Our Featured Artist: Kyle Gallup

Kyle in her studio. Photo credit: EM Turner
Kyle in her studio. Photo credit: EM Turner
Kyle in her studio. Photo credit: EM Turner

Kyle Gallup is an American painter working and living in New York City. Her personal connection to landscape has always been the driving force behind her painting. She received her BFA from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She was the first international resident with Winsor & Newton in the West London studio and participated in two Triangle Workshop Residencies in upstate New York, invited by the late, Sir Anthony Caro. Her work is in private and corporate collections including Robert Blackburn’s Printmaking Collection in the Library of Congress.

Can you tell us where you are from and where you are based now?

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and now live in New York City.

Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist and how did you start out?

I started making imaginary landscapes in watercolour when I was ten but I don’t think I understood that I could be an artist for life until a few years later. By that time I was into drawing and making fiber and ceramic objects.

While I was growing up my mom often had a project that she was working on. She loved the colour olive green and she painted a number of antiques in our house that colour. The colour narrative of my childhood, I’d have to say was associated with the natural world. My parents were always very conscientious about being good custodians of the environment and the house I grew up in reflected that.

Do you remember the first art materials you bought or were given? What was it and do you still use it today?

When I was very young my parents always made sure that my siblings and I had lots of materials on hand: pencils, scrap paper, tempera paint, and old magazines to cut up. Later, my mom shared her Winsor & Newton watercolours with me which I loved using. I continue to use Winsor & Newton watercolours and gouache for my work on paper.

How does a typical day in your studio begin?

I usually begin work in the studio by laying out the materials I’ll be using for the day. It’s important for me to be organized because in my apartment I work in a small space that does triple duty as a studio, library, and sometimes dining room. I refer to my sketchbooks with mixed colour samples that connect me to my paintings in progress. I also look through books from my art library and make an entry in my journal – something about what I’m working on, looking at, or thinking about.

You describe your work as ‘invented landscapes’ and some of the works look as if they reference industrial areas in anonymous cities. Can you tell us a bit about your practice and where the references come from for your landscapes?

“Invented” is the word I use to describe my process. I work intuitively while I’m painting but I use memory and observation to help put my experience into visual form. I like working on paper and experimenting so I usually have a lot of this work around me while I’m painting. I’ve always considered myself a landscape painter even when I was working abstractly through my twenties.

I was introduced to Colour Field painting when I was at art school in Boston and it was a Eureka! moment for me. Suddenly, my experiences as a teenager, camping in the western United States and canoeing Midwest rivers, were visualized in these paintings.

The feeling of expansion in the areas of colour created a kind of opening in my mind for how painting could be connected to the natural world. Morris Louis’s ‘Veils and Unfurled Series’ were some of the most moving and direct paintings I’d seen, and I continue to feel this way about his work.

The industrial element in my work comes from a feeling of familiarity of place. My dad was a civil engineer and often on weekends we would visit his job sites along the Mississippi River and other locales. I have some of his industrial site photographs in my paper ephemera collection that I look at when I’m hashing out ideas. Even though my process might seem esoteric or mysterious, most of the time I’m just down on the ground rubbing sticks together, hoping to create sparks. I think that’s a good place to be.

Kyle in her studio. Photo credit: EM Turner
Kyle in her studio. Photo credit: EM Turner

In several of your works there’s a recurring motif of a bell jar. What does this object mean to you and what role does repetition play in your practice?

The Bell Jar is a subject and form I’ve been working with for over five years. It’s a motif with symbolic and personal meaning for me. The dome acts as a symbol for holding something sacred. It’s a framing or structural element from which I discover freedom inside and outside of it. I find landscapes and naturalistic objects like shells take shape inside the Bell Jar. I’m committed to the idea that landscape as I remember it from my youth, and the land that we now inhabit, are very different. I think about this a lot with climate change and all the environmental issues we face today.

When my son was young, I was always trying to bring nature into his life growing up as a native New Yorker. One of our projects together was making a Bell Jar display. We made our version using pebbles, branches, and sand from Manhattan’s Riverside Park. We fashioned a kind of crude tree with the branches and put paper birds on it from my paper ephemera collection. It sits on a shelf in my studio and I like having it there. A metaphor that seems apt is that the earth’s atmosphere is our container and the Bell Jar acts in the same way for the worlds I devise.

What do you find exciting about painting as a medium and how has your work evolved in recent years?

I think paint as a medium is in a kind of revolution or evolution. There are many new products and some environmentally friendly paints like Winsor & Newton’s cadmium-free watercolours which I experimented with during my 2019 Winsor & Newton residency in London.

I remember years ago mixing Perlite and Vermiculite (both used for gardening), into my acrylic paint to give it extra body and texture. Now artists can buy products that do this. It’s exciting to experiment with the different mediums and it’s a way of keeping my process open. Sometimes paintings require me to take chances and be experimental, while other times it’s about using more traditional forms and methods. Recently, my work has become larger and I have a more elastic understanding of the medium. I love the idea that by painting, one can feel part of a long history of image-making.

Bell Jar Studies 2020, acrylic, watercolor on paper, Kyle Gallup
Bell Jar Studies 2020, acrylic, watercolor on paper, Kyle Gallup

Did your residency in London impact your practice in any way after you returned? If so, how?

