As an artist and an adventurer, Kirsten Savage paints to portray not only the beauty of the world but also to depict her journey of solitude and self-discovery. In our latest interview, Kirsten shares her inspirations, art, and the stories behind her current solo exhibition, "Space to Breathe: Seeking Solitude Around the World." Dive in as we discuss her experiences, her unique artistic perspective, and the message she seeks to convey through her evocative artwork.
Kirsten Savage at the Crest Stoos Hike, Switzerland.
Can you share with us some of your earliest memories of being drawn to art?
I loved the kids’ books that showed you how to turn basic shapes into faces and animals. It helped simplify the drawing process, and make it feel less like magic and more attainable as a kid. Everywhere I went, I carried colored pencils, crayons, and a stack of scrap paper from my dad’s office. One hot summer day, I left a pink crayon in the backseat of the car. It melted and never came out of the upholstery.
As a child growing up in Baltimore, how did your surroundings shape your early interest in art?
As a family, we spent a lot of time frequenting the free art museums in Baltimore and Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C. I would be allowed to buy a postcard of my favorite painting from the museum gift shop and that started my first foray into art appreciation. We also had a close family friend who was a realist artist, and I loved to be in his bohemian studio space stacked with art books and photographs.
How did your experience in college, studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art, shape your artistic perspective?
As an Illustration major minoring in Literature, I was more on the commercial side of art but still received a solid foundation in classical drawing and painting. I always loved that literary jumping off point that helped to create the illustrations, but after I graduated, I pivoted to working on fine art. Since stories create pictures in our minds, the initial spark for my paintings are still often inspired by something that I read. It can be a poem, a book of nonfiction, current events in the news, or a captivating legend that I stumble across while immersed in a different culture.
When it came to picking a career path, it was always a toss-up between being a forest ranger or an artist. After moving from Baltimore to Colorado, I led a trail crew for Colorado Fourteeners Initiative in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service on Rocky Mountain’s 14,000’ peaks. For three years, I lived in a tent at 11,000 feet and worked on conservation projects and trail maintenance above tree-line. It was a wonderful and wild job, but after a few years the lure of studio life won out over manual labor with little oxygen.
You're an avid world traveler and mountaineer. Can you share some memorable experiences or encounters from your travels and climbs?
After moving to Colorado, I started plein air painting with Dave Santillianes and had a lot of fun dodging moose and elk while we hiked with our art supplies all over the neighboring high alpine landscape. We utilized the 10th Mountain Division Hut system here in Colorado, and invited other local artists to join us on painting and hiking adventures. We would have impromptu critiques with our paintings propped up on the cabin walls and challenged each other to work in wind, rain, and snow.
You served a term as chair of the board of directors for the City of Fort Collins Art in Public Places. Can you tell us more about that experience and any standout moments during your term?
In my 4-year term of leadership, it was incredible to see all the effort that goes into the public art process to educate, elevate, and inspire our city's residents and visitors. I also engaged with City Council and found that it was necessary to continuously remind our lawmakers that art is a powerful economic driver and worth investing in.
Anytime I combine art and international travel, I feel a surge of inspiration and return to the studio with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. I have been grateful to be able to collect stories and create painting studies during my recent trips to Italy, Morocco, the Canary Islands, United Kingdom, Scotland, and Mexico. In 2012, I painted alongside Jeremy Lipking at a thirteenth-century cabin near Stockholm that became the studio of one of Sweden's most prolific painters, Anders Zorn. In 2018, I traveled to Menorca Pulsar in the Balearic Islands of Spain for an intensive “boot camp” with contemporary painters, Jeremy Mann and Nadezda, and about 15 other artists from around the world. I feel like these experiences have a contagious energy and form a bond between all the artists “in the trenches” together. We push our creative limits, share deeply personal insights, and talk from our first morning coffee until our late-night glass of wine about the artwork that has brought us to tears.
These Waters Are My Sky by Kirsten Savage
In your current solo exhibition, "Space to Breathe: Seeking Solitude Around the World," you've depicted a wide array of locations, from seascapes to major cities. Can you walk us through your process for selecting these diverse settings for your artwork?
No matter where I travel, I find myself continuously seeking out the areas where the open sky reminds us how small we really are in this big wide world. I love sitting in the deafening silence of the desert, and wandering off the beaten path to find respite from the cacophony of crowded and touristy spaces.
All the figurative works in "Space to Breathe: Seeking Solitude Around the World" feature a lone figure, which seems to echo the solitude in your title. Could you elaborate on this choice and what it represents in the context of your exhibition?
I always appreciated the Lorado Taft quote, "However closely we may be thrown together by circumstances...we are unknown to each other." We have such a barrage of sound, stimulus, and information coming at us daily that it is easy to lose sight of ourselves. We are the architects of our own lives, and I hope that this exhibition serves as a reminder that we must take the time and space to discover and explore our own passions and purpose.
Can you share the story behind one painting from the exhibition that embodies your themes of contemplation and connection?
David and Goliath by Kirsten Savage
In my figurative work, I purposefully leave some mystery in the storytelling to inspire critical thinking and personal reflection. By making the artwork less about capturing a particular likeness and more about a particular emotion in a moment, it allows the viewer to have their own feelings and personal experiences reflected back at themselves. Everybody loves a good comeback story, and "David and Goliath" seemed like one of the best. We all have to face a "Goliath" at some point in our lives- a seemingly insurmountable, intimidating challenge ahead of us. I hope my painting serves a reminder that we all have the chance to beat the odds and come out on the other side victorious.
How does the exhibition fit into the broader narrative of your art career?
As I paint, I have a mental mantra that hollers, “Paint the light!” I work to strike a balance between harmonious color, strong composition, accurate values, and interesting edges. If I can create a beautiful work that makes the viewer pause, pulling them across the room to look closer, then I have done my job as an artist.
Installation image of Kirsten Savage's solo exhibition, Space to Breathe: Seeking Solitude Around the World
In exploring Kirsten's artistic journey and the evocative themes of her exhibition "Space to Breathe: Seeking Solitude Around the World," we hope you've gained a deeper appreciation for her incredible talent. Her work is not just about presenting aesthetically beautiful paintings; it's an invitation to reconnect with ourselves and the world around us, finding serenity amidst the chaos. We encourage everyone to experience her stunning collection that beautifully balances silence, solitude, and the grandeur of our shared world. Visit Kirsten's page our website to view her transformative exhibition and see how she brings these concepts to life.
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this interview belong solely to the artist, and do not necessarily reflect the views of our gallery. We do not endorse any person, brand, or service mentioned in the article.