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Meet Jennie Kiessling

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennie Kiessling.

Jennie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I made the decision to be a studio artist at an early age. Being born and raised in Chicago, I was fortunate to start attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) when I was 16, where I then finished my undergraduate degree in painting. I made my first trip to the New Mexico in 1980 and like many, I was bit by the “I will live here someday” bug. How I was different, perhaps, was I continued to live and work in Chicago for the next 20 years and drove out to New Mexico to look at museums and galleries at least 2-3 times every year. Never missing a year, I saw the art world, there, change and grow in addition to the one I lived in a while in Chicago. My first job “out West” was in 2000 in Cheyenne for the Wyoming Arts Council. Wyoming is a great state for the arts and a well-kept secret. Very dear friends were made there. While maintaining my studio practice, I taught for UW and CSU.

My goal had always been to work in the community college system. I believe in it with all my heart. When I was in Chicago working for SAIC in the ’80s and ’90s, I developed community-based art programs throughout the City. I wanted to remain in a community education environment. With great fortune, I was able to start teaching as an adjunct at Front Range Community College in 2003, where I continue to teach. So, I moved from Wyoming to Colorado and continued my relationship with New Mexico. Being able to live off-grid in Masonville and work in Loveland allows me to exist in the most important 900 miles along the Front Range, from Northern Wyoming to Albuquerque. Everything that I am connected to is along that path North to South. I literally live in the middle and draw all of my inspiration from that 900 miles.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I realize at this point in my life, I am not one to dwell on what held me back. I have always been a serious art maker and that has been my guide. I have had extraordinary teachers; pioneers in the field of both art education and art therapy, their intense dedication made me who I am. Taking only art-related jobs, I was never destitute but I have lived the artist’s life. Whether a stereotype or not, that life is about getting by for the sake of you work. I have had very interesting jobs along the way, from being a Cultural Enrichment Manager for the Chicago Park District to my time as Assistant Director of Continuing Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I come from a family that was older, my father died when I was a child and my mother died by the time I was in my early 30’s. With no siblings and a family that was up in years, I have been a caregiver for family members at times and otherwise on my own. I feel that we karmically choose our parents. I wouldn’t have been able to develop my personal vision if it were not for the freedoms I had at an early age.

Sometimes, what you don’t know makes you stronger. I was a first-generation college student. At that time, there were not the considerations that there are now for those who are unfamiliar with the academic arena. That is why I believe so strongly in the community college path for teaching. Knowledge should be shared equitably, not withheld. In particular, the arts should be available for everyone to engage in. That does not mean art should be dumbed-down. Freedom comes with a good education beyond an understanding of popular culture. I would offer that at this time, there is more of “challenge” than in my earlier years in the field. That challenge now is the general attitude of a lack of support of liberal arts/humanities education.

We’d love to hear more about your art.
I was trained as a painter. My work as small scale and intimate, all the pieces are 10″ x 10″. They examine the aesthetic possibilities for a pure, minimal abstraction in the 21st Century. My art-making process responds to conceptual ties between the Modern Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki, and the American Modern painters Agnes Martin and Ad Reinhardt; all were active in New York during the rise of the Abstract Expressionist movement. The work falls between painting and drawing and has exceedingly spare surfaces of layered acrylic paint, graphite and vellum all on wood panels. They appear as a whisper or shadow of diagram and documents. For me, the subtleties found in abstraction and minimalism feel like a puzzle with potential. There is a particular energy about those forms that is silent and strong. My work needs the viewer’s attention to activate the puzzle. It won’t be solved, but it can be pondered, sat with and relaxed into. I am in constant pursuit of feeling an edge in the work.

I have been exhibiting nationally since the 1980s. My work is in private collections and I am a recipient of both National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awards. All of this is rolled into my teaching. My awareness of the former students I have served over the last 30 some years is ever-present. Especially those who keep in touch or I am immediately surrounded by. Even at this time, when we are all so undone by the current events, in the month of May, as students complete their studies, I am astounded and thrilled by the new thinking and talent of the next generation of artists that I am working with. A great gift is to hear them speak about their work through their excellent, forward-thinking. Ultimately, my greatest joy is when my former students become my colleagues and my teachers.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I am thrilled to be working on an exhibition for the Loveland Museum that is currently scheduled for January of 2022. The exhibition will be 77 small works that address the aesthetics of the 1967 painting titled “Tundra” by Agnes Martin. The painting is housed in the permanent collection of the Harwood Museum in Taos, New Mexico, “Tundra” is the last painting Martin made when her friend and mentor Ad Reinhardt passed away. She also decided at that time to leave New York and to travel the U.S. Martin settled in New Mexico to begin painting again in the 1970s. My research has been focused on that painting since it was permanently installed at the Harwood in 2017. I am absorbed in the exploring the aesthetic of that work and, most importantly, it’s extension into the art of our time.


  • Works range in price between $400 and $1000.00

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Andrew Michler
Ronda Stone
Jennie Kiessling

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