Wilmington artist uses memories as the foundation for her work

Artist Kristen Crouch is one of 21 studio artists at ACME Art Studios in Wilmington, which opened it’s doors in 1991. This is the group’s 25th year, so we’re helping celebrate during Fourth Friday on April 22. Stop by the space and meet Crouch along with the other creatives as they present new work. 

“Do memories hold you back?” That’s what 25-year-old Kristen Crouch asks with a slight quiver in her studio at ACME Art Studios in Wilmington. “I think memories are the foundation of all my work.”

The quiver in her voice is because she’s talking about a particular memory, one she doesn’t necessarily want to forget but had to learn from and overcome. Her older brother Josh passed away when she was 15.

Crouch, who is from Wilmington and attended the Savannah College of Art and Design, took that memory and transformed it into her senior thesis project, an exhibition called “I Will Live On.” It’s an ode to her brother where she took photos and exposed them through digital manipulation, then printed them on metal or wood. The result is a blurring effect that causes the viewer to wonder the source of the image and the message Crouch is sending. Once you find out the image source it all comes together.

[Related: Crouch works her magic in the studio]

The source is family photos, particularly of her brother. The message is about memories and it touches you, causing you to reflect on your own memories.

“The blurring and distortion speaks to the questions and inconsistencies that still surround Josh’s death because of us not knowing the full story, and also the distorted emotions my family and I have felt since his death,” she says. “But on a broader level, with all my work, the distortion relates to the way memories and moments can begin to overlap in our mind over time.

“I’ve found that so often our history becomes what we want it to be, and we believe and include and deny what we want to about our respective stories and interactions. The word ‘perspective’ keeps coming to me, in the fact that everyone’s perspective on life is different and based on individual experiences and circumstances.”

[Related: Click to see photos of Kristen Crouch]

“I Will Live On” changed Crouch. It helped her pay homage to her brother and finally come to terms with his death. She started to heal. She started to understand her artistic vision.

Now Crouch understands that memories don’t have to hold you back. They are your foundation, and when used properly can propel you forward. That’s what happened upon her return to Wilmington.

“I’m from Wilmington, born and raised, and went away for school and never thought I would be back,” she says. “Through a series of really serendipitous events over the past two years, I’m back and have been blown away at what I have done and how I have grown.”

Crouch is back home and she has grown — a lot. She’s had to grow and evolve and realize her potential. “I had to stop feeling sorry for myself,” she says with confidence. She’d ask herself, “What can I learn from this?”

In 2014 she learned how hard it was to open a gallery. Crouch dreamed of and conceptualized Left Star Gallery, the name inspired by her brother, and the energy behind it was “something I gained from knowing him,” she says. But the project didn’t work out because, in part, she “needed to understand the process of follow through,” she says. “It will happen in my lifetime.”

Crouch with a sculpture.

Crouch works on a sculpture in her studio.

That door closed, but she found others to walk through. That love of sculpture led her to volunteer at Kids Making It, a nonprofit that teaches woodworking, life and entrepreneurial skills to at-risk youth.

Then she volunteered at the Cameron Art Museum and Cucalorus Film Festival. She also taught dance. Crouch stayed busy and learned a lot in the process. That’s because she started looking at closed doors not as being shut, but as opportunities to learn how to open new ones.

“The last two years I’ve grown more than I did in school,” she says. That growth helped her land some great opportunities, like being the co-curator for “Art of Illumination” at the Cameron Art Museum. The evolution continued with her time at ACME where she curated an exhibition in 2015 called “Thirty Under 30,” where the only restriction was the artists had to be under the age of 30. She received submissions from as far away as Israel.

Now Crouch also works at Wilmington’s Evolve Golf, a company that makes golf products used by many PGA Tour professionals where she is the director of product design and “Master Maker.”

A journey that began in pursuit of a fine arts degree in photography took Crouch to a wood shop and now a golf company. “Coming home has allowed me to accomplish so much more not only artistically, but as a passionate voice for positive change in the community,” she says.

She overcame. She evolved. She continues to dream.

“I’m at a happy time in my life,” she says with that quiver long gone.

Crouch will have prints on view from a new series of work during ACME’s Fourth Friday reception this month that reflect on recent memories, like those from her trips to New York and California with her “crew” of friends. The work will focus on a “happy nostalgia,” she says.

Photos by Caroline Cockrell. Click to enlarge.

ACME Art Studios Spring Show
ACME Art Studios, 711 N. 5th Ave., Wilmington, NC
Fourth Friday reception: April 22, 6 to 9 p.m., on view until May 27

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