Interview – Kristina Rolander on creating immersive environments and large-scale paintings

Kristina Rolander is a visual artist living and working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She makes large-scale paintings and immersive environments.  A while back, Kristina realised that her work wasn't reaching the type or size of an audience she desired when showing in galleries, so she began collaborating with musicians, making custom works to be installed for live shows.

Kristina currently creates handpainted backdrops and is slowly embarking into the world of immersive stage design.

"Milwaukee has an amazing music scene and within it, I've found a community full of talented creatives crossing over genres and open to collaboration."

You can view her portfolio website at built on PIxpa.

© Kristina Rolander[/caption]

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

In addition to being a visual artist, I'm a mama to two children - Julien (11) and Vera (5). My son is a musician with a design sensibility and my daughter is a painter with a fashionista personality. My boyfriend, Joey Grihalva, is a writer that covers the music scene in Milwaukee and despite working with different mediums, we are a united creative force. It's a house heavily immersed in art, music, and culture, and it's a great time to be an artist in Milwaukee.

Describe to us your college days at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design?

MIAD was very, very intense. I attended college on my own dime and was very aware of needing to extract every possible opportunity from the institution. There was a lot of flux within the school - power plays between the old art school mindsets vs. the new. We had yet to experience the impact of social media and digital technology. We were still grinding limestone rocks in Lithography class and developing film in the darkroom. I've always felt as if I'm straddling the line between analogue and digital worlds. I use the computer as a powerful tool in my skill set, but I don't prefer it for artmaking. For artmaking, I'd much rather use physical materials and create something with my hands.

At MIAD, every student was required to choose a major area of focus. This was difficult for me as I was pushing for an interdisciplinary path. I eventually went into Printmaking at the advice of an instructor. I liked how physical it was, how I could push and pull materials, dig and carve into metal plates, smash colours together through a press. It was also the department with the smallest amount of students enrolled. I was well aware that I could exploit this for my own artmaking exploration. For my senior thesis, I created multiple installations with objects, paintings, video, but with very little Printmaking presence. I definitely found the loopholes in order to make the work I wanted to make, while still meeting the objectives of the class.

How clear were you on what lay ahead?

I really wasn't at all! However, back then I would've told you I had it all figured out. Honestly, I could never have predicted the path my life would take. After graduating from MIAD I worked in a thrift store for minimum wage until I landed a temporary production design job. I was illegally living in my warehouse art studio with a handful of other artists when my best friend and I decided to leave Milwaukee and move to New York City. I had $500 and a one-way ticket. In October of 2002, we both packed a suitcase and headed to the city. We had no friends and lived together in a small room inside a family's brownstone for the first six months.

My plan was to go to graduate school for film. At the end of college, I got really into avant-garde video and landed in NYC with an idea to "remake the music video." It's funny how music has always been the common thread throughout my life. In middle school, I thought I would grow up and design CD covers for bands. In high school, I thought I would be in a band. In college, I briefly flirted with the idea of photographing musicians for Rolling Stone after documenting a few years of my high school boyfriend's band. When I moved to NYC, I started making collage-type paintings with lyrics scrawled all over, while hitting local shows at night and documenting them with my video camera. Now, I collaborate directly with musicians, blending all of the skills I've accumulated thus far - design, installation, painting, and concepting. It's surreal when you look back at the entire picture of your life and career.

© Kristina Rolander. Photo by Kelly Bolter

© Kristina Rolander

What or who inspired you in your early days?

Everything + anything! I've always found really strong women to attach myself to, placing them in mentorship roles. My professor in college, Lynn Tomaszewski, was and is a huge inspiration. As a child, I loved Stevie Nicks and Keith Haring. As a teenager "Siamese Dream" by The Smashing Pumpkins changed my life. In college, I loved Basquiat + Rauschenberg. I've been continually inspired by thrift stores, poetry, rock stars, song lyrics, 1970s television, crescendos, adventure ... all of the places I've ever seen ... and all of the people I've ever known.

What projects are you currently working on?

For 2017, my goal is to push the stage design elements of my work. I'd like to integrate more installation and create something more immersive for the live shows. I'm currently working on my second project of the year, a stage design for The Fatty Acids album release show. I will be collaborating with Wes Tank who will be creating live visuals and projecting them onto my stage design. It's my biggest challenge yet and we are both excited by the haphazard surprise element that may happen when it all comes together for the live show.

How would you describe your visual style?

Neon day-glo gypsy glitter rock-n-roll sparkle packaged inside a well-executed dash of design + order.