Dreamsong is thrilled to present Tide / Pool, St. Paul-based artist Kristen Sanders’ second solo exhibition with the gallery. Referring to her paintings as ‘portraits,’ Sanders seeks to erode binary ontologies between mind and body, object and self, and even life and death. Depicting seashells, flint stones, barnacles, medical mannequins, and lines drawn in the sand, the paintings in Tide / Pool center crevices, cavities, and voids in forms that evoke life through its explicit absence. Situating these objects on primordial beachfronts, Sanders posits that exoskeletons, tools, and fossils carry lasting psychic and biological meaning.
Taking a new compositional direction, Tide / Pool’s paintings largely eschew the overlapping images characteristic of the artist’s oeuvre to date. Whereas superimposed images evoked the murky depths of geologic time in prior bodies of work, the paintings in Tide / Pool create temporal scope through montage, building meaning relationally. When viewed together, a series of eight 10 x 8 inch paintings of fossilized seashells, broken doll pieces and shooting stars become weighted with a metaphysical import that recalls the symbolist iconography of a Tarot deck. These works gesture, if not towards narrative, then to the wonder, humility, and strangeness inherent to our cosmic insignificance.
Sanders’ ability to unearth the quotidian uncanny is rooted in art historical analogues. Recalling the surrealist and modernist compositional strategies of Magritte and O’Keeffe, her subjects inhabit a still, contemplative universe that allows the viewer to reflect on their peculiarities; as Magritte wrote, “make the most everyday objects shriek aloud.” Through shifts in perspective, the subjects in Tide / Pool appear either intimate or monolithic. Unmoored from the demands of physics, the colossal flint stone in A Sense of Reality (2023) recalls both O’Keeffe’s suspended animal skulls and Magritte’s floating rocks.
Like O’Keeffe, Sanders encountered many of her subjects throughout the course of her daily life, frequently during walks on the beach. Portal, the largest painting in the show, depicts a craggy piece of flint set against an unsettling dawn sky. Used in toolmaking for a half-million years, and mined since the Neolithic Age, flint peppers the shorelines of Norwich, which Sanders explored during her time at the Moosey Residency. Referencing an iconic shot of one of the Monoliths in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey – mysterious monuments constructed by an alien civilization – the painting nods to flint’s lasting civilizational importance while also revealing how commonplace objects frequently hold compelling sociocultural narratives.
The origins of other subjects in Tide / Pool carry similarly personal meaning: fossilized shells collected by the artist’s grandmother in Scotland (Flux Accumulation); a medical mannequin used by nursing students in the artist’s native California (Low Tide); a broken piece of a doll found on a St. Paul street (Body Thing); a snapshot of the beach at Corona Del Mar (Back Towards Time). These beginnings, of course, are simply that. In Sanders’ work, meaning is always multilayered, physically and temporally. In the painting Low Tide, a supine mannequin peels back the skin of one shoulder as a hermit crab dragging a moon shell summits its other. What is inside us, Sanders seems to be asking, and what do the containers that hold us have to do with any of it? Turns into shadow, interiority and oblivion; the absence of sand that makes a mark; the echoing space inside an empty shell – these voids reveal a deep and mysterious enigma worth contemplating.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Kristen Sanders (b. 1989, California) lives and works in St. Paul, MN. She received a BA from the University of California Davis, and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Recent solo exhibitions include Protoself at Asya Geisberg Gallery (New York, NY), Infinite Beach at Dreamsong, Artifacts at Kiehle Gallery, St. Cloud State University (St. Cloud, MN) and Early Bodies at Kathryn Brennan Gallery (New York, NY); group exhibitions include Goosebumps, currently on view at Anthony Gallery (Chicago, IL), Fembot at The Hole (New York, NY) Tinted Love at Good Mother (Los Angeles, CA) and Sagittarius at Night Club (St. Paul, MN). Residencies include The Moosey Residency (Norwich, UK), The Maple Terrace (Brooklyn, NY) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT). Sanders has received press in BOMB Magazine, ARTNews, and New American Paintings. She currently teaches at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.