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memory I’m from central Minnesota, and I grew up in a family commune on an 80-acre plot. I was raised with my cousins and my mom homeschooled us. I had a strong connection to that land, and it is one of the strongest forces influencing my work. My landscapes are often based on that area, but they’re also psychological and involve all the emotions I attached to that place. 

It wasn’t until college that I realized how strong my relationship was to the land. I went to RISD to study painting. I missed the land so much and would dream about it all the time. It was like one of my best friends. There was an endless amount of inspiration to pull just from that place.  

I grew up on the prairie. Every single year, the prairie looks completely different. There will be one year that it blooms and is covered in flowers. Then the next year it will be all grass, and I think, “How did this happen?” I draw a lot of inspiration from the subtle changes that you see in the day-to-day.

Now that I’m in the city, my paintings have become weirder. When I’m not in a natural place I don’t paint from life very often, so I completely reference my memories and dreams. I’m not able to look out of my window and paint a pond or a willow tree. Now I think, “What is my memory of that willow tree? How can I make it feel the same way I feel about it?” It is more psychological and less realistic.

I try to go back to the farm twice a year and spend a couple of weeks at a time there. I like to collect my natural materials there, like prairie seeds, moss, and pine needles, which I incorporate into the paintings. I also enjoy a fresh dose of inspiration. 

lines Inspiration comes from all aspects of my life. I love to reference art history in subtle ways. For my main source of inspiration, I will go to the Met and look at paintings. Sometimes I derive the forms for the hidden figures in my paintings from classical paintings or sculptures. I like to go to the library and view books of religious art, such as paintings by Fra Angelico or Piero della Francesca. 

I love ancient art. When I first saw the Egyptian exhibit at the Met, some of the sarcophagi featured human figures that were painted flat, while spirits were 3 dimensional and elevated off of the wood. I loved that and thought it was an inspiring way to look at texture. It gives the work spirit to play with those layers and dimensions. 

I do think a lot about landscape painting, especially American landscape painting, which has been very male-dominated. The Hudson River School painters, for instance, involve a man looking over a cliff and saying, “This is all mine to discover.” That idea is very human-centric. 

I like to draw from my imagination or memory, but every once in a while, if I’m back in Minnesota or in a natural space, I will draw from life. It helps embed the landscape into my brain so that I can reference it from memory later. For instance, I participated in a residency this past summer where we painted from life for 10 full days in Yellowstone National Park. That kind of practice is really useful for me.

At night, I like to journal, sketch, doodle, and develop ideas. I like to work loosely and make striking images that I can use later in my paintings. When I come up with an idea, I don’t want to finish the idea in a sketch because I don’t want to just draw it onto the canvas and paint it like a coloring book. I want it to be a challenge and a puzzle on the canvas itself, making it up as I go; that is more satisfying for me. 

colors The colors I use will change from painting to painting. Many people assume that I’m trying to make the paintings more colorful than how they would appear in real life, but it’s just how I see things. During my residency, many people painted with a more muted palette than mine, but I was trying to copy what I was seeing perfectly. The paintings came out very vibrant, so I guess that’s the way that I see the world. I don’t follow any specific rules when it comes to color, and I could mix two seasons or two times of day in one painting. I’m not one to stick to a certain palette for the painting–I just make it up as I go. There can be up to 100 colors in each painting. 

I started collecting natural materials and attaching them to the canvas because I wanted my paintings to be textural. When I moved to Minnesota after school, I got back into the habit of walking around and collecting materials, which is something I always liked doing as a kid. I extend my childhood form of play into my art practice, which helps ground me.

I began experimenting with mop strings 10 years ago. Because they’re cotton and the canvas is cotton, they just melt together once you layer them with gesso. I like to peel the mop strings apart and make trees and branches. When I start attaching the string, moss, and seeds, I kind of consider that drawing. That’s what locks in the composition. Once the texture is on the canvas, you can’t scrape it off, so they become obstacles that I have to work around to complete the puzzle of the painting. 

I wanted to place people in my landscapes, but I did not want them to be the center of attention. Before I moved to the city, I didn’t paint people in the landscapes at all. I was making post-human paintings because I thought they were destroying the earth. However, when I moved to New York, I thought maybe this was a natural environment for people and wanted to incorporate people back into the landscape. Rather than placing people on top of the land, I hid human forms in the environment. They’re made up of natural elements and melt into the landscape instead of standing on top of it, dominating it, or stealing away focus from the land.

I believe everything is alive. I like to incorporate spirits in the work, too. I like to anthropomorphize the landforms and features–sometimes my rocks will be alive or even have a little face.