It gave me the opportunity to distance myself from my day-to- day studio work in New York and to completely immerse myself in another place with its own particular atmosphere and history. It changed my perspective because it gave me a striking, new vantage point and I was able to work on large and on multiple paintings at once

I‘ve been able to replicate some of my experience in New York with a little extra organization and creative resourcefulness. I spent a lot of time walking around London, soaking in the art, architecture and dramatic skies. Everything felt dense and full of history – a walk down a narrow lane would reveal a spot honoring the editors who compiled Shakespeare’s First Folio, or a view of the parliament buildings on a gray day would remind me of Monet’s time spent painting in the city. It was such a contrast to the bigness of everything in New York. The scale and colour of the sky are so different in NYC and the city’s verticality is in sharp contrast to London’s horizontality, and lateral urban spread.

Do you have any go-to tools in your studio that you could not make work without?  How do you use them and why?

I use inexpensive Chinese bristle brushes in a range of sizes that I pick up from a local hardware store. They’re kind of rough and spread paint unevenly which I like. Also I use large homasote boards, they’re invaluable for stretching canvas, working on paintings and pinning up drawings. The boards help me navigate my small workspace. I move them around the room and stack them against the bookcases when I need to change things around.

Most importantly, I have my paper ephemera collection accessible at all times. I’ve been collecting paper scrap like marbled book pages, postcards, Chinese paper stencils, greeting cards, photos and Victorian scrap for a long time.

I met a man named Geno Santori at the Manhattan Chelsea Flea market in the early 1990’s who used to sell paper goods. We struck up a friendship, it was the highlight of my weekends to visit him on Sundays when the market was open. Geno looked youthful but I was surprised to find out that he was actually in his 80’s. He was very knowledgeable and used to tell me stories about working in the paper scrap business in the 1950’s in New York’s Murray Hill district where all the designers and illustrators were located.

He dressed the windows with villages engineered in paper or valentines, or early 20th century illustrations. Designers and illustrators on their lunch breaks would stop in to look around, gather ideas and buy paper for projects they were working on. I always wondered if Andy Warhol had been in his shop. I once asked Geno but he said that so many artists and designers were in and out of the store, he couldn’t recall. This signifies to me what a hotbed of creativity New York was in the 1950’s. Geno’s no longer living but I have good memories and a collection to dive into for collage fragments and ideas.

We have been speaking with artists about their ‘studio hacks’, how they recycle items in the studio as DIY painting tools or storage.  Do you have any items you re-purpose to use in the studio?

We recycle in Manhattan but I make use of plastic containers for mixing and storing paint as much as possible instead of putting them in the recycling bag.

Shell for Hokasai 2018, acrylic, collage on handmade paper, Kyle Gallup
Shell for Hokasai 2018, acrylic, collage on handmade paper, Kyle Gallup

Do you have a favourite colour?

I like colour combinations in relationship to each other, such as Red Oxide, Naphthol Red, and Smalt Blue. I’m also fascinated by the idea that there may be colours that exist in another universe that we can’t see with our own eyes.

What contemporary artists do you enjoy? And what historical artists do you look at?

The British artist Mali Morris is someone whose paintings I look at a lot. I’ve been lucky to know her and her work for several decades. She’s probably one of the best colourists around today. The purity of her images and painterly touch are powerful. Her paintings remind me to stay focused and be direct. I also like American figurative painter Nicole Eiseman’s work. She clearly expresses – and often with humor – the contemporary angst and anxiety of being alive right now. There’s also a lot of great painting going on that I look at on social media. It’s been especially helpful during the pandemic when it’s been difficult to make my usual rounds to galleries and museums.

I also look at work by a number of historical artists such as Florine Stettheimer, Romare Bearden, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Horace Pippin, James Castle, Samuel Palmer, Albert Marquet, Henri Matisse and the Limbourg Brothers. There are many other artists I look at on a rotating basis depending on what I’m working on in the studio.

What do you think is the biggest challenge artists face today?

Generally having enough space and materials are a continuing challenge for many artists, including me.

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?

The best advice I’ve ever been given was actually from the TV show “Twin Peaks.” The character – an apparition who is also a giant, says “a path is formed by laying small stones, one at a time.” And in my own head I hear, “You will discover what you’re looking for and add meaning to your life.”

Do you have one piece of advice that you would you share with an artist just starting out?

I would say focus on process, process, process, and not only the final result. Find friends that you can share ideas with and look at everything with an open mind. And within that, find a practice that can sustain your life and by extension your work. For me that’s been Transcendental Meditation (TM) which I’ve been practicing since 1975. When I’m meditating there’s a space where ideas come to the surface. Accessing this mental space broadens my creativity and deepens my enjoyment of the work. So I say, steep yourself in work and find some kind of practice that suits you.

Are there any current or upcoming projects that you are happy to share with us?

My work is included in a global art exhibition entitled, “Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss,” which is a multimedia and multi-venue initiative encompassing more than fifty exhibitions worldwide highlighting the damage caused by the global extraction of natural resources. I’m honored to be included in this important project and to work with the photographer and artist, Paulette Myers Rich. It will be the first time I’ll be showing my Rust Belt prints made from industrial site photographs.

All images courtesy of the artist, click here to see more of Kyle Gallup’s work.