Sets | Notes
Rob Smith

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Written by Rob Smith, 2021, based on conversations with the artist


Badlands, 2021, oil and acrylic on linen, 43 1/2 x 66″

The Badlands of South Dakota, the setting of this large painting, were named for the Native American Lakota people’s term for this arid and unforgiving landscape, mako sica. 

This painting is derived from a photograph the artist took on a hike there, where a black navigation pole with a reflective top acts as a sundial, its lack of shadow reveals that the image was made with the sun directly overhead at high noon. While this navigation pole marks a human-scaled point in the landscape, its inky blackness becomes a void in the bleached and eroded geology and creates an axis between the viewer’s place in the gallery and the painterly space within. In this respect, Badlands is directly in conversation with Kristensen’s seminal early work Indian Chamber, an immersive 360-degree painting-in-the round depicting an Australian limestone cavern. In Badlands, the layers of paint are built up and layered analogously to the eroded sedimentary rock itself, creating a conceptual tension that has just as much to do with the concerns of American Land Art (Walter de Maria, Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson) as the modern painterly references.


Set, 2020, oil and acrylic on linen, 48 x 60″

Set depicts a sparse forest as seen from within a cabin on Esopus Creek near Phoenicia, NY, several hours’ drive north of NYC. The two trees which dominate the painting could at first glance be mistaken for two images of the same tree, like a stereograph card or two successive frames from a film strip. Upon closer inspection, the dark outline is revealed to be a wooden window frame, bisected and tilting away slightly from an obscured horizon line in the trees beyond. The woozy pseudosymmetry of these two trees complicates the viewer’s sense of perspective, while the painting’s outer rectangular borders are in tension with the slightly crooked windows depicted therein. These spatial cues work both together and against one another in much the way a film’s set and backdrop do with a director’s camera lens, and the viewer finds themselves caught up in this riddle between interior and exterior, the single and a set of doubles.


Yurt, 2020, oil and acrylic on linen, 23 x 34.5″

Yurt (Shift), 2020, oil and acrylic on linen, 27.5 x 40.5″

These two paintings are doubles derived from the same source photo of a yurt at Yellowstone National Park, but they hold an invisible secret: they were painted from start to finish in entirely different ways, yet the varied methods are ultimately obscured by their tightly resolved surfaces. Although the difference in scale between the two is subtle, when viewed as a set they gently warp the viewer’s sense of depth and distance in relation to the walls they hang upon. Together these paintings trigger an uncanny compulsion to scan back and forth for differences like one might with twins.

Inverting both the outward-facing Set and the encircling Indian Chamber work, these two paintings now find us on the outside looking in: peering “through” the surface of the yurts’ shiny, wrinkled plastic windows into the dark interior like an x-ray, one glimpses their curving wooden rib cages. The yurts’ lattice infrastructure stretches the tent’s coated canvas much like the hidden stretcher bars holding these two paintings taut from within. 


Scrollwork, 2021, borosilicate glass and oak, 281.5 x 24 x 8″

In her Brooklyn neighborhood, the artist walks alongside hundreds of wrought iron fences each day. Their decorative, vernacular shapes politely but firmly trace lines between brownstones and sidewalks in hard iron. Repetitive curves, often covered in layer after layer of dripping enamel paint, cast rhythmic shadows and demarcate public and private space. As you pass alongside these fences their patterned volumes telescope and contract like visual springs, but each S is ever so slightly different. This subtle irregularity lends a softness to these otherwise measured patterns. Scrollwork translates wrought iron Ss into flameworked glass Ss, preserving the same handmade traces from the ironwork. Both materials are supple and nearly liquid when hot, but when cool, they become rigid. Unlike iron, glass is unmistakably fragile and easily catches and refracts light instead of casting hard shadows. When standing alongside the glass fence, it almost disappears, only to compound upon itself when seen from the end. The way a sheet allows us to see a ghost’s form, the supportive wooden structure that holds these transparent Ss in the air gives this spectral fence its form, in an echo of the latticeworks and supports throughout Kristensen’s body of work. 


Lattice, 2020, oil and acrylic on linen, 38 x 27″

The wrought-iron window grate depicted in Lattice is hit so fiercely by the Miami sun that its shadow seems extruded from the iron itself, doubling the sculpted form into a basketlike volume, half solid, half shadow. Although we can’t see the sky, the grate betrays the location of the sun like a timepiece, just like the pole in Badlands. But this is a fully urban landscape, a parking lot behind the Wolfsonian Museum in South Beach. Oil-stained concrete sidewalks and the trowel-worked surface of the white-hot stucco wall take the shadows like ink on blotter paper, but the shadows also re-absorb the bouncing tropical light, resulting in a spectrum of temperatures across the wall. 


Slip, 2020, borosilicate glass, 8.5 x 8.5 x10.5″

The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction defines a boot scraper as “a horizontal metal plate set in a small frame, once located near the front steps of most buildings; used to scrape dirt or mud from the bottoms of shoes or boots before entering the building; common before the advent of paved streets.” 

Reimagined here in transparent chartreuse green glass, this specimen came from outside the Charleston, South Carolina home of John C. Calhoun, a particularly toxic early statesman. The material poetics and properties of the almost wet-looking whorls of glass amplify the traces of the hand-worked forging of the original iron while creating a slippery tension with the futility of its implied use. While the iron object roughly scrapes the adherent landscape from a person’s feet before they track it inside, this glass scale replica memorializes that small ritual-cleansing and calls attention to the transition between spaces, another sort of glass window. 


Bodega, 2021, oil and acrylic on linen, 24 x 33″

A filthy sidewalk in front of a Brooklyn corner store is illuminated by a squiggle of sunlight. Unlike the geologic surfaces in Badlands, this man-made conglomerate rock, speckled with gum-stains and plastic matter, catches the light from our closest star as it bounced one last time from the bodega’s façade. Without the benefit of a crisp navigation pole to orient us, the confused light is almost gestural, its wavy lines echoed by a nearby mopstring. Bodega brings the properties of light and reflection seen in Kristensen’s glass works to bear with her rigorous study of surface in the Yurt paintings and Lattice. Harkening back to Skew, her earlier work of a floor soaked in colored stained-glass light, this rough concrete sidewalk is lifted from underfoot and placed at eye level upon the gallery’s smooth, naturally-lit concrete wall.