Interview: Martin Stenssas – Astral Freestyle Knew Conscious Gallery |

Knew Conscious Gallery will host the closing reception for Martins Stensaas and Naomi Hind’s ‘Astral Freestyle’ on Friday, October 5th. Also exhibiting will be beautifully curated gem and mineral specimens provided by Architectural Minerals.


You developed your artistic talent at an early age while growing up in the American southwest. Tell me more about your childhood and the role of art in your youth.


The natural landscape is very prominent in Utah, and I grew up camping, hiking, and biking a lot. I think there is always a source of creativity and vitality that springs from having been in Nature as a kid. The rock formations in southern Utah are always a source of wonder and discovery. Somehow that influenced my aesthetic a lot—a kind of ‘mystic rigor’ that the desert asserts. I always enjoyed drawing—especially imaginative and strange things—fantastic creatures, futuristic cities, and surrealistic and grotesque characters. I was alone a lot, so it was also a form of self-entertainment to draw. I got into painting at age 14, and studied figure and landscape through the college years.


Your paintings and sculptures utilize sacred, surreal and visionary imagery. How does your spirituality coalesce with your artistic expression?


I started having mystical experiences at the age of 12. They were not very articulate, but they were powerful and they kindled a desire to instinctively pull-through some of that feeling into art. There was a New-Age book/record shop near the bus stop that I frequented from age 8 to 13. I browsed around in there a lot. It seemed pretty natural that sacred, surreal and visionary imagery would overlap with music, non-fiction, in trying to articulate various aspects of deep emotion and the fringes of human experience. Lately I have become more focused on specific esoteric themes. I like to keep the work open-ended, though. I feel it has more to offer if it resists our natural mental instinct to ‘get it’ and move on.


Your work aspires to ‘bring some of the collective unconscious into consciousness.’ Would you, please, elaborate upon that statement for our readers?


Well, there are a lot of ways to break down the semantics of that, but I mean it in the Jungian sense. In the same way that astrological themes can be noted as qualitative signatures to the spirit of the times, art can also articulate and condense mythical themes that pertain to the overall human signature of the times. There is a collective therapeutic value to that process, if it is allowed to emerge wholesomely. Lately, I feel that archetypal images (dragons, jaguars, etc.) emerge to awaken some of that ‘key’ energy in me, and then in viewers, after-the-fact. I hope that others can enjoy the result of the process of discovery that painting brings to me.


In esoteric traditions, specific spheres of energy types have the possibility of a wholesome or unwholesome manifestation, dependent upon whether or not they are harnessed appropriately in time, space, amount and intent. I seek to evoke the wholesome and balanced use of these psychic forces. They are already swirling around at work in the world, but in repressed and twisted ways. There is much misguided magic afoot, due largely to our cultural resistance to look at the shadow side of business-as-usual. It is a cliché of the would-be hero who cannot face his own shadow, who then becomes the monster he purports to fight. I aspire to the obverse of that: from among the hubris of our postmodern world we can willingly coalesce something beautiful and transcendent, that draws us toward right living and biologically integrated wisdom. The Sun wants us to do this by means of the Earth. Spirit bounces itself off the cascade of Matter.


I’m aware that you listen to music—electronic music, specifically—when you paint. How does that sonic experience influence your visual work?


Much like my experiences at the book/record shop of my early youth, synaesthesia—the crossover of sensory types—has always fascinated me, and seemed quite natural. I seek out music that has a layered, dynamic quality that is reminiscent of the kind of imagery and energy I paint. Then I listen to it, and find new ways to flow with the aesthetic in the music. I find it enriches the amount of inventiveness I encounter. It’s a focusing effect.


The upcoming exhibition is a collaborative effort between you and woven wire jeweler, Naomi Hinds. How did this joint showing come to fruition?


It probably grew like a vine; it has mysterious fruits and seeds and pollinators. I think the Mother of the Forest wanted it to happen. In addition to her recent body of work, I’m very excited to see Naomi’s remix of one of my small cast sculptures.


Who or what inspired the exhibition title ‘Astral Freestyle’?


I seek to evoke a kind of astral substance in my paintings that is like a kind of growth-medium for fertile, archetypal imagery to emerge in…much like that seaweed agar that can culture things in a lab. The astral medium is a blend of elements: light, life, movement, liquid, matter and idea. The prayer is like the spore in the medium. If it’s nourished, it will grow.


The freestyle element is that process of trusting the instinct, trusting the doodle that self-organizes through sustained focus into form and meaning. The exhibition title name grew the same way. I proposed it to Naomi, and she liked it. Her method of working is similar, in its own way. Gems and silver have many peculiar astral properties, and she freestyles them together beautifully.


Finally, what words of inspiration do you have for aspiring artists?


Listen to that little voice that guides you. Trust the doodle; let it grow. Where do you wander in the bookstore instinctively? Honor that. Find a good mentor who recognizes what your strength and style is. Learn and master what they have to offer, and then come right back to where you left off, personally. Meditate. Throw off toxic baggage, and relationships, if necessary. Care for your vessel. Avoid alcohol. Dance regularly. It took me a long time to learn these lessons. Maintain focus. Give thanks for the opportunity to be here in this amazing world.


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