Artist Kelly Kruse uses her work to explore the painful, beautiful experience of human transience, longing, and suffering. She developed a visual devotional practice as a response to her battle with depression, through which she wrestles with beauty, history, and theology. Kelly describes her work as contemporary illumination. Like the medieval monks who perfected the art of illuminated manuscripts, she seeks to awake in the viewer a sense of spiritual contemplation. Her first exposure to the idea of illumination came when she studied Medieval and Renaissance music in Italy. Her background in classical music and opera puts her in a unique position to explore the intersections between scripture, poetry, musical works, and the visual arts.
She has exhibited her work at galleries and institutions across the country and her work is featured in collections around the world. In addition to her painting practice, Kelly is an active classical musician and maintains a private studio as a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing.
From the inception of my artistic practice, I have used my work to reflect on longing and suffering. My work began as a response to my battle with depression. That we suffer implies that we exist in a state of fragility. If we were not vulnerable, we could not suffer. Inspired by illuminated manuscripts, I chose gold leaf as an integral component of my studio practice from the beginning. Besides being an homage to the illuminators of the past, the material’s fragility is attractive to me, nearly as much as its delicacy and luminescence. The foil is irrevocably changed as layers of ink are laid over it - sometimes ruined, sometimes transformed. The presence of darkness and light within all of my works is vital to my practice. I can’t help but think about the way that God, as described in Exodus 33:20, upon whose face no one can look without dying, veiled himself in fragile flesh to conquer in Glory. And he did this through suffering, through being changed, and he invites us to experience the same. The physicality of the process of incorporating gold leaf into each work is a sort of extended meditation on fragility, beauty, transformation, and glory.
I gravitate toward non-representation because I believe the unseen spiritual realities of the world are as real as the things we can see and touch. By eliminating objects which I can categorize, the unseen is given a kind of visual presence. I am convinced that the spiritual reality constitutes a rich world that is vital to our human wholeness.I illuminate to imagine the measureless depths of creation, to reach into them and to invite others along. Making non-representational art allows me to engage with the wonder of the materials themselves, discovering what they can do and the way that they take up space on a particular surface. The process allows me to draw connections and make meaning from mark, texture, and color.
I stumbled into FW Acrylic Ink early in my practice, fascinated by the deluge of working in wet media. I enjoy the challenge and the struggle of each painting. There is certainly a dance to it, with some unpredictability and submission to the forces of gravity on a pool of wet media, the way the pigment shifts when you adjust the ratio of water or medium to ink, and the way that the painting transforms before your eyes as liquid evaporates and pigment remains. There’s a push-pull, a coaxing, and a waiting for something to be revealed.
I tend to make work for a specific place and body of viewers, often with a liturgical function. My process begins with a spark during study of scripture, theology, or poetry. I create bodies of work that are unified by a single theme or subject. My first body of work was an illumination of the biblical texts and musical structure of Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem. In another project, I wrestled with each of the nineteen Holy Sonnets of John Donne through illumination, and when it was finished I had memorized all of the Sonnets and fallen in love with Donne’s work. In 2016 I completed a sixteen-panel commission exploring a dual nature of darkness and light in eight human emotions through the Psalms. I created a body of work for exhibition at St. Paul’s Monastery and later the Basilica of St. Mary (Minneapolis) that illuminated each of the seventeen lines of Mary’s Magnificat. In 2017, I created an exhibition similar to the stations of the cross where I explored broad categories of human suffering through the specific suffering of Jesus in his Passion. In this project, I was also influenced visually by the Japanese philosophies of Kintsugi and Wabi-Sabi, and I inflicted upon many of the canvases what was done to the body of Christ and then sought to repair each. My most recent body of work was a visual exploration of Biblical Typology through illumination of five types of Christ.
I believe in the value of connecting faith and art for the modern mind, both as an artist and a beholder of great work. It is vital to culture to wrestle visually with ideas that are difficult to voice. I also believe it is good for the human soul to grapple with our inherent limitedness, our life’s givenness, and the fact that we are partners for better or worse with the unseen world that sits behind what we can touch. - Kelly Kruse
Inside the Studio
For four years I had my studio space in the historic Hobbs Building in the West Bottoms of KC. It was a beautiful place to bloom as an artist and an inspiring place to make art. In the fall of 2016, I moved my studio home for a variety of reasons.My home studio is open for occasional scheduled visits from collectors and curators, but I do not currently host open studio events. After nearly a year in my home studio, I can say it was one of the best decisions I have made so far. I can step outside when I need a break and work in my garden, read on my patio, or I can even step outside to paint.
You can follow all of Kellys work through her Instagram here.