Growing up in a Kirkland household full of art with an architect father and a mother who worked for Seattle Repertory Theater, Crista Matteson sensed early on that an art career was in her future. She just didn’t know yet how it would manifest.
Her mature artistic vision, on display through March in her Shift show, It Just Grew That Way, came on gradually–not really jelling until long after art school and a solid career in production art.
These days, Crista sculpts fantastical, plant- and character-based forms in thin, graceful columns of cast glass, ceramic and cast bronze. They are delicate-looking, intricate but solid at the same time–technical feats that drive her to further experiment and refine their multi-dimentional parts.
The base of her information is her extensive garden full of edibles and spiky or exotic plants like Gunnera, which yields a massive, prehistoric-looking leaf that she can cast. She also takes inspiration the natural world around her, specifically from her daily walks to leafy corners of Seattle like the Meadowbrook Detention Pond.
All the while that she is painstakingly casting the glass forms she uses with lost wax and pate de verre methods, firing ceramics or casting bronze–each procedure which must be done separately and then carefully combined–she is developing story lines for her characters growing in her head.
“I look at my work now very narratively,” she said. “For my next show at Shift I would like to do some installation to bring in more narrative.”
She can thank her own experience in the theater arts for her dramatic bent. After completing a BFA in Textile Design at California College of Arts in Oakland, California, Crista discovered that the sculptural aspect of fabric manipulation was what she liked best. That lead her to costuming jobs in major theaters throughout California–places like Berkeley Repertory Theater and the Old Globe Theater in San Diego.
She made all possible accessories from hats to shoes to face masks. “I’d had so much exposure to theater that the work was easy for me to interpret,” she said. “I was making very sculptural kind of stuff–basically building things.”
But she didn’t want to stay in theater and she dreamed of being her own boss. She then worked for a small textile company printing silk fabrics and got the idea she could go out on her own making jewelry. Initially she used part of her profits for travel but ending up falling into a full-scale home accessories business–creating things like chandeliers and elaborate mirror frames–a venture that she ran successfully for 13 years. Yet in the end, too much production bogged her down and she yearned for the freedom to concentrate on her own art, based in her home studio.
There now on any given day she she is content to be working with cuttings and branches from her yard or even chicken feet from a local Asian market to develop her newest characters. Her children may wander in and out to draw a bit or work with clay, but they–like their father–are more drawn to music.
Crista is finding that all her efforts cycle back to her, like the seasons in her garden, in some useful way. “I might do a piece I think is terrible and someone will come up to me and say that is so cool, it’s the best thing you’ve done,” she said. “And then I can look at in in a different way.”
For an informal Q&A with the artist, plus refreshments, join her at Shift Gallery on Saturday, March 22, from 5 to 8 p.m.