Christina Kruse, Artist, Model
4.18.15 Kerhonkson, NY
"Structures have always fascinated me: How much can a structure be pushed or moved? What are the consequences? Would the entire thing fall to pieces if challenged? Would it adapt another equally functioning shape and form? Would the meaning change? Would its own rules, morals and norms change?" — Christina Kruse
Interview & Photos: Kate Orne
UD: Okay, why don't you start by describing your place up here?
CK: The house is very simple and was built in 1964. It was very dated when I bought it. I got rid of some walls, ripped out the carpet, put in a new kitchen, new floors — basically redid it all.
UD: It feels very Swedish. Do you know anything about the previous owner?
CK: I like simple lines, not too much stuff anywhere—a clean-cut place.
The former owners were a couple from Manhattan; they bought the house because it was close to the Peg Leg Bates Country Club down the hill. Peg Leg Bates was a dancer, entertainer and performer in the 50’s - 60’s, he decided to build a resort for the black community up here -it was a roaring place—Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin, they all stayed up here, performed and, from what I understand, had a fantastic time. One might think of it as being similar to a Hamptons for the black people of its day.
When I cleaned out the garage I found hundreds of Jazz and Blues vinyls—an amazing collection.
UD: Very cool!
CK: A lady bought the country club 3 years ago. I believe, she went to inspect the property and got hit by lighting and died. Go figure.
UD: Wow, Speaking of lightning, how do new ideas come to you?
CK: Well, usually it starts when I notice a structure that provokes a thought or two or when I notice a structure that's structurally unsound or has fallen. It could be through a conversation or while driving–there is a lot of thinking in the car. I continuously create 3 dimensional objects in my mind, draw them, and if I like them, eventually start building.
I used to take a lot of pictures, which I don’t do much anymore.
UD: Why is that?
CK: I have come to realize that I like to work with my hands. I like building things, which I've only discovered since I turned the former garage into a studio a few years ago.
I have also discovered a great love for cement—mixing and coloring cement. Wood and metal are two other materials I have come to really like to work with since being here.
UD: What are the reoccurring questions you pose through your work?
CK: Structures have always fascinated me: How much can a structure be pushed or moved? What are the consequences? Would the entire thing fall to pieces if challenged? Would it adapt another equally functioning shape and form? Would the meaning change? Would its own rules, morals and norms change?
I grew up surrounded by fields and forest in Germany. I remember building my own “houses” with tree branches and stones. I would outline rooms, make furniture of branches and tree trunks. I spent hours lost in my own imagination in those forests. In essence, as I discovered over time, I attempt to understand the idea, or consequences, for that matter, of pushing boundaries that are set - hence, changing the structure. That process is what interests me, and the answers to how a particular state of being would then manifest itself in a physical object.
UD: So it's actually not the structure as an object, it's the emotional construct?
CK: Yes, to turn that process or result into objects—something that I can build and explore. Usually, it’s in forms of graphic elements, squares, triangles, circles—simple geometric shapes that each represent a function to me and that I need in order to build these structures.
For colors, I tend to work with black, white and grey and to utilize, for example, brass as a “supporting beam” to allow the structure to rest upon. The core requires a sense of stability or, in paintings, a confinement of sorts. There are instances where I’ve used red and yellow. Red is quite emotionally to me—it cuts with precision. Yellow is unpredictable to me.
When work is related to structure I need to see it. What happens within can be a royal mess but it needs an aspect of containment.
UD: Has being upstate, surrounded by nature, had an influence on your work?
CK: Absolutely. When I go out into the forest with my ax or saw and start taking down little trees (I have yet to convince myself I can deal with a chain saw), the interior of the tree reveals itself. You can touch and see. Some trees are turned on the inside. How stable are they? Nature itself is such a perfect structure; every form has a reason to exist—a function within its environment. All of that becomes very apparent when you actually deal with it on a physical level.
Currently I am working on prototypes for “heads” made out of strips of wood. The wood lies in water for days in order to become soft so that I can shape it with the help of molds. Then there is the contraction in the wood, when it dries, which affects measurements and thus it requires a lot of practice. There's a lot of trial and error right now.
I'm also working with Robert Hare whom is teaching me how to weld. I want to learn as much as I can in order to become more comfortable with the different materials and become freer in the work process. I look at these sheets of metal and think ”I can’t do that”… and then I think, “Of course I can, if someone else can do it, I can do it too! (laughs). I just need to practice.”
UD: Did you have a formal art education?
CK: Besides some SVA sculpting courses, no, my family was more conservative, or, perhaps not conservative enough in that regard.
