Kirsten Ullrich’s mind wanders on canvas.
An electrified coffin, a melting Fisher Price “Corn Popper” push toy, a Senor Wences-like hand puppet and over-sized rag mops take center stage in her surreal landscapes.
The Vermont artist describes the work as “wacky free association.”
“I don’t want them to be a dream world. I want to make the materials speak strongly,” Ullrich said. “It’s important to me to have the viewer look at the painting and not get sucked into the illusion too quickly.”
Ullrich, who also works in drawing, animation and sculpture, will show recent paintings in a solo show opening Saturday at the Lake George Arts Project’s Courthouse Gallery in Lake George.
Although the artist describes the creations as oil paintings, the canvases often incorporate other mediums, including graphite, acrylic, latex and ink.
“I use a lot of different material, which is important to the ultimate development of the piece. The material dictates different things. I’ve learned to trust my instinct,” she said.
Despite the unconventional approach to oil, she shies away from the term “mixed media.”
Her free-style approach suits the imagery in her work. The concepts generally evolve from doodles.
“I start off by doing pen-and-ink drawings. It’s an easy way for me to follow an impulse. I have a wacky sense of humor,” she said.
The quirky sketches allow Ullrich to develop her ideas quickly.
“I’ll generate a lot of these drawings, then pick out a few that have a lot of promise,” she said.
The process is more visceral than cerebral.
“When I apply paint, the space is doing different things — due to the material. I try to follow my gut,” said Ullrich, who is completing her second year residency fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass.
The painter is never certain exactly where a piece is headed.
“The interesting thing is seeing what will evolve out of the process. Some of the paintings have been real challenges,” she said.
Ullrich tries to have several projects going at once, which helps her overcome artistic roadblocks.
“It kind of helps me if I get stuck in a mode of thinking. I can move on to the next thing. I’ll be working on a piece, and then I’ll have an epiphany about another,” she said.
While some contemporary painters reference Vincent Van Gogh or Edvard Munch, Ullrich said her inspiration comes from more comical source material.
‘I have a really strong
connection with ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus,’ ” she said.
She remembers watching the show as a child and being fascinated by Terry Gilliam’s collage-like animation segments.
“My style is mischievous. It’s light-hearted, but sinister,” she said.
She attributes her humorous instincts to her father.
“My dad has a really wacky sense of humor and makes puns all the time and off-color jokes. I blame it entirely on my father,” she said.
Random objects become sources of inspiration.
“I have this obsession with toilets,” Ullrich said with a laugh.
Despite the nontraditional subjects that find their way onto her canvases, the artist prefers not to search too deeply for meaning.
“Sometimes I do kind of look and wonder what I had in mind, but I don’t try to dig into it as a psychology project. It’s not my forte,” she said. “I’m kind of scared of where it would lead.”