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I had heard about the James May Gallery through a friend of mine, Dave Watkins. He was on his way to Algoma to drop off some paintings for their opening a couple of years ago. Nowadays, galleries utilize social media to develop an online presence. It was through this that I became interested in the gallery. It wasn’t until mid-May that I had the opportunity to visit and meet Kendra Bulgrin, artist and gallery director. – Frank Juarez
Kendra’s work examines the longing for identity and the subsequent expectations associated with identity and memory. She questions how identity is constructed through images, place, memory, decoy, and the miniature. She is also interested in human expectations concerning our relationships with animals. Our imagining of animals stems partly from our cultural environment and could be linked to our imagining of self and family. There is a longing to know our selves through animals. Animals make us more human.
She has always been interested in the metaphorical implications of simulation and mimesis. The decoys are life-sized, meant to mimic nature and often used in hunting to lure in or get closer to wild animals. She has been thinking a lot about how humans long to be closer to nature and continually return to it as a place of rejuvenation as we become increasingly detached from the natural world. Yet actual closeness with wild animals is difficult or nearly impossible to achieve except in captivity. She uses the decoys as metaphors for her own feelings of detachment from family, nature, memory and her own natural roots and her desire to feel connected.
These methods of working with the miniature, decoy, place, and photography allowed her to distance herself, yet at the same time create an idealized nearby place for her longing.
Kendra was born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and grew up just outside of Racine, Wisconsin on a small farm in the country. After graduating from high school she spent a year in Japan studying the arts, culture, and language on a cultural exchange. This was a huge turning point in her life – she knew she wanted to continue to study art. After returning from Japan she attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where she received a BFA with an emphasis in painting and a minor in Japanese Cultural Studies in 2005. She completed her MFA in interdisciplinary arts at Memphis College of Art in 2007.
She has shown nationally and internationally, with shows at the Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, The Hardy Gallery in Ephraim, Wisconsin, and at Beijing Normal University, China. Kendra has completed artist residencies in Laugarvatn, Iceland at Gullkistan and in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
Since moving to Algoma, Lake Michigan has been a huge influence on her work. She lives a block away and she finds herself there daily to see the changing water, light, and horizon. It has definitely crept its way into her work. She has found her paintings to be lighter, less dark and heavy since moving here.
She has lived in many places throughout the years and they all have had a huge influence on her work. It feels really good to be back in Wisconsin and to have finally put down roots in a great little lake community.
Kendra’s most current work is based on our tenuous relationship with nature and personally, how it relates to her own struggle to comprehend her place within nature. Thoughts of identity, memory, family, and place are continually seeping into the paintings, all with a sense melancholy.
The newest paintings are based on photographs taken on a lake in Crandon, WI, portraits of a single figure in a canoe. These pieces are so fresh and she has yet to completely make sense of them.
Currently, she is the Director and owner of James May Gallery in Algoma, Wisconsin showing contemporary art and craft from around the region as well as nationally. Kendra taught at the university level for over 7 years and will be returning to be an Adjunct Assistant Professor at St. Norbert College this fall.
All images copyright of the artist and used with permission.