Krisse Pasternack works with an acute awareness of the fragility of life—in particular, our environment. She shares our love of the mermaid (in a variety of shapes and ages), and also hybridizes women with mangroves, owls, octopi, and stone crabs. The result is both arresting and “portends this decisive moment in the discourse between Earth and its dominant inhabitants.” More recently, she’s moved away from the starkness of porcelain and into the colorful world of photography and digital manipulation. No matter her medium, Pasternack’s goal is to shed light on the increasing vulnerability of our planet.
Have you always wanted to be an artist? How was art a part of your life as a child?
Yes! I am a South Florida native and grew up on a lake near Matheson Hammock Park. Most days were explorations in my own backyard and the nearby preserves. We assembled forts and bridges in the woods from fallen tree trunks. We read fairy tales on pine needle carpets and played with our dolls in their coral rock cities. I took art classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Miami. Our family (I am one of seven daughters) spent many summers in the Florida Keys, which kept me in the ocean. We snorkeled, combed the beach and sculpted sandbars. It was a free, creative time that still influences what I do today. In my memory, I have always been an artist.
Can you tell me a little more about your mermaid sculptures?
The mermaids were part of my hybrid sculptures of which fantasized literal connections between people, plants and animals. Some were sculpted working directly from human models which added to their personality. Figures and mermaids have begun reappearing in the imagery of my present work.
Natural elements – especially water – play a role in your work. What is your connection to/obsession with these elements, and how does it contribute to your generation of ideas and projects?
My relationship with water is personal as I grew up with it. The abundance of life in the ocean that I knew as a child is greatly diminished and further threatened. It worries and saddens me. My work responds to the growing immediacy of our ecological condition. Following my hybrids I studied and crafted corals; fascinating animals that form colonies and reef habitats for so many species. The world’s warming and debilitated waters are killing them. What’s funny is that here in Miami, we are standing on coral rock which was created over the eons when this area was under water. And the water is returning. The coral rock is water penetrable and prevents Miami from using perimeter safeguards to rising seas. The water will come up from beneath us.
What else inspires your work (art, life, people, places, etc.)?
I delight in the history of art and design. I keep up with contemporary work. Each December my artist friends and I enjoy Art Basel and its surrounding fairs.
South Florida is the source of so much of my visual learning. This year I was able to travel to Europe for the first time with my sister and her husband. That experience and its documentation have had a profound effect on me and. I’m also looking at the bigger picture of the earth as a lone living entity in the infinite universe.
My husband, Robert Brown, is an architect and we have worked side by side for thirty years. We have a daughter studying architecture and painting in St. Louis and a musician son here in Miami. They constantly challenge me to see things anew.
Finally, the work itself can become its own inspiration. It often changes direction as it explains itself along the way.
Much of your work is in porcelain – how does the material inform your work and what challenges, if any, does it present?
Porcelain is so smooth to the touch and so glamorous; with such a pedigree that I wanted to mess with it. It is notoriously difficult to sculpt as it has a unique ‘memory’ of its manipulation. Recently I have explored working with different clay that can be fired at lower temperature and are more ecological sensitive. I have a studio at the Ceramic League of Miami, which has been a Miami treasure for 65 years.
What are you currently working on?
Color has come back into my work and it is invigorating. In my new process I freeze sculptures in a variety of liquids, position them to melt, photograph and then digital manipulate the imagery. The Celestial Portraits and Atlantic Studies are the results of this approach. I am also creating miniature jewelry type pieces.
Photo credit, the mermaid porcelain sculptures Melusine and Palatyne were photographed by Fareed Al-Mashat.
Others by artist- Krisse Pasternack
Melusine, porcelain (2 views)
Artifact 009, porcelain, concrete
Two by Two, porcelain, concrete
Atlantis Study 003, art photography, ink on aluminum
Atlantis Study 001, art photography, ink on aluminum
Celestial Portrait 001, art photography, ink on aluminum
Celestial Portrait 018, art photography, ink on aluminum