Purgatory Road

5 questions with Krista Steinke

Krista and I met at Moravian College. She was one of the first people I met on my interview and quickly became one of the reasons I wanted to teach there. Unfortunately for us, she has since moved back to Texas, her home state, where she now teaches at Texas A&M. She's one of my favorite people and I miss her everyday. I know Houston is welcoming this great artist with open arms, as well they should.  In fact, Krista has an exhibition opening tonight, October 24th, 2014 at Sam Houston University! Check it out. Her work is incredible.

Where do you live, where is your studio? Who makes up your day to day world? friends? partners? pets? kids? 

I live in Texas most of the year and during the summer months, I live in rural upstate New York.

I am originally from Texas, and after a 20-something year hiatus living elsewhere, I recently moved back to the Houston area. Because my husband and I both commute an hour away for our teaching jobs, we have to live on the outskirts of the city, basically where suburbia meets the country. We have not yet completely figured out our living/work situation, so in the meantime, I set up a temporary studio in our garage and small office space in the house.   For us, the bad news is that we are not near the cultural hubbub of the city, while the good news is that we don’t have to deal with the busy hubbub of the city. Our master plan is to buy a small plot of farmland and build a barn-type studio out in the country. We have had this barn-studio fantasy for a while but now that we are back in Texas, it can actually become a reality.

People in my day-to-day world: My husband, Sherman Finch (also an artist), my lovely daughter, Ava, my rambunctious son, Eli, and a grouchy but cute cat named Fella.  (students, colleagues, friends, and other family members of course, factor in as well)

What’s an average studio day like? 


During the summer months, I am able to keep a very strict studio schedule.  My day starts with an early morning walk or run (this routine is important to my process – it allows me to download the daily noise in my head so that I can focus on what I want to accomplish that day.  I also scout locations to photograph, collect specimens for my project, and pay close attention to the natural light and weather). I then usually spend most of the day outdoors, I photograph, prepare for shoots, make my homemade filters, or else I am at the computer, where I edit video, scan negatives, look at test prints, and optimize images. During the school year, my schedule is more chaotic and has to be structured around teaching and family obligations.  I teach two days a week and have three full days that I can commit to my art practice. The rhythm of my studio time really depends on where I am at with a project or what type of shows or deadlines I have looming.  Because much of my work involves being on the computer, I can usually sneak in extra studio hours while at work or in the late evenings after my kids go to bed.

I love listening to music when I work (via Pandora or Groove Shark) but usually I am so focused on my work that I forget to turn it on.  I keep an “inspiration folder” on my desktop for each project that I am working on and refer to it frequently during studio time. Basically it’s a collection of anything that can help inform the work – snapshots that I took with my cellphone, scientific images of the universe, a close-up detail of a painting that I stumbled upon, maybe an unresolved project that I did while in graduate school.


What are you working on now? 

Lately, I have been obsessed with: the Texas sky (its so expansive and dramatic at times), collecting bumblebees and other dead insects, art that is made from unconventional materials, photographers and filmmakers who are breaking the rules, and the colored spots that you see after staring into bright light.

I have two main projects in the works. Purgatory Road is a series that I have been working on since 2010.  It is based on the place where I live in NY and I mainly focus on this project in the summer. My plans are to continue working on it for a several more years, with the intention of turning it into a trilogy and hopefully, publishing as a monograph.  I’m curious to see how a body of work, along with the changing nature of the landscape, can evolve and transform over a long, extended period of time.

I am also working on a new project called “Fire Ants Under the Texas Sky” which consists of photography, video, audio, and sculpture.  For this series, as the title suggests, Texas is used as a backdrop to explore the physical and cultural landscape and how it intersects with personal and collective memory. Here, I am not so much interested in telling my own history but instead, how the process of remembering can distort or influence one’s experience of the present. I have been experimenting with combining cellphone photography with other media and thinking about how technology can function or malfunction as a surrogate for memory. As a compliment to this, I am in the early planning stages of a collaborative project with my sister Rene Steinke (who just published a novel about Texas) and my brother Matt Steinke (a musician and artist based in Austin). It will be exciting when the collaboration gets off the ground but right now it is moving rather slow because we are all super busy with our individual work.

What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

Because I am always working on several projects at once, when things aren’t going so well, I will switch my focus to something else so I can continue to feel productive.  As a temporary fix, I find that taking a long walk or going for a run helps to get my mind off the work.  I also sometimes will switch to working in another medium and try approaching my subject or questions from a different vantage point.  Mostly during these “falIow periods”, I try to be patient with myself because I strongly believe that incubation is critical to the creative process.

How do you sustain your creative life? (how do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?)

Past jobs: many, many years of waiting tables, some gallery and museum work, and other miscellaneous non-profit jobs.

Currently, I teach in the Visualization Department at Texas A&M University.  I have been a college professor for over ten years and I absolutely love teaching.  For me, it has been the perfect compliment to being a professional artist.  It offers the flexible schedule that I need, a creative and intellectual community, and I get to talk about my favorite subject everyday at work.

What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?

Here are a few mantras that I repeat to myself and often tell my students:

Failure is critical to success (we hear this a lot these days – but so true)

Embrace constructive criticism.  Its ok to disagree, but be able to articulate why.

We live in a fast-paced environment, ours is a culture of the immediate or instantaneous. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that good art takes time, be patient and work hard.

When building a body of work, not every piece needs to be a home run. Sometimes the small, quiet pauses can be an important part of the conversation.

Everyone gets rejected…acknowledge that its part of the routine and keep moving forward.

Progress involves taking risks, both small and large.

Don’t be afraid to go down the rabbit hole…go way, way down to the point of getting lost.