We are pleased to announce that Kristen Arden is our Artist of the Month! As a metal worker, Kristen creates a variety of sculptures, custom furniture, and installation pieces. With a bachelors in Painting and Drawing and a Masters in Art History, Kristen has an accomplished and diverse background in the arts. Kristen is also located in the Northeast Arts District and has a studio right next door in the Northrop King Building.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Was being an artist always a part of your plan?
I was always interested in art from a very early age, drawing and coloring for hours on end. My Dad had a collection of art books of Impressionists and other ‘classic’ painters and artists that I would get lost in. In high school, I thought I wanted to do something involving the sciences, like be a Chemical Engineer or Oceanographer, but when I entered college, I immediately signed up for art classes to see if it was a direction I wanted to go.
Describe your art in one word.
Tell me more about your choice of medium. What is the best and worst thing about working with metal?
I love the versatility and durability of metal. I can shape it and heat it and bend it. I can make it as organic as I want. But I can also make completely functional things out of it, like furniture, railings, or kick plates. The sky’s the limit. I feel like with metal just about anything is possible. I don’t really see a downside, honestly, except on the days that the pieces feel particularly heavy or the work is particularly dirty. And sometimes even that part is great. I like using other materials as well, but metal is definitely my primary material.
What is your creative process? How do you spend an average day in the studio?
It really depends on the project. If it’s a commission, it’s always the process of seeing a space and then going through the planning and approval, until you start fabricating. For work I’m creating for a show or for my own exploration, it can be a bit more free flowing. But again, it depends on the piece. Some things I plan out in detail from the beginning and then follow steps, so to speak, and others I have an idea but the piece will change as I’m working on it.
Can you describe your interest in landscape and the natural world more? How do you incorporate these themes into your work?
I grew up spending summers in the northern wilderness of Minnesota, so the woods and nature made an early impression on me. Though I’ve lived in highly urban areas most of my adult life until recently – San Francisco, Florence, and NYC, among them – returning to the woods has always been a place of recalibration for me. My work has, over the years, explored my sense of reconnecting to nature and its simplicity. Usually, I’m struck by an element or aspect of nature and then explore different ways of manifesting that in my work.
Is there are cohesive narrative between your bodies of work? Or does each piece stand individually?
All my work is related in that it all carries some connection to nature in it. Some of my bodies of work seem more visually similar to each other than others. When I first showed my Natural History Museum Project at the Phipps, people were struck by how different it was than the work I ‘usually’ do. But for me, it’s all related to the same idea, just a different way of approaching it. So yes I do believe there’s a cohesiveness between my various bodies of work, but I also think each piece can stand on its own.
Burial Mound at Natural History Museum Project
Where were you born and raised? How do you think that has influenced your creative growth?
I was born and raised in St. Paul. But I moved away in my early 20’s, just about as soon as I could, and ended up in San Francisco, which is where I truly started my creative growth as an artist. Having been a strictly 2-dimensional artist before starting sculpture out in CA, it took a while to learn what my language was, but it’s been a fun exploration. My time in San Francisco learning with a bunch of other people at various stages of their artistic and chronological lives was, in retrospect, a really amazing time. There were some real creative powerhouses there. It was such a rich learning environment. I’m really grateful for that time and those people.
You have a Master’s in Art History. Can you tell me more about your experience in graduate school? What impact has this education had on your career as an artist?
It was interesting going to graduate school for Art History. I loved learning about all the different eras and the art, but I was shocked to learn that Art History as a discipline was really less about the art than it was about the criticism and the theory. Obviously, the art was important, but as far as I could tell, it was the thing to hang your theories onto. That was difficult for me. I don’t have the naturally critical writing disposition that most Art Historians have. I loved the learning, but hated the politics and realized after thinking for one year I’d go on to get a PhD that I needed to just get my Masters and get back to making Art instead of just reading and writing about it. I’m really glad I took those 3 years to study, though. I’ve never read so much in my life, and I’m an avid reader.
What are you currently working on?
I recently finished a number of projects this summer, including two commissions. One was an abstract sculpture per specs from a consultancy, the other a larger installation piece commissioned through Art Force that consisted of 24 handmade metal birds, in various states of flight that were hung from the ceiling of the lobby/main entryway of a new construction in Uptown. The latter was a particularly fun project, and totally different than anything else I’ve done.
I’ve also been working on a new body of work as part of an arts organization I joined called Project Art for Nature (PAN). After moving out to the country a few years ago I’ve been collecting natural ‘items’ that are commonplace in the natural world but have become increasingly important and displaced in our modern, urbanized lives. The 2 new pieces I created for a recent show at Gallery AZ each consist of a fabricated metal ‘tray’ that contains moss, dirt, and in one a cast bird’s nest, and the other a cast beehive.
They’re both a contemplation of a lost connection, and an exploration of the bird’s nest and beehive as objects.
A fun fact or two to share?
A couple fun facts would be that now I live and work out in the country, and in addition to 2 kids, I have 2 dogs and 5 chickens. Also, I heat my house and out-building with a wood boiler, which means I have to process about 12 cords a wood a year. I’ve recently been contemplating adding some goats to the mix. But I haven’t pulled the trigger on that one yet.