Krista Svalbonas – Red Lion, Pennsylvania

In the Presence of Memory (8,) oil and mixed media on industrial felt, 15x9, 2014

In the Presence of Memory (8,) oil and mixed media on industrial felt, 15×9, 2014

Briefly describe the work you do.

I am fascinated by the language of spatial relationships and by the effect of architectural form and structure on the psychology of the human environment. I work in series; each one begins with extensive photographic documentation that is an integral part of my process. From these photographic “sketches” I extract elements of the built environment that inform my geometric abstractions: spaces between and above buildings, grids of windows, exterior piping, fire escapes, doorways, gables and entablatures all manifest themselves in my paintings. I often exhibit the paintings in combination with site-responsive wall drawings that extend this vocabulary onto the surfaces of the room. 

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I was raised in Pennsylvania, near the New Jersey border, in a town nicknamed “The Christmas City,” Bethlehem. From a very young age,  I was always experimenting with some kind of art. My parents encouraged and supported my curiosity about the arts, allowing me to try my hand at sculpting, painting, drawing and photography. In middle school I had a fascination with metalsmithing and took an after-school class at a local arts center. In high school I fell in love with photography and set up a mini darkroom in a closet under the stairs. I had, and still have, a thirst to learn and try new things. All through my education I was an alchemist, combining media and devising experiments. My mother was a huge influence. Although she never pursued a career in the arts, she is very artistic. I grew up with art all over the house. If it wasn’t my mother’s drawings, it was was my  stepfather’s paintings and pottery. At one point my mother was part of a program sponsored by the Philadelphia Art Museum called ” Art Goes to School,” which  introduced elementary students in Pennsylvania to various artists through show-and-tell poster prints. My mother had all sorts of prints of paintings and sculptures around the house. I remember falling in love with Chagall as a child through those posters.

In the Presence of Memory (4) (detail),  oil and mixed media on industrial felt, 15x9, 2014

In the Presence of Memory (4) (detail), oil and mixed media on industrial felt, 15×9, 2014

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

Studio days for me don’t always consist of “making.” Sometimes I’m writing a grant, or documenting work, or packing work. The realities of being an artist are things you only find out once you start being an artist. No one in college told me or taught me how to create a digital database of work, or catalog contacts. Those are things you find out are part of your studio practice much later. I definitely think the romantic notion of an artist toiling away in the studio day after day covered in paint might be a bit old-fashioned. All my work starts with photographic documentation of the built environment, so some days my studio may be my car, or it may be the street I’m walking on. 

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

I may have answered this partially above. A lot of artists these days, including me, are finding that we have to juggle many professions at once: making work, doing administrative tasks, being an art handler and making a steady income.  I definitely didn’t think administrative tasks would take up such large a large part of my life as an working artist. In school, I think we all thought we would work away in the studio and magically all the pieces would fall into place. There are days I spend just updating my website, creating various digital versions of work, researching grants. I found out rather quickly that the roles of an artist are diverse and divided and don’t always mean getting dirty in the studio. 

In the Presence of Memory (3),  oil and mixed media on industrial felt, 15x9, 2014

In the Presence of Memory (3), oil and mixed media on industrial felt, 15×9, 2014

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can? 

Having been a teacher for some time now, my schedule tends to be fluid. My teaching schedule isn’t always set in stone, so I find my hours shifting in the studio. That said, you’ll find me there the days I’m not teaching. My favorite time to work is in the afternoon when I can get the most light in my studio space, but I often find myself working late into the evening.

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

My work hasn’t changed conceptually as much as I’ve changed some of my working methods. Five years ago I was working extensively with encaustic and my materials have shifted since then. I started thinking about my painting substrate and pigments as part of the conceptual information of the work, using industrial materials such as felt, steel and iron to connect more with the ideas of modern architecture.

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

My peers have always been a great influence on my work, I’m lucky to know some pretty fabulous artists who have pushed me to make the best work I can. My work has a lot to do with architecture, so I tend to find a lot of inspiration there. I recently found a Soviet architectural blog that I’ve become addicted to: Many of the buildings are familiar to me personally, since my parents were born in Latvia and Lithuania.  I’ve had an inside peek into the nature, culturally, politically and structurally, of Soviet architecture. I’m also a big fan of whose subtitle is “from Bauhaus to Beinhaus,” and features some great short essays, visual and written, of the history of Modernist architecture.

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

I teach in addition to making my own work, but I’ve found one often feeds the other. I truly enjoy teaching and feel it’s a natural compliment to my life as an artist. I’ve tried on a couple other creative roles in tandem to my practice —  art director and commercial photographer — but teaching has really been the best fit for me. I can’t really imagine myself without art.


HeadshotKrista Svalbonas is a mixed media artist based in Pennsylvania. Her studies lead her to a BFA degree in Photography and Design from Syracuse University and an interdisciplinary MFA degree in Photography, Sculpture and Design from SUNY New Paltz. Benefiting from her extensive media knowledge, Krista enjoys experimenting with traditional materials in unexpected ways. She is heavily influenced by Modern architecture in her work and focuses on spatial relationships and industrial architecture when developing her abstract pieces and installations.

Krista was recently awarded a New Arts Program Residency and Exhibition. She has had numerous solo, two-person and group exhibitions throughout the United States. Recently Krista completed a large scale site specific installation at the Ise Cultural Foundation in New York. She has exhibited at venues including the Dairy Center of the Arts in Boulder Colorado; Kenise Barnes Fine Art in Larchmont, New York; Watchung Art Center in New Jersey; Monterey Peninsula Art Gallery in California; The Painting Center, Trestle Gallery, Virdian Gallery and BWAC in New York; Tubac Center For The Arts, Arizona; George Segal Gallery, New Jersey. She was also part of a two-year traveling group exhibition in Latvia, Europe, where her piece remains in the permanent collection at the Cesis Art Museum. She is a recipient of a Cooper Union Artist residency and has works in numerous private collections.

In the Studio

In the Studio

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

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