Kristin Bauer on Using Text, Psychology, and Silent Films as Inspiration

Kristin Bauer in her Tempe home that she shares with husband and artist Emmett Potter.
Kristin Bauer in her Tempe home that she shares with husband and artist Emmett Potter.
Mikey Estes

What happens in the studio, shouldn't always stay in the studio. Studio Visit Q+A is a new weekly series that profiles artists in their studios. We ask them questions, they provide answers, and then we have a nice discussion about their work. This week: Tempe artist Kristin Bauer.

Tempe-based artist Kristin Bauer has been exhibiting her work locally and nationally for over a decade now. After graduating from ASU, she started her career off with solo shows at Modified Arts and was living off of selling her paintings. Her work took a detour in 2010 after working towards a master's degree to enable her to practice as an art therapist. That experience completely changed her creative output. "It's almost like a different person made it," Bauer says of her previous work.

See also: Phoenix Artist Daniel Funkhouser on Science Fiction Addiction and How Play Shapes His Work

After studying topics such as cognitive therapy and psychology, Bauer began to develop an interest in using text in her work. Her paintings from 2004 through 2009 came from her personal narrative, but her work made since 2010 is a departure from that. Bauer moved on to what lies beneath, "how we all make sense of the world around us," she says. With her graphic body of work that includes painting, sculpture, and installation, Bauer's current concerns are written and visual language.

Distorted still images made from silent films in Bauer's studio space.
Distorted still images made from silent films in Bauer's studio space.
Mikey Estes

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Her paintings and sculptures combine words and phrases with appropriated imagery. Many of the images she uses come from silent films. Like silent films, her work relies on the relationship between text and image and the fluidity of that relationship. Bauer is not making work with a distinct message in mind, instead, she is more intrigued by the numerous possible points of entry into the work. This open endedness speaks to how differently we each interpret visual culture.

Her recent project for IN FLUX Cycle 5, located in downtown Tempe, is the perfect example of this. It pairs an image of a dark-haired silent film starlet with text that reads "LOOK UP AND SEE ME." With this pairing, our minds immediately told us that it's Amelia Earheart even though the two women actually look nothing alike. We felt pretty ignorant when upon discovering discovered that we were wrong, but now realize that these kind of associations are what Bauer is fascinated by.

Bauer works on several projects at once, giving herself time to make the right visual decisions.
Bauer works on several projects at once, giving herself time to make the right visual decisions.
Mikey Estes

"I think there's layers of things that I will feel in how it's put together," Bauer says. "It has to be expansive. There has to be different feelings or ideas stirred up from it and if that's not there, if it's really one-dimensional, then I'm not interested."

Bauer treats language in the same way that a writer builds sentences or a child plays with building blocks. One of her inspirations moving into this way of working was teaching her children how to read and seeing how their minds would put words and images together. It's often a subconscious energy that puts these things together and then our cognitive mind tries to make sense of it all.

Bauer's work is inspired by the multifaceted ways in which we engage with language, whether it be written or visual. Her sculptural works function as 3D paintings, emphasizing the importance of perspective. As you move around the work, different images and words are paired together. She is currently in the process of engaging with this fluidity even more through using transparency, allowing for different pairings to collapse into one another. These layers of pigment and text serve as a direct reference to the complex ways we each see the world.  

A small selection of the many art books in Bauer and Potter's Tempe home.
A small selection of the many art books in Bauer and Potter's Tempe home.
Mikey Estes

Tell us about your work in haiku format. Read between the words Pedestrian poetry Less is always more

What artist(s) are you really into right now? John Baldessari, Doris Salcedo, Sister Corita Kent, Urs Fischer, Jim Hodges, Liam Gillick

What are you reading? Just finished Kim Gordon's Girl In A Band and beginning Nietzsche's The Will To Power

What's the last TV show, film, or video you watched? House of Cards

Though Bauer's work has developed outside of the boundaries of painting, a love for pigment is still at its core.
Though Bauer's work has developed outside of the boundaries of painting, a love for pigment is still at its core.
Mikey Estes

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why? Collaborating with Christian Marclay would be amazing. The way he appropriates video content and seamlessly threads it together to make his own moving visual symphony inspires me when I look at the marriage of appropriated content in my own work. My work has a tension between flatness and movement and the tension of fluidity and breaks in his work would be exciting to combine.

What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it? Postcommodity at SMoCA. I thought it was an incredible sensory experience that drew interesting parallels between nature, the body, history and capitalism as well as relational rhythms in power structures. The way that they approach sound in this exhibit and other works of theirs is brilliant.

Jeff Koons or Marina Abramović and why? Marina Abramovic. She has built an oeuvre of work that has such depth and poetry to it, while solely using her body as the central tool and medium. I feel she has elevated performance art and time based art in the art world in general through her die-hard dedication. That being said, as a female artist and a mother, I was disappointed with some things she said in Sarah Thornton's book 33 Artists in 3 Acts: "A woman, she claims, has to be like a man to be an artist. 'One of the reasons why there are fewer women artists than men is because women don't want to sacrifice their main function to reproduce, to have a family, and the comforts of everyday life." I can't stand behind that at all.

Detail image of Bauer's experiments with transparency thus far.
Detail image of Bauer's experiments with transparency thus far.
Mikey Estes

What's the best advice you've ever received? Just make good work and lots of it. (My husband Emmett Potter, who is a brilliant artist always says this.)

What are you currently working on? I'm working on painted sculptural cubes, multi-panel pieces and experimenting with introducing photography of silent films on my TV into my work as elements for paint and collage. I am also playing around with transparency and layering transparent text. I always have to be working on a few different things because I like to take quite a bit of time to step back from each work and observe it at each stage of development.

What's your most valued tool as an artist? My literacy

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