Kyle Staver – New Work at Zürcher

In Dialogue with Kyle Staver

Kyle Stave, Venus and the Octopus, 2020, Oil on canvas, 70 x 58 in / 177,8 cm x 147,3 cm, Image courtesy of the Artist and Zürcher Gallery, NY/Paris

Kyle Staver’s second solo show at Zürcher Gallery in New York features new paintings, relief sculptures, drawings, and aquatint etchings through July 24th. In this interview Kyle Staver shares some ideas on her work process, touches upon the narrative and mythological elements in her work, and gives us an insight on her notion of art history.

AS: Our interview is being conducted during a tumultuous period of pandemic and social upheaval. Life has changed since your exhibition at Zürcher Gallery opened March 12th. What are your thoughts about the road ahead?

Kyle Staver: March 11th my show at Zürcher Gallery opened. Three days later the world shut down and closed. My work hung silent in the empty gallery. Going to the studio everyday is the only thing that has remained unchanged in this time of sad and confusing chaos. The Brooklyn soundtrack of non-stop sirens and hovering helicopters operate as a constant reminder that I’m not making this stuff up. The world was/is on fire. I’m not sure how this will change the work I do, but it will. Trying to look forward, I don’t have a clue where we will land. I do know that artists will soldier on trying to make sense and hope out of all this.

AS: Please tell me a bit about your background and what is the premise behind this body of work?

Kyle Staver: I grew up in Northern Minnesota in a small mining town. When I was 16, I went to an all girls boarding school outside of Chicago. Mrs. Moses, my history teacher, told me she knew what was wrong with me, I was an artist. She said it was a wonderful thing to be and that there were many others like me. It was a miracle. She opened a secret door and I slipped through it like a baby duck slides into water.

The work I make always begins with the narrative/story. I start making pencil drawings, loose and tentative. Hunting bits of images that spark and move me. From there I start to make ink wash drawings. Working the tonal scales to press the light to deliver/support the expressive needs of the narrative. With the watercolors I try to get the composition, values and color to agree to work together. The reliefs allow me to see the work as actually existing in the world. This helps me “believe” my paintings are real. All of my work on paper and clay is made to support and push the painting along.

Kyle Staver, Study for Susanna’s Hammock #2, 2020, Ink and pencil on paper, 8.5 x 11 in / 22 x 28 cm, Image courtesy of the Artist and Zürcher Gallery, NY/Paris

Kyle Staver, Study for Miss America #1, 2019, Ink, watercolor and pencil on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches / 28 cm x 21 cm, Private Collection, Paris, Image courtesy of the Artist and Zürcher Gallery, NY/Paris

AS: In a 2019 essay on your work by painter Marc Desgrandchamps he sees your imagery as “ a world of ‘paradise lost’, overwhelmed by today’s fears, but fears held at bay by a staging that provokes joy rather than fear, a joy also caused by an attention to form that does not reduce this painting to a simple narrative.” What is your take on that description and can you elaborate on your approach to narrative and mythology in the process of making your imagery?

Kyle Staver: I am first and foremost a storyteller. Making paintings has always been my means of connecting to the world. If I begin my painting with a story or a myth that the viewer is familiar with, we are connected and invested from the first moment. When I change or tweak a story it is hard to miss and the viewer is put on alert. There is so much expressive opportunity in the space between what is expected and what is actually there. The paintings seem to present as a “certain kind of painting” in a “certain kind of western art history lineage” with a “certain time honored story”, except when they don’t. Allowing the painting to slip its moorings, without completely losing sight of the mother ship, is when painting is its most thrilling for me.

AS: Let’s focus on Miss America. What would you like to share about this painting, the idea behind it, its genesis and process?

Kyle Staver: Miss America was a painted Ambassador of good will and greeting from the USA to France. She is a Rodeo Queen and as American they come. The companion painting, Joan of Arc and the Poodles, is as French as I could imagine. Both paintings accompanied me on my trip to Paris last summer for an exhibition curated by Gwenolee Zürcher.

Kyle Staver, Miss America, 2019, Oil on canvas, 68 x 50 in / 173 cm x 127 cm, Private Collection, Washington DC, Image courtesy of the Artist and Zürcher Gallery, NY/Paris

Kyle Staver, St. Joan of Arc and the Poodles, 2019, Oil on canvas, 68 x 50 in / 173 cm x 127 cm, Private Collection, Connecticut. Image courtesy of the Artist and Zürcher Gallery, NY/Paris

AS: It seems that art history is central in your work. Where do you see this body of work in that context?

Kyle Staver: I see the history of art as a Big River with every thing that has ever been made bumping and knocking against every thing that will be made. The unstoppable need to make stuff is shared by all human beings. It transcends time, gender, race, and sexual orientation. Being a part of this River makes the source material for my work endless and rich. I can’t imagine a period of art that is no longer important or germane to what is happening today. Nothing is used up or outdated. The pleasure and challenge for me is to continue the conversation by personalizing and contemporizing it.

Kyle Staver, Study for Venus and the Octopus, 2020, Fired clay relief, 17 x 12.75 x 4 in / 43 cm x 32 cm x 10 cm, Image courtesy of the Artist and Zürcher Gallery, NY/Paris

Kyle Staver New Work at Zürcher Gallery through July 24th, 2020

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: