What is Creativity? An Interview with Kirsten Bowen

I met Kirsten Bowen through Hayley Savage (now Hayley Deeter) at Hayley Gallery in New Albany, Ohio.

I was planning a surprise birthday party for my husband and was looking for a venue that was different than the usual spots and ended up at Hayley Gallery.

Kirsten had her work on display at the gallery when I went to make the plans for the party. First of all Hayley Deeter is one of the most influential women in the arts in Ohio. Her gallery has an incredible story of its own, stemming from her love and commitment to the arts.

The gallery was and still is a delight to go to. When I saw Kirsten’s paintings, I was immediately drawn to the vivid colors and images, but it wasn’t until I got close that I was blown away.

Kirsten embeds poetry, numbers, and words into her paintings. Her paintings have layer upon layer of color. There is a simplicity from far away but the closer you get, the more complicated they become as there are so many layers of color, mediums and what seems like ‘hidden’ messages.

I was, as I said, blown away.

As Haley and I talked about the event, she mentioned that Kirsten often painted during openings. I thought, how cool would it be if I picked some words that represented my husband and had her paint at the party! I hired her and gave her the following list:

leader, consciousness, connections, love, humor, family, I AM THAT I AM, abundance, leadership, peace, May 14, 2008.

Kirsten set up her easel and painted as we ate, drank and celebrated. Her brush strokes of brilliant color attracted the guests and was a great conversation starter (to say the least).

Finished painting for Tom’s birthday

Kirsten was a delight to have at the party and it surprised and entertained the guests. I mean, come on, we were at a gorgeous art gallery with a live artist, painting a present for the man of honor. Gosh, it makes me want to do it again!

Without further ado, I give you Kirsten!

What is Creativity to you?

I might mention the things that are often mistaken for pure creativity.

Making things from patterns, instructions or recipes is creative energy, and it’s wonderful. Painting or rendering things so well that it looks like a photograph is a craft, and it’s wonderful to have those skills.

But true creativity is making something unlike anything that’s been seen before, or even making something in a different way than ever before. Something that pushes boundaries, provokes thought and sometimes risks offending the sensibilities of the viewer. That’s creativity. I feel true art is synonymous with this definition of creativity.

At the same time, it’s all art! Nothing is a more pure expression of the human spirit than art.

You are an incredibly gifted artist. Tell me how it manifested in your life. Did you study art? If so, where?

Thanks, Kathy! In the way that it is a gift, I can take no credit, and just be grateful for it.

I knew I wanted to be an artist by the age of 6. I was Inspired by my Uncle Kent who was a great artist and sold art supplies to schools. He would come to have dinner with us on his way through Youngstown and bring sketchbooks and watercolors for my sisters and me. It was awesome! By second grade I was going door to door with a friend selling decoupage Holly Hobby rocks in a red wagon wearing bonnets my mom made for us! This must have been around the time of “Pet Rocks” if anyone remembers those!

By 4th grade, I took some Saturday group art classes, in high school I did a two-week summer program at Pittsburgh Art Institute, and during my senior year was given a scholarship to the Columbus College of Art and Design. (due to my art teacher Mrs. Hosa and I am forever grateful) I received a degree in illustration but took extra painting and lettering classes. Go figure.

Tell me how you feel when you’re creating.

Sometimes it takes a little discipline to get focused and into a groove, but then the world melts away and I get lost in the peaceful flow of the medium and ideas. It is meditative I suppose.

Then it can be hard to shut it off again!

How do you decide what words and images? I guess part of the question is, how do you get inspired?

Everything inspires me so that’s a tough question. Sometimes I’m inspired by being told I can’t. The best work of all is when I paint the under-painting, come up with a poem for it, and then add the words with layers of texture.

Otherwise, I have been known to jot down ideas in a sketchbook to consider when I need to start something new. With my bolder work, it starts with, “You know what someone should do…?” then I have to do it.

Why do you think most people think they are not creative?

Because they’re not. Until some Pinterest wedding shower or Halloween when they turn it on and blow me away with their effort and ingenuity. I sometimes feel embarrassed that I don’t try harder at these things.

What have you learned about failure and success along the way?

I’ve learned that there will be people who are there for you when you’re successful, and people who are there for you when you’re not, and just a small and wonderful bunch of people who are there for you at all times.

And when they want ya they want ya!.

Has your art healed you in any way?

It has been a wonderful thing to throw myself into when I can’t deal. Somehow my art gets better with any heartache. So I don’t really know about healing, but maybe there’s a silver lining there. I hope my art makes other people feel less alone.

Do you have any favorite pieces?

 

Any parting words?

Yes! I think there’s creativity in ALL fields!

Not just the ones thought of as the arts… People are creative with numbers, finding scientific formulas, in discovering ways of running businesses, the list is never-ending.

One of the biggest creative outlets for me is in how I market and “show” my art. Business is changing at lightning speed with the way we buy things and get exposed to things…

I’ve done some yellow snow art that’s offensive to some.

That’s ok. I needed to push back against territorial, stalky and predatory behavior I was dealing with living in NYC.

The bottom line is that writing your name in the snow is thought of as a guy thing. It’s playful potty humor, to begin with, but can also be an act of dominance. I suppose it was timely with the #metoo movement and relevant to the times. It’s provocative in that a woman is not thought of as dominant and territorial, and isn’t expected to be physically capable of peeing her name in the snow.

So while I have owned a gallery, had a gallery solo exhibition in a museum, a second solo museum exhibition the following year and 2 mouth paintings in a museum group show, and pretty paintings in collections throughout the world, I’m secretly more proud of the yellow snow for its ingenuity. It’s tagging, it’s street art, it’s feminist, it’s political, it’s ephemeral, and I own it.

It’s my uncertainty about brick and mortar galleries being enough that brought about the idea to wear paintings like sandwich signs! I had this idea back when I had a gallery in Bexley, and it percolated for 10 years before I applied it to the #CowsComeHome series. I never dreamed I’d be pursuing performance art in any way, but I can’t wait for someone else to act out my crazy ideas.

This specific series expresses my fear of young adults coming home safely after they’ve outgrown constant supervision. It is Socratic, and asks the viewer the question, “In these times of racial tension, political upheaval, and general hostility, what can we say to assure our kids will come home safely when the cows come home?”

The cow masks go with the millennial affinity for animal-masked characters, and the painting subject is mouths simply because our spoken words come from our mouths, and it makes the imagery a head turner. The art community goes wild for it, and a few friends have parodied it in their own art! It’s ok if it’s scary to some. The subject is disconcerting.

There is more to come of this “street art performance” in a different vein soon. Strictly relating to art, and it will be campy and fun.

So stay tuned. Shenanigans.

You can find more about Kisten on her website.

With deep appreciation for my creative friends,

Kathy Rausch

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