Exhibiting Artist Interview: Kristen Van Diggelen

For this interview, SOMArts cCommunications Fellow Lex Kosieradzki caught up with artist Kristen Van Diggelen, who had some interesting things to say about the role of virgins and the Baroque (among other things) in her work.  Kristen’s work is on display in SOMArts’ exhibition Overturn The Artifice March 8-29, 2013.

Your work obviously has a lot to do with the history of art.  How do you characterize your relationship with history?
The history of art is very important to my practice. I’m always looking back (and to my contemporaries) to see who did what in the most innovative and effective ways…whether it’s narration, brushwork, color relationships, etc. I think artists who were/are able to address the culture, political/social/spiritual atmosphere of their time in a visually proficient and powerful way are vital to all of us. I want to learn from the best and apply it to the here and now.

How does humor function in your work?  I’m thinking specifically about your sculpture, but your paintings are funny as well.
I don’t aim to be solely humorous or snide. When humor surfaces in my work, it is usually just a result of working through an idea, with or without a humorous intent. I am actually not comfortable with humor in my work. It takes serious effort for me to let those pieces just “be.”

Can you speak a little bit about the juxtaposition of historical and cultural icons from the Virgin Cake Plate?
“The Virgin Cake Plate” (from the “Thing About Virgins Series”) is just a small piece of a giant puzzle I’m navigating. I have an interest in the mind/body/spirit relationship of the human condition, and sexuality has an essential role in that dialogue.

I find the past and present state of being (or not being) a “virgin”  fascinating. Most religions glorify virginity (for women?) to the point which, in this day of age, some women out of fear go under the knife to restore what was “lost,” and at the other end of the spectrum, popular culture here in the West views it as a freakish absurdity. Clearly, there is power, glory, demonization and destruction here.

Regarding the specific icons I used in this particular piece, I could write an essay about it— I’ll spare you. Basically, I’m interested in sites of predicament, hypocrisy and purification…within the context of the body and social behavior.


Your sculptures often end up in your paintings.  What does it mean for you to make objects and then paint pictures of them?
Often times I feel like these paintings are are a “self-relflexive baby and the bath water”— combining the history of painting with craft, kitsch, current events and my own commentary/autobiographical baggage. They are all loaded secrets and allusions, but I’m not sure how decipherable they are, and if that is even important. More simply stated, I don’t yet know what it means for me to make these paintings. I’m currently tending towards editing, less is more, paint itself is more, less subject matter, let craft be craft, paint be paint.

Your work makes use of a conflation of images from the Baroque and today’s pop culture and news headlines.  Have you ever worked with different strategies of juxtaposition, or is the 21st century vs. the Baroque the key question?
The Baroque Era fostered some of the most visually effective pictures ever made in regards to pictorial space, movement, affectation, drama and the fetishization of subject matter, so I look there frequently. Currently, I’m thinking a lot about paint, using lots of it, at different speeds, so the late 19th and 20th centuries (and of course 21st century) have been flooding my studio, and it’s changing how I make the work.

In brief, I have certain ideas, concerns and motifs that are always there, cultivating, progressing in my head, and I’m constantly borrowing, experimenting and strangling whatever visual language I can find that will best suit it. My work is not about juxtaposing the Baroque with today, but it’s more of a progression of ideas intentionally loaded with the history of artists before me.

What kind of research do you do for this work?
My research really comes from everywhere. I’m always looking to history, art history, news stories (lots of news), kiln manuals, google, magazines, nature, biographies of artists, mystics, economists, etc. I’m actually always researching, I can’t stop.

Above Images: Kristen Van Diggelen with “The Thing About Virgins” series (photo by Jess Young) and Still Life With Lights by Kristen Van Diggelen

About the Interviewer: Lex Kosieradzki grew up in Minneapolis and now he’s working on his MFA in Social Practice at the California College of the Arts.  He lives in Oakland.