Jan Kirstein, Fine Artist


I am an American contemporary artist and writer working primarily with mixed media. My paintings and collage works juxtapose diverse imagery exploring ideas of emerging fragmentation and reconstruction through fluctuating recognition and realization. These perceptions then can transform into a meaningful and unified whole for the viewer. I think of creating this work as though I am sifting through an archeological dig of the subconscious mind, moving into layer upon layer of earth. Barely recognizable forms emerge from the surface of the paintings into a conscious gestalt where meanings are meant to galvanize through the viewer’s own personal references and connections.

Images in the "Pandemic Mask Series" represent my perceptions of the collective subconscious during the emergence and continuation of the 2020-2021 Pandemic. Wearing masks is part of our new reality. We wear masks today to protect ourselves and others from spreading the virus. In contrast, the African masks in these images were originally created to wear in ceremonies to connect with deceased ancestors in the spirit world. Ironically, during the Pandemic the mask has become a reflection of a sense of existential isolation rather than a means and purpose of connection. I created these prints digitally from photos of masks I own or have found, combined with photos of pieces of my paintings made from acrylic paint, pastel, and Conte crayon on paper. I have combined these into colleges to observe, explore, and confront the collective fears and conflict emerging in our Pandemic world today.

The mask can either isolate by screening or blocking what is behind the mask, or the mask can reveal what is in the subconscious mind, that which is behind the mask. That is the intent of my Mask series.

As in the arrival of Surrealism in the early 20th Century, Psychic Automatism along with acts of automatic writing based on the work of Sigmund Freud sought the revelations of the Subconscious mind in order to break through the mundane and embrace the thoughts and feelings of the subconscious mind. My collages combine automatic writings as well as asemic writing with a similar purpose, just as Surrealism drew inspiration from other non-western or so-called primitive cultures which provided an alternative set of aesthetic and social values. Surrealist exhibitions often incorporated objects from other cultures along with the artists’ own inventions. Surrealists identified this movement as anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist and published pamphlets opposing and protesting the racist and imperial presumptions of the 1931 Colonial Exhibition in Paris called the Exposition Coloniale de Paris 1931.

My other abstract collages combine fragments of thoughts and feelings. Words emerge as visual lexicons of rhythm through repetition of movement with the meaning of various languages submerged as if one is reading in a dream. Asemic writing leaves the meaning to the observer to perceive using their most natural and natal responses. Abstract expressionism meets language. Movement through brushwork, markings, and layered, open passages lead the viewer on a journey of discovery, enabling the creation of a myriad of their own associations and insights. Through observing the relationships of applied materials to a surface, layers of seemingly random associations can merge into realization, recognition.

My materials often include Sumi e Ink, Calligraphy brushes, charcoal, pastel, watercolor, acrylic, and a variety of papers including Japanese rice paper and canvas.

I also work with Nano images, combining these size references with a more cosmic orientation. I am honored to have my collages with Nano images included in the mission of the MoonArk. The nine-ounce MoonArk -- a tiny time capsule-esque artifact of humanity -- will be attached to a small lunar rover with the Moon as its planned destination. This is in the hopes that one day it may be picked up by lunar explorers -- hundreds or thousands of years in the future. Originally known as the Moon Arts Project, MoonArk was designed in response to the 2007 Google Lunar XPRIZE competition.

I have been greatly influenced by artists from the past. Matisse has influenced and inspired my love of brilliant color and its interactions. I have also been greatly inspired by the expressive paintings of the abstract expressionists such as Helen Frankenthaler for her bold and sensitive use of organic poured paint shapes, by Franz Kline for his stark use of diagonal bold contrasting lines, and by Robert Rauschenberg for his unique juxtaposition of cultural icons into a variety of assemblages. The explorations of the Surrealists are compelling as explorations of the subconscious. I am fascinated with Chinese Calligraphy as well as with the extensive carvings of masks and wooden figurative art of The Dogon Tribe of the Bandiagara Cliffs region in Africa.