Kirsten Brushes the Sky

On any given day you can spy Kirsten Wilhelm strolling through a greenbelt squinting up at the sky or moving slowly through an old, battered parking lot with her eyes fixed on the ground.

For Kirsten Wilhelm, inspiration comes written in the sky–from interesting storm cloud masses to intersecting utility wires– or else it’s lurking in a spatter of trash on the ground.

“I’ve posted a little photo collection of the stuff I’ve gotten over the years on Facebook,” she says, “things like mangled blots and paper clips and rounded glass–mostly kind of small, weird, random parking lot stuff.  If I see something shiny on the street, I’m one of those people who can’t pass it up.”

As compelling to Kirsten are the skyscapes that have recently been the focus of her encaustic painting.

For her current Shift show, Horizon, Kirsten found herself lying on the beach in Lincoln Park trying to get a shot of the sky when she noticed a line of rocks on the horizon line and was attracted to their denseness, textures and timelessness.  Mentally comparing the enormity of geologic forms lasting through time to the fleeting nature human life is sort of her religion, she says.

Her artist friend Larry Calkins “always says notice what you notice,” she says.  “This interests me more than what the stock market is doing today.”

Kirsten has been noticing the world around her and parlaying it into art making from grade school on.  “I remember making ceramics in kindergarten,” she says.  “You had to put them up on the windowsill to dry and I remember thinking this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

She couldn’t know it then, but her view from that West Seattle kindergarten window lined with student pottery looked out at Northwest Encaustic, where she currently teaches and paints.

Kirsten’s family, whom she describes as “arty,” helped spur on her artistic development.  Both her parents sang and her mother once performed in the opera Carmen in Seattle.

All through community college and for a period of time afterwards making paint at Daniel Smith, Kirsten was building her skills, taking classes and gathering supplies.  These days she finds the most artistic satisfaction in encaustics–both for the delicacy and flexibility of the medium.  Also, it’s an excellent platform for brushing on skies.


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