In the Studio with Kendra Larson
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
My earliest memories are all ones where I am exploring art: in the first grade I learned about Van Gogh, second grade I painted the eyes on our class’s life size paper-maché camel sculpture, and third grade I got glasses which allowed me to see leaves for the first time. From my new-found sight a deep love of drawing was born. In the fourth grade I went through my “drawing chickens and frogs phase”. I learned to draw trees when I spent that summer in Seattle.
What does a day in your art practice look like? Has it changed since Covid-19?
Generally speaking, I make drawings, paintings, and, occasionally, installations of ephemeral things such as fire, smoke, fog, light, etc. These qualities help define the Pacific Northwest and a sense of place in my work. The places I explore are mysterious, haunting, sublime, and connect to my first enchanting encounters of nature as a child.
As for studio time, I have found that I work best in the middle of the day, so I have scheduled the rest of my responsibilities around that. Around 9:30am I get to my studio which is behind my house. I make a to-do list, look at the work in progress, and stretch to wake up. Lately I have been starting with an oil pastel drawing, which takes about an hour. Then I set that aside (it might not be finished but taking a break from it is important). After that I will work on adding layers to any painting that I am working on. If I get stuck, I will write or sketch in my sketchbook for a while. If I am starting a new painting I will look at sketches or source photos before jumping in. Some paintings are quick, while others take a long time to reveal themselves and come to completion. Around noon I take a break for lunch and then head back to the studio. If I need a break or a paint layer is drying, I take my dog, Edie, for a walk or I work out. Some days I also teach, which is really easy during the pandemic since I teach from my studio. Otherwise my practice hasn’t changed much since the pandemic. On the weekends my studio time is often interrupted by my son, which turns out is a good thing. These breaks force me to take more breaks and, in turn, my work has gained a freshness/ looseness that is exciting. My studio day usually ends around 5:00 for dinner and time with the family.
What do you wish to accomplish with your art?
My hope is that my work will reignite childhood wonderment, shed light on the sublime, and call on the viewer to protect natural spaces. I also simply enjoy the process of creating and often think of my work as my legacy. Professionally, I would like to exhibit outside of Portland (preferably LA, NY, and Santa Fe) and get some work into museum collections.
How has your art evolved over the years?
Over the last decade my work has touched on themes of Astronomy, Magical Realism, Feminism, and Phenomenology in Oregon. I consistently explore new imagery, painting mediums, substrates, and color palettes. I enjoy learning about new media and taking on the challenge of expanding my paintings to a 3D space. My installation, “Patchwork Galaxy”, was a collaboration with Astronomist Todd Duncan that aimed to spark a conversation about everyday wonder and the Sublime. Recently, as a response to the wildfires, I have started a daily practice of creating oil pastel drawings of smoke. This is also a ritual/ mediation on the monotony of life during the pandemic. Last year I continued my community involvement with my art podcast, Art Gab. My sister and I interview local artists and help promote the community, but also discuss process and passion of artists working during a pandemic and in response to social unrest.
Do you ever find yourself limited by the materials that you have available?
Yes, primarily limited by space and I would love the space to create large paintings.
What is the most challenging part about being an artist?
Landing exhibitions and press, promoting and leveraging shows.
Do you have a specific audience in mind for your work?
Anyone interested in painterly depictions of places. That is extremely broad, but every time I make it more specific I find an exception.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?
Find something deep within yourself to help drive your practice because there are a lot of external things that will make you want to quit.
What’s next for you in the future?
I am working on three projects right now:
- A series of oil pastel drawings depicting smoke. These are a daily practice, almost a ritual or meditation. Conceptually they bring attention to the wildfires and climate change. Formally they are an exercise in color variation and luscious mark making.
- A series fifteen of 12” x 16” landscape paintings. These are experimental and the subjects intuitive, so they are not very connected and may end up simply being sketches for larger paintings.
- A series of six 24” x 36” paintings of steam rising from pools of water. The subject idea came from a story told to me by a student, Mark. West of Portland there is a community center with an indoor pool and outdoor pool. During the pandemic the indoor pool was closed. Apparently, even in the winter, the outdoor pool remained open. On an early morning walk Mark saw the steam rising like an otherworldly premonition from the heated pool. Next to it was the lifeguard bundled up, protecting herself from the cold. I loved the story and saw it as a symbol of the world we live in now. We are trying to keep things as normal as possible, despite the pandemic. We will preserver. Also, nature is larger than us; plants are still growing, steam still rising, and winters still chilly despite the pandemic. I guess I find comfort in that. Anyway, I’m still working through my ideas on these paintings.
As for exhibitions, I will be in a three person show at Umqua Community College, in Roseburg Oregon, in December 2021. It had been postponed for a year due to the pandemic. I received a grant for that show, which I used to hire a writer and print a catalog of my work. Other than that, I don’t have any shows on the horizon.