A senior's world of art in negative space
Kirsten Stray-Gundersen ’12 sits in font of a mural she painted on a wall in her suite in the Alfond Apartments.
Stepping into the apartment of Kirsten Stray-Gundersen ’12 initially feels like stepping into an art exhibit. On one wall extends a red and white mural of a lighthouse, while on the opposite wall four incredible portraits of the apartment’s inhabitants smile lovingly at all who enter the room.
For Stray-Gundersen, what began as a youthful hobby has grown into a future career. The art minor has “always enjoyed art” (she won a first place prize in first grade for a painting of a horse), but it wasn’t until she took a class at the College that she really began to explore the paths that her art could take her.
“I never took art classes in high school because I didn’t think it mattered,” she said. During the fall of her freshman year, Stray-Gundersen took Studio Art, but more because she wanted to fulfill her distribution requirement than because she was contemplating pursuing a future with her work. It was only after that class that she began to consider becoming an art minor.
“I like art because when I’m creating something, I’m really focused, and it makes everything else fall away,” she said. “I like to make things—mostly painting, primarily with oil paints, but acrylics are fine.”
She focuses most of her art on realism, an artistic style with realistic renderings of objects. However, that doesn’t mean Stray-Gundersen doesn’t have fun with her art. “I like to play with color to create interesting images, and I’ve also been exploring expressionistic styles lately.”
Stray-Gundersen made a very decisive move for her art career when she decided to study art at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu the summer after her sophomore year on the Hill. While there, she took Painting I and Drawing I to add to her credits at the College.
Her decision to spend the summer in Hawaii was a complicated one. “I went primarily because I didn’t think I would be going abroad my junior year. The school also has a really strong art department, and it was an excuse to get to go to Hawaii,” she said.
While studying in Hawaii, Stray-Gundersen spent a lot of time sketching at the beach. This was not as simple as it sounds—her notebook was extremely large and so obvious that everyone around her took notice. “People would come up and stand behind me to watch me while I sketched. They would say things like, ‘That looks really cool! Why this section of the beach?’ And I would just be like, ‘It’s just a homework assignment.’ It wasn’t anything I expected.”
Following her stint in art school in Hawaii, Stray-Gundersen ultimately decided to study abroad as well. She spent the spring of her junior year in Copenhagen, Denmark. By this point she already knew she wanted to become an architect after leaving the Hill, and her program allowed her the opportunity to take several architecture classes.
Upon her return to the States, the excitement of having an apartment for her final year at the College began to sink in, driving her to plan how she would “make it cozy and unique.”
“I started by thinking about color. I was really into the idea of red because it’s such a warm color. Then I was intrigued by black and white and the idea of positive and negative space, so I was trying to figure out what I could do with that,” Stray-Gundersen said.
The decision for the wall mural came down to a Maine theme—a red and white lighthouse. Stray-Gundersen took advantage of this opportunity and constructed the mural—“When am I going to get another chance to paint a lighthouse on my wall?” she added.
The portraits she painted of her roommates are equally astounding. Using pictures off of Facebook, she uploaded the photos to Adobe Photoshop and adjusted the contrast playing with light and dark to create negative and positive space paintings. The paintings, which came as a pleasant surprise to her roommates, were worked on down to the wire: “I did them all the day before I had to leave for school,” Stray-Gundersen said.
Outside of her dedication to art, Stray-Gundersen prides herself on her unique geographical location. “There are only two other kids here from Utah,” she said with a smile. “At least, I’ve only met two.”
Her hometown, Park City, Utah, is a popular destination, seeing that it is home to the Sundance Film Festival. She has also lived in Texas and spent five years living in Norway until she was 13 years old. She can speak Norwegian and even has the default language of her iPhone set to Norwegian.
To see apartment artwork that will really blow your mind, be sure to befriend Stray-Gundersen. And if you’re really lucky, maybe she’ll even paint a portrait of you someday. We can all dream.