so it’s almost like the corner of the gallery might have had me there with a knife at a different time, or like a different place is superimposed on the corner like a ghost or something. I mean the painting as a warning for people not to get to close to me because I might attack them. Or maybe I mean that if someone wants someone to blame for them getting attacked, I’m right over here with a knife, in the corner. I also painted it just because I thought it was funny.

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