Krista Allenstein, Jesse Bell, Nirmal Raja – VOL XXVII

Written by Erika L. Block

Krista Allenstein

Krista Allenstein is a contemporary artist living and working in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. Her work is very specific – she paints retro neon road signs onto vintage maps. By changing their wording to positive messaging, the signs she depicts become beacons of hope, love, and the power of positive thinking.

Krista has a passion for well-loved, gently used, and discarded items. “I like things that may have a layered past and a story to tell. I think that is why I love vintage clothes, furniture and houses.” Quite often, vintage road signs are neglected and out of repair, which she believes adds to their beauty and interest. She begins each new work by identifying a sign she finds intriguing and using a photograph of the sign as a reference for her painting, often zooming in to capture the intricate details of its neon tubing. She then chooses a positive message that will replace the words of the original sign. Often the shape of the existing letters inspires what the new words will be. After a bit of planning, she secures a carefully selected vintage map to the painting surface –sometimes matching the map to the location of the original sign –and begins to paint. Krista loves painting, and feels that it brings her to a calm, peaceful place like nothing else can. She sometimes finds herself entering a meditative state where she loses her sense of time, which can often be a welcomed break from an otherwise busy and hectic lifestyle.

Her paintings have become larger and more detailed than when she first began this series of work.  She has begun to use the whole map versus cutting out a specific portion, and has made efforts to use messaging that will hold multiple meanings for various people within the same painting, ensuring the work resonates with a larger audience. In addition to these advancements in the work itself, Krista has also grown as an artist. “I have reached an age and a time in my life when I have the confidence to share something with the rest of the world. I have found a cohesive way in which to do it. […] I am trying to put something positive out into the world. If one person leaves my work feeling lighter, more hopeful and more confident than when they arrived, I am happy.”

To view Krista Allenstein’s work, please visit followthesignspaintings.com.

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Jesse Bell

Jesse Bell is a painter and visual artist currently living and working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After studying within a more conservative art program, most of Jesse’s early work is formal and traditional. In the years following his education, he began to explore abstraction, leading to his current working style which he describes as “strongly based on 20th century ideas of abstraction, elements of graphic design, and the line work of illustration and drawing.”

Bell’s paintings begin with layers of shapes, bold colors and patterns, followed by the addition of line work, abstract icons, and symbols. The use of conventional symbols (such as arrows, stars and kites) are typically detached from their typical meanings and used in new ways. The delicate and often whimsical line work he uses, which reflects the personal qualities of handwriting, is part of what makes Bell’s work so unique and identifiable. He has recently begun to incorporate typography and elements of language into his work, as well as some collage and printed digital images. The interaction of these individual elements in his work are an evolving process of discovery and modification, resulting in countless variations. His final compositions are established through a very personal and intuitive process of repetition, transformation, and erasure.

This framework and process allows him to discover the narrative living within each piece. Jesse strives to create works that tell a story or convey a memory, situation, or scenario. “There is a story there, waiting to be manifested and described. It is through this artistic exploration and continuing visual conversation, that I assimilate time, experience, and my being-in-the-world.” The titles of his work serve as a “capstone” of sorts, providing a starting point or roadmap leading toward his intended narrative for the piece, while also leaving room for his audience to draw their own conclusions or create their own story from the content of the work.

Jesse Bell is motivated by a personal need to create. “I can’t really imagine not making things or creating art. My entire life, since I was very young, I’ve been driven by creative impulses. I’ve often created work in different mediums and media, but I’ve always had to be making. One of the most important things about being an artist is that I get to do these things.” He hopes that people will experience as much enjoyment in viewing his work as he does in making it.

To learn more about Jesse Bell, please visit jessembell.com.

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Nirmal Raja

Nirmal Raja is an interdisciplinary artist currently living and working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Most of her work derives from personal experience and deals with concepts of displacement, cultural negotiation and memory. “My work explores remembrance as transitional: how we add to, subtract from, and change our memories, as we remember them.”She strives to eliminate the boundary between art and life, creating a continuous cycle between experience and expression. To do this, she must be consistently present as well as observant. She often finds inspiration in trying new materials or a new technique, and in learning how other artists think, work and strategize.

Nirmal has a unique and intriguing studio practice. Every day she creates one “quick and intuitive” piece in a concepted studio series, each series totaling 101 pieces. She is currently on her fourth studio series utilizing this practice. This daily routine provides an instant gratification while work is slower-moving on her larger and more complex research-based projects. These larger projects start with thoroughly researching and exploring a specific topic of interest, including looking at what other artists might be creating surrounding the same topic. She then begins experimenting with the materials she’s accumulated in her studio to express her personal conclusions on the topic. Excitement is key. “I make plenty of mistakes, abandon work, and choose the direction that most excites me. The process needs to be exciting enough for me to work on over an extended period of time, and rich enough to not feel like the work is repetitive and simplistic.”

Raja was born in India. “It took me a long time to feel like I belong in this country, and the recent rise in xenophobia and increasing polarity has left me anxious for the future. I channel this anxiety and try to understand how I fit into this new power dynamic through my work.” Her work has changed significantly over the past few years, mainly due to political changes in the United States. She finds it difficult to predict how her work will change in the future, but sees it becoming increasingly global, examining topics that plague the entire world versus just the United States.

Nirmal hopes what any artist hopes, that her work makes a profound impact on its audience. “I think of an exhibition as sharing space with me. Just putting the work out there and letting people be in the same space, absorbing, feeling and seeing my perspective is enough for the most part. The rare moments when the audience is totally inspired and moved by the work keeps me going.”

To view current works by Nirmal Raja, please visit nirmalraja.com.

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Erika L. Block is a professional writer and designer working exclusively with the art, music, publishing, film and fashion industries. She is also a contemporary mixed media artist.

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