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Healing Journey

Kirsten Hardenbrook's artwork reflects a life of travel and transformation.

By Donna Clayton Lawder

 

The airport was the hardest part.

Silver City artist Kirsten Hardenbrook relaxes at her kitchen table, recounting her recent return from two weeks in Peru, musing on wealth and poverty, people and culture. Her sky-blue sweater matches perfectly her liquid blue eyes, and picks up the color of tiny crystals in a vial of "healing stones" she wears around her neck.

Kirsten Hardenbrook in her home studio. The empty easel awaits new work, which she says will be paintings inspired by her trips to Peru. (Photo by Donna Clayton Lawder)

"It was amazing, and difficult," this month's cover artist says of her journey and her trip home, returning through "Big City Airport" that shall remain nameless. "I've just been in a place where, by our standards, people have nothing. And then here I am with all these people around me, and they're spending so much money—on their hair, their clothes, their sunglasses—and they all just seemed so empty! Do you know what I mean? They were the poor ones."

She pauses at the memory, searching for words to make sense of the discrepancy between her impressions and common conceptions.

"I just realized that these people I had just been with in Peru, these people who are so poor, were really the rich ones," she says. "And these people around me (at the airport) were the ones who are poor. It was a poverty of soul."

Hardenbrook owns and operates Starbrook Adventures, through which she leads "journeys of transformation" to Peru's mountains, beaches and sacred sites. Her own life's journey has been a winding one, with many colorful turns—working for years as an outdoor outfitter, having trained as a Circle Guide in the Toltec Shamanic tradition, caretaking a wilderness lodge, giving intuitive tarot card readings and running her own gallery.

Travel has been an inspirational theme throughout her life, adventure and her art journeying side by side. Living in California in her 20s, Hardenbrook packed up some gear and her art supplies on two llamas and went on a six-month "painting trip." More than 100 pastel works came out of that time.

And it has been a healing journey, as well.

Having dealt with cancer a handful of years ago, Hardenbrook says she now lives "on a different frequency. My body now tests completely free of cancer." Her search for alternative treatment led her down new intuitive paths, opening her mind to other healing images. She lays out on the table a collection of cards—wistful, esoteric images she created from that inspiration—images that align with and reflect her healing path. She points to and explains some of the images, looking so much the tarot card reader, this time discerning the very personal images that trace her own path, her own fate.

"This is 'Crossing Lines,' and I use it in my (spiritual/intuitive) teaching. It's about the ability to shift dimensions, change perspective, leave the space-time continuum," she says. The cards are the size of regular greeting cards, done in prismacolor pencil and ink. The images are light, slightly mysterious, celestial. One image appears to be the view through a telescope, leaving circles of blank space within images. "When I scan a person, or scan myself, this is what I see," Hardenbrook says, referencing her intuitive healing work. "It looks like cells, fluidity."

The work on another card is called "The Dawn Caller." In it, an antelope-looking creature lifts its head, trumpeting into the starry horizon above it. The animal stands half in light, half in darkness, a metaphor for our needs—both positive and negative—she explains.

 

Hardenbrook has studied art with Wyoming artist Scott Christensen, one of the country's premier plein air painters, as well as with Denver artist Kim English and the California painter Hui Han Liu. She has shown her work in solo shows in Santa Fe and Taos, Durango, Colo., and in California.

She shuns commission work, however. "Oh, I just can't do it! I can't work like that at all. People say things like, 'Can you paint this dream I had and make it match my couch?'" She shakes her head, as if shaking off the taste of something bad. "And I didn't make that up. Someone actually said that to me."

Hardenbrook's work has gone through significant transformation from astral to earthy, in media, tone and subject matter, as well.

"El Burro Nuevo," this month's cover art, is an example of Hardenbrook's latest artistic direction. The large oil painting is on display at Eklektikas Gallery in downtown Silver City, which recently began representing Hardenbrook. In the richly earth-toned piece, two young boys sit astride a burro. Dust seems to hang in the hazy sky and sparse clumps of dry grasses glow golden in the sunlight. The setting is Mata Ortiz, Mexico, Hardenbrook explains, a place where life is simpler and, by many standards, poorer.

But the moment itself is rich. The boy in front has a smile of deep satisfaction, showing obvious pride in his family's new acquisition. He holds a coil of rope in one hand and firmly grips the reigns in the other. The burro, standing patiently, is outfitted in leather harness and halter. The image is touching, heart-breaking even, in its honest simplicity.

Another such piece is "On the Road to San Diego." In it, two simply dressed people are riding atop a hay-laden horsedrawn wagon. A dog trots alongside. Shadows are long, indicating the end of a long workday of harvest.

Hardenbrook also paints pure landscapes, all inspired by the Southwest and the elements unique to it. "Boston Hill Monsoon" captures a summer storm scene on a familiar horizon in Silver City. Yucca and shrubs dot the hill, bathed in a swath of golden light in an otherwise darkened sky.

"That's the direction my work is going in these days," Hardenbrook says. "It's all about the people and the land. That sense of earthiness is very important."

She adds that her next body of work will be oil paintings capturing the landscape and people of Peru, a spiritual home of sorts to her. "I came back with a strong desire to work with those images, the people and the way they live. The land."

She describes some of the people she met on this last trip to Peru, their simple yet often colorful dress, and the beauty of the mountains. Her face becomes wistful.

"Art is an important part of my expression," she says after a pause. "It's just been woven into my life. It has to do with my relationship to life, to the earth, to people.

"My art is about connection to life, especially through living things. And I particularly like working with landscape, and that includes the human landscape."

 

Kirsten Hardenbrook's work currently is exhibited exclusively
at Eklektikas Gallery, 104 Yankie St., Silver City, 538-8081.

 

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