When I was about 12 years old I used to do hundreds of line drawings: black and white lines all of the time and never figurative. The response of my parents came in form of two books - ‘How to draw buildings’ and ‘How to draw faces’. I suspect they found it odd that I drew people with no faces and that their bodies were created only by the outlines of the buildings.
I asked my mother the other day if she still had some of them, but she doesn’t. I still have the two books though.
UD: It's interesting; David Ross didn’t have a formal art education either … At the height of your modeling career you worked on Reisebuch 1-5, your travel books.
CK: My Reisebuch was my outlet, a necessity to create on my own. I’d work on them in planes or in hotel rooms as I was traveling for modeling work. I always thought, “Modeling is a temporary job. What do I want to do with my life?”
After a while I started taking pictures. I got a Mamiya RZ67. I bought lenses, backs—I bought the entire thing in one day, and I started taking a million Polaroids all with different lighting conditions. I basically taught myself. I did try fashion photography for a while. I even had an agent at one point but I never fully submerged into it.
Models mostly want to look beautiful and that posed a problem for me because I thought I may not make them look beautiful enough and, really, there are a good amount of photographers that do that very well or exceptionally well. I asked myself, why get in line for something I am not 100 % sure about when I am most likely bound to fail?
When I did accept a job and then looked through the camera, it was hard for me to understand what I was looking for; I saw a beautiful girl, beautiful clothes, but I didn’t really have a concrete idea about what I wanted to do. So, I stuck with myself as the human object in my pictures and taught myself some more about photography.
Eventually, I started drawing around the Polaroid’s and, in turn, they became collages. It wasn't really about the photography anymore. I’d come home from a modeling job with long extensions in my hair and I’d do self-portrait—that was way more interesting to me then shooting fashion. These are the collages I had created in the Reisebuch.
At one point a friend of mine suggested I go see Louise Bourgeois. Louise had these Sunday afternoon salons where she would review work. This happened at a time when I had never really shown those books. I called her assistant, set up an appointment and was told to bring chocolates.
I arrived that day feeling incredibly uncomfortable knowing that I had a money job in the afternoon and, thus, I had to gently ask if it would be possible to be one of the first ones to be reviewed.
CK: The first 2 artists’ reviews were fairly quick, and she was pretty tough with them. And then it was my turn and at this point; I had 3 or 4 books to show her. I've never, ever, cried in front of 12 or 14 strangers for that long, and that intensely.
UD: Why did you cry?
CK: Because she asked questions that hit the root, particularly, questions about the ones with the black tape. She’d say, "Why do you use the black tape? You need to know that. You need to know why you use the black tape." I’d respond with, "Well, it's really only in the first book."
Then she goes to the second book, "I see black tape here, here, here and here. You need to know, you need to understand your black tape." And then she would ask questions like, "Who's the bird here?" And I would say, “I don't want to talk about this." (laughs).
UD: Why didn't you want to talk about it?
CK: I had never been asked to describe my intentions of my collages, let alone do it in front of an audience, and I never thought anybody would see these books, mind you publish them or put these prints on the walls. That was totally unexpected. I was very unprepared for this visit; 40 minutes of brutal questioning… I was really happy to leave.
UD: Did her questions help you in some way?
CK: It didn't at the time. It helps me now, years later. Now I understand what she was asking, but at that time I didn’t. The work needs questioning; ”Why does that piece go here?” "Do you understand fully what it is you're trying to accomplish here?"
UD: As a model did you ever find it conflicting to be treated as an object while you had your own deep-seated voice inside?
CK: No. I think modeling is the best job period. I mean it doesn't get any better: You get paid really well, you get treated incredibly nicely, people massage your shoulders, and they do your nails. All you have to do is fit the clothes, think about what you're wearing a little bit, and follow instructions. And you walk out with how many thousands of dollars? (laughs) I mean, no, I never had a problem with being a model, ever.
UD: Was there anything in the fashion business that you could transfer into your work as an artist?
CK: I think the way photographers, hair dressers or make-up artists work was good for me to experience…There is a process that starts with a blank face, a blank set …How much do you add? How strong should the color of the mouth be to not overpower something else? Is the hair too big for the frame? Is the light too soft? Should we leave it alone? Is simplicity better?
These are questions that I ask myself, in different contexts, via different mediums but they are the types of questions that lead to a final piece of work.
UD: With your history in the fashion biz, do you feel you are judged differently as an artist?
CK: I would imagine not more then anyone else, naturally. It would be more my personal history. It's “the model turns artist ”… “Oh boy. Oh, hold on, she does films too, and then there's lots of self portraits”. (laughs)
UD: So how do you deal with that?
CK: I try to ignore it. There is no point thinking about it, what am I gonna do about it? Ideally the work will speak for itself at some point or so I hope.