Techniques of the Hand: Kristen DeGree in the Studio

August 10, 2018 by

“I’m intrigued by anything where the evidence of the hand or sense of intimacy changes though a technical process.” Having spent a formative year as a studio intern at Women’s Studio Workshop in 2009, Kristen DeGree returned in 2018 for the Art-in-Education Workspace Residency, working with elementary students in the paper and silkscreen studio.

Her approach to screenprinting plays with “the visibility of the hand.” DeGree combines various methods, often working with stencils and directly onto the screen, that leave the viewer “looking for where the hand ended and a technical intervention began.” The expressive quality of her prints are more that of a drawing or painting.  She invites the viewer to think outside of the common photo aesthetic of screenprinting, presenting instead a “more playful relationship with experimental printmaking.”

The playfulness in DeGree’s work has roots in “DIY approaches” to printmaking. In her first endeavors with silkscreen, DeGree was shown “how to minimize costs and be self-sufficient, whether that was mixing our own inks, using cheap household cleaners instead of solvents, and reclaiming screens at the carwash.” This resourcefulness extends into her working life at Tinkering School, a camp that teaches kids how to build structures and use power tools.  “We really try to emphasize collective building and creative use of material around a central theme. I enjoy the way kids notice things that adults tend to skip over because we’re so distracted with life. I try to challenge any expectations of art that kids may have, like things needing to be perfect, or overly focused on the outcome.” 

In her recent work, DeGree is acknowledging the skipped over things. “Lately, I’ve been drawn to pulling out elements of nature as a kind of abstraction. I enjoy craggy rocks, the undersides of fallen trees, and swamps around North Carolina.”

These experiences of nature strike her intuitively and serve as a kind of meditation. “When I’m out and about I usually see something that grabs me, perhaps because it expresses my own feelings about being in nature. It helps me keep deep time in perspective, that humans are only here for a little while and nature follows a more extended sense of time that is not always apparent to us.”

DeGree’s ability to experiment instinctively in the silkscreen studio allows her compositions to come together quickly.  “The speediness of silkscreen is what initially drew me to it…I feel less bogged down by the process.” Working in both the paper and silkscreen studio during her residency, DeGree discovered a conversation happening between these mediums.  “I was really lucky at WSW to be able to make a lot of large sheets of rag paper…resulting in some incredible texture and color that I could pair with prints that I was already developing.” Her compositions resemble those found in the natural world, a textured, layered, colorful interweaving of different elements in harmonious existence.

This is her goal, to bring attention to what calls to her, to ask us to notice “the smaller, magical things that happen around us—the color shifts of sycamore bark or moss on an old boulder.” DeGree’s prints catch you off guard. Their energy and confidence draw you into looking closely at something you might see every day but with new life.

Kristen DeGree grew up in North Dakota, and since then has lived in Seattle, WA, Rosendale, NY, Iowa, California, and North Carolina. She was a studio intern at WSW during 2009-2010, and has fond memories of living and working with artists, cooking communal meals at the intern house, and spending late nights spreading out in multiple studios. Kristen holds a Masters in Printmaking, and a Master in Fine Arts in Intermedia, both from the University of Iowa. She also works as an art educator leading an Organic Art Camp and Tinkering School with kids on a farm in North Carolina. She is passionate about gardening and wildcrafting. Much of her work is inspired by her relationship with nature and the unknown.

Marisa Malone is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been published in Selfish Magazine and BlazeVox Journal   and she has self-published two chapbooks of poetry.