Kirsten Sivyer (BA Visual Arts) specialises in oil on canvas painting and works out of her Denmark WA Studio & Gallery.
Her paintings of figures, landscapes and urban scenes are united by the artists fascination with lighting, allegory and mood. Kirsten's subject matter evolves and revolves as she seeks new challenges to stretch her observational and painterly abilities.
After spending my teenage years and early 20s as a rock musician, I came out of my pink haired haze and turned my creative focus to painting in 2001 at the age of 22. Against the advice of those concerned for my future earning potential, and instead taking the road I was compelled to follow, I began my visual arts degree at Edith Cowan University in Mount Lawley, Western Australia and majored in Painting.
While my studies were useful in areas of experimental artistic process and concept development, I gained my practical knowledge of painting from a handful of talented realist painter friends who I shared a studio with in my uni days. I am really grateful to these artists who took the time to help me with realist oil painting techniques, colours and creating the illusion of depth.
My interest in realism and surrealism probably stems from my childhood wonder at the illusions these painters are able to create. Visiting galleries as a child and even now, I remember studying the brush strokes intensely, my nose inches away from a McCubbin painting, trying to figure out how he achieved such depth and illusion of light.
As a realist painter, the subject matter of my artworks is fairly self-explanatory. I often aim to embody in my work a powerful energetic state, by creating an atmosphere that targets both the imagination and the adrenals.
Thematically, my work floats between the surreal, the poetic and the melancholic. I am beginning to consider my work as ‘gothic’ much like the fashioning of my teenage years. My work could be described as dark, atmospheric and often allegorical, sometimes ironic, sometimes bizarre.
Inspiration comes in many forms but I am primarily a visual person. I am interested in unusual places and uncommon experiences that bring my mind and senses into focus. It is easy for me to become visually complacent to the world around me when things become overly-familiar. I enjoy change, a bit of visual drama or even risk in my searches for a subject or idea that I want to engage with and share through my work.
I find objects or scenes say the most and work best visually when there is something a little ‘off’ about them. For example, last week I was looking at a once beautiful rose in a vase that was well past its peak and starting to droop and lose petals – to me it was intensely poetic and I considered painting it. I have no artistic interest in the rose in full bloom which is to me is completely mundane. I prefer the unexpected as it makes me pay attention and think a bit differently.
So, like my observations of a dying rose, my paintings start with a vision or idea. Some works I can see before I start and I then have the job of coming up with the reference material I need to help me realise the piece. Other works use specific subject matter to capture a feeling of something I’ve seen, like my fire & smoke series. In this series I am exploring the dualism of push/pull, beauty/danger and creation/destruction inherent in our human relationship with fire and the natural environment.
Once the concept of a piece is determined, I visualise the finished size of the work. Scale is important and all of my compositions are worked out to suit the subject. After seeing Vermeer’s small painting of ‘The Lace Maker’ in Amsterdam, I understood that paintings have a “native” size that help them speak at the right volume and can either draw the viewer in or stand them back. With this idea In mind, I build my canvases to exact proportions and size to best suit the subject and the concept.
A painting begins with a rough underpainting which is really fun for me. My works end up quite finely detailed so it is nice to start out with a big brush and really get the energy going that this stage. From here, it is a process of refinement, working from the shadows to the highlights and background to foreground with many glazes in between.
A painting can take anywhere between 10-30 layers of oil paint before it reaches its finished state.
In 2017, I work out of a small studio/gallery next to our house which is set on the side of a hill next to a tall karri forest. One side of the gallery is lit by a skylight and offers excellent ambient light for painting. In winter, the little pot belly is kept going and our dog Pip spends ‘studio time’ sleeping by it. My mess is contained to a few trestle tables with files of notes and photos, rags, brushes and paints. Being a gallery, the space is well set up to hang works as they dry and it’s a great environment to review works and track their progress with a photo at the end of each session. Sometimes I’ll use the photos to create a time lapse video, showing how a painting is worked up.
Having overcome my misgivings about painting as a career it has become easier to dedicate my creative life to the brush. It has taken many years to figure out that I am simply not happy doing anything else. Something people might not realise is that being an artist is not really a choice or something that can be taken away. It’s a mode of being rather than a job or a title. If I lost my hands or couldn’t hold a brush (touch wood), I suppose I would continue to create in some other way shape or form. I can’t think of a circumstance where I ‘couldn’t’ be an artist. I have more determination than that.