KRISTINA THALIN: GORGEOUSLY GROTESQUE, an interview
In Loving Memory Of, Kristina Thalin
Alluringly eerie and subtly dark, Kristina Thalin’s paintings are startling reflections of a culture obsessed with beauty. She forces the viewer to compare surface-level beauty with deeper, emotional realities. Her subject matter ranges from sections of an old woman’s face, aged and wrinkled, to a young girl's body lying lifeless above her solitary running shoe. Thalin’s work confronts us with the grotesque, the disfigured, and the dead, but her work also celebrates our differences by shattering the standard model of ideal beauty. At eighteen years old, Thalin had her first solo art show; she has received her BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and shown her work in multiple galleries and museums in Florida.
Melissa Arellano, WTR Art Editor:Where did you come up with idea to start adding collage-like elements to your paintings?
Age Before Beauty, Kristina Thalin
Kristina Thalin: It was when I was working with Al Razza [an influential American artist], I always loved looking at fashion magazines because the photographs and the clothes themselves are works of art, and he helped me come up with a way to use them in my paintings. So I'd sit and cut out anything that caught my eye, or made me react in some way. And then created a collage, which then became a painting.
At that time, I was thinking about American society's standards of beauty for women and the pressure it can have on women, as well as the dangerous effects it can have on a person. So it was a process of making these beautiful images into a different image with a fragmented, distorted, grotesque quality.
MA:So it seems fashion magazines were an inspiration to the aesthetics of your work. Would you say someone or something else inspired you to begin tackling this problem of beauty standards in our society?
KT: Well, mainly in my own life I had trouble accepting who I was and feeling comfortable in my own body. So that was a major part of it, but I had friends too who struggled with trying to "fit the mold."
I think my paintings were a way of almost talking it out to myself. I realized that fitting into someone else's standards is unrealistic and potentially dangerous. Hopefully, viewers can look at the paintings and see that too, or at least a conversation can be started about it.
MA: That leads to my next question. Art can have a powerful effect on teaching someone how to view a situation or, in this case, beauty, differently. How do you see your work functioning on an emotional level for your viewers?
KT: From what I've seen from some of these paintings, like "Age Before Beauty" is people will react strongly to it...with disgusted faces sometimes. But I don't mind that. I want people to do a double take. Maybe their initial reaction is disgust or confusion, but when they examine closer they become more aware of either the beauty of the painting itself, or the subject. Or in the opposite case, they might react to the beauty first and then look closer and realize there is some fragmentation, or a darker side to it.
The best is when someone just stares...for a long time at a piece. I don't have to know what they're thinking, but as long as they are, then I feel I've done something.
MA: Yes, I remember being quite startled seeing that one for the first time!
KT: Yes, it's definitely… grotesque, that piece. When I was collaging that one together, I had the image of the old woman and, to me, all the wrinkles on her face were just beautiful. I wanted to collide the young and beautiful with the old and beautiful.
MA: It is definitely a striking piece. Can you tell me a little about "In Loving Memory Of"? That one comes off as dark right away, in my opinion.
KT: That piece is very dark. It's about suicide, the dangers of feeling the pressures from society and just not being able to take it anymore. The single shoe is about body image and loneliness, being a sneaker without its other half. And the result of giving into the darkness that can cloud our minds if we let it consume us.
Painting something like this, and addressing the issue, is a step closer to finding a way out of that darkness. I want people to be aware of the dangers of our thoughts at times, and hopefully that can bring people towards hope by recognizing and fighting against destructive thoughts.
MA: So the title is directed toward people who are struggling with these issues, rather than dedicated to a particular person, correct? I think this piece is quite beautiful.
KT: Correct, it's not towards any one person -- really, it's for anyone. They don't even have to be dealing with image issues, but everyone has a lowest low at some point, and it's good to be aware of the thoughts we are thinking during those times, and realize that thoughts are controllable.
MA: So what makes a piece of art, in your own art or otherwie, stand out to you?
KT: In art that is not my own, I gravitate towards organized chaos. Meaning, if a work looks insanely chaotic, but you know that the artist had to place every object, or line, or stroke, etc.
So there is a method to the madness, so to speak.
MA: Do you have a favorite artist or movement that you look to for inspiration?
KT: Mainly the installation art movement, and earth art like Andy Goldsworthy’s. To me, that's a great example of the "organized chaos" aesthetic I gravitate towards.
MA: I love earth art! Finally, how would you describe your paintings in one word or phrase?
KT: Hm, it’s so difficult to say and I keep changing my mind, but I'm going with "Beauty in Fragmentation".
MA: We like to have our interviewees leave a question for the next artist or writer being interviewed. So what is one question we should ask the next contributor?
KT: "What is a crucial step in your process from concept to final product?"
To see more of Kristina’s work and the other WTR art contributors, check out our art gallery, and get ready for WTR’s third volume, out this March!