‘Communicating aliveness’: Figurative painter Staver to open VACI lecture series

Provided Photo
Kyle Staver stands near two of her large-scale works.

Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution is kicking off its lecture series at 7 p.m. in the Hultquist Center, with a presentation from figurative painter Kyle Staver.

“I’m looking forward to being at Chautauqua,” said Staver, who is speaking at Chautauqua for the first time. “I’m from the North. I grew up on the lake, so [being at Chautauqua] is sweet.”

Among the topics Staver will address this evening is the difference between linear, linguistic thinking and visual, artistic thinking.

“If you get something from Ikea, you either look at the instructions or have at it,” she said. “And I have at it instantly, instructions be damned.

Staver remembers when she realized this difference — a boarding school teacher told her she knew what was “wrong” with Staver: Staver was an artist.

If not for that experience, Staver said she might have stayed in Minnesota and knit sweaters.

Instead, she went to Yale for painting.

“Everyone has a language to communicate this strange thing called living a life,” she said. “[Painting] is how I communicate my very aliveness.”

The talk will not only focus on the theoretical, though — Staver also plans on bringing specific paintings to discuss.

“Young painters are desperate to know how other people do paintings,” she said. “They are like raiders.”

Staver herself raids history for inspiration, with many of her paintings bearing mythical or biblical titles such as “Prometheus,” “Diane & Aceton,” or “Adam and Eve with Goats.”

“At the beginning, [the paintings] were personal stories, and I hoped it would go from private, personal to universal,” Staver said. “Now I go in reverse.”

Staver has also become well known for her explorations of universal aspects of art in another, more unconventional way — daily Facebook posts.

Every morning, she posts work from three often radically different artists who all address a similar theme.

One such collection she posted last week, titled “Trunk,” depicted three different styles of tree trunks painted by Charles Burchfield, John Constable and Vincent van Gogh, while others include string sculptures, prehistoric masks and other unique pieces of art.

“[The posts] cross gender and generational lines. … It’s a big back and forth, like a dinner conversation,” Staver said. “Nothing is ever expired.”

Examining specific paintings also gives Staver a chance to help young artists see their work more clearly. Looking at paintings, she said, is like anything else — the more a person does it, the better they get at it. The better they get at it, the more they can learn about their own work. She is particularly interested in helping young artists learn how to look at their work.

“When you look at a painting, and you get stuck, that might be a problem in the structure of the painting,” Staver said. “The job of someone who comes into someone else’s studio is to see where you get stuck.”

Staver will be at Chautauqua for the week, and may work through a few sticky places herself.

“When I’m at Chautauqua I’m going to be working watercolors … they help me figure out where I’m stuck,” she said. “I’d like to have a campfire at least one night — I’d like to paint a campfire, but [Chautauqua] is not that kind of camp, is it?”