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Kirstin Carlin


How to look at a painting…

Ever-so slightly unhinged, lush and exuberant… flower paintings, canine portraiture, bucolic cottages, leafed woods and mountainscapes have been fashioned by Kirstin Carlin. Genre painting, she inhabits worlds of fantastical landscapes, contrived gardens and imagined drawing rooms with floral arrangements or absurd portrait sitters. Inviting paths twist through gnarled trees and grassy clearings, pine trees and mountains stand tall beside sparkling rivers, lakes and cabins nestle into hillsides. Steeples and white castles rise beside rose gardens and skies are either piercing blue and clean, tinted with peach-coloured sunsets or sparkling with night stars. Each tableau is a somewhere-anywhere- nowhere place, a fragment, a story or an artificial memory.

A magpie with imagery, Carlin’s subject matter is lifted from rich seventeenth century Dutch still-life painting, English

Romanticism as well as florid Rococo art discovered in museum collections. Dog portraiture whether from historical and noble commissions or contemporary amateur photographs on the internet are adopted with whimsy and she has been known to paint poodles, pugs, hounds, even cats. Diverse sources also include old record covers, Sunday painting, outside art, folk art, images found in thrift-stores, stock images from on-line libraries.

Modest in size, painted in oil on board and generally framed in a rough sawn pine, what is most evident in each work is a direct use of paint and a loose technique. Small impasto paintings manifest quick, thick and heavy applications of paint, energetic daubs are the traces of intuition, freedom and a heavily loaded brush. Taking as her points of departure recognisable subject matter and tested pictorial devices, Carlin pushes these further. Concentrating on simple formal components such as the placement of elements within space, these found images are translated into collections of quick, loose, and insouciant brushstrokes with both pale and gaudy colours. Pushing and dissolving the image to various degrees, each painting moves at once towards and away from an abstracted image. Habitual images then become almost unrecognisable, but not quite -an essence of a picture is maintained, with Carlin’s signature florid brushwork supplying the information. Viscous and creamy, earthy colours of ochre, mustard, rust and dirty brown are combined with acidulated blues, vivid greens, moody blues as well as pale pastels, washed out pinks, lilacs and greys.

Attending to unease, these dashing paintings are a bricolage of borrowed compositions and found images made exceptional and distinct. Rooted in histories of picture-making, the pastoral, the picturesque and the playful are rendered in impasto so that they become slightly awry, blurring good taste with bad, sincerity with irony and ubiquity

with humour and adeptness. Stroke by stroke, spontaneity is painted through platitudes with splendid results.


Kirstin Carlin (b. 1979) currently lives and works in Auckland and completed a Master of Fine Arts at Glasgow School of Art in 2010. She has exhibited works nationally and internationally in artist-run spaces, private galleries as well as public art institutions. A former member of Glasgow artist-run project Victor and Hester, her recent exhibitions include: Necessary Distraction: A Painting Show (Auckland Art Gallery, 2015-2016) Pleasure Garden (Melanie Roger Gallery, 2015), 74 Heaton St, Christchurch: with Emma Fitts, 2014, Recent Paintings: Kirstin Carlin (Tristian Koenig, Melbourne, 2013) and Shadow is Shade: Kirstin Carlin and Emma Fitts (The Physics Room, Christchurch, 2013). Carlin has also exhibited at the Bethanien (Berlin), Centre for Contemporary Art (Glasgow) and Victor and Hester (Glasgow). Carlin has received much recognition for her work, including Creative New Zealand Professional Development Funding (2009) and a William and Mary Armour Postgraduate Scholarship at the Glasgow School of Art (2009). Carlin’s work is held in major public and private collections including: the James Wallace Arts Trust Collection and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She is currently working towards a solo exhibition project for the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in late 2016.