An Interview with Kristjana Williams

Kristjana Williams' artworks are a mystical delight, giving us new and exciting worlds to explore. We sat down with Kristjana to chat about where she draws her references from, how her heritage influences her work, and how her love of nature is reflected in her art.

AR: Where do you take your inspiration from? What or who are your biggest influences?

Kristjana: I think nature is always the kind of number one, two and three! Coming from Iceland, nature is very much in charge of the whole country and humans come second. In Iceland it's a bit like being in a forest, you are overruled by the elements in it - you're slightly more submerged in that energy than when you are in the middle of the city. I think all of us have really felt this sense of calm during lockdown and realised that it is not important to be on that crazy lightning grid of energy all the time. Actually breathing and connecting with nature is very healing. In the beginning, my work was purely elements of nature but now I've expanded into architecture. So I think in my mind's eye, I now see different elements pulled together, forgetting scale and instead focusing on marrying all elements together in the composition.

Kristjana in her studio

AR: Are there any artists in particular that inspire you?

Kristjana: I always look to the classics like Frida Kahlo, Dali, Andy Warhol, and all of the old greats. I love Andy Warhol, particularly his quote "art is what you can get away with". When I was younger, it was still very much a time where art was a lot tighter and bound by rules and there was a lot less freedom than there is now, especially in Iceland. So I feel like that's a very interesting thing that's changed with the time. Now you are allowed to express yourself creatively and come together to make art that is joyful and fun. I admire Grayson Perry, also, for his philosophy and how inclusive he is. He has built a community of people who support each other to create art and I really love how, for him, art is a place for relief and pleasure.

I can be really inspired by a pin design, or a key chain, or anything that looks refreshing. I love following all the new work that's coming out and I'm still working predominantly in Victorian engraving, so I'm constantly looking at objects that Victorians created before photography.


A look into Kristjana's studio

AR: Your art draws from ancient references like antique maps and such. Can you tell us a bit where your love of blending this old and new comes from?

Kristjana: I started off with screen printing, and I realised there was a lot of layering in my process. So this blending of the old and new started here. I was interested in old flowers, I was interested in digitising them, I was interested in the contrast of the old and the new, for example, taking a beautiful rose and making that into digital squares and abstracting it. 

Like any collage artist, when I find that particular collage piece that is the perfect fit for my artwork, I feel like I've just found a diamond in the rough and I'm almost honoured that I'm allowed to use it. Especially when I use like the old 1800's pieces and scan them into my designs. Once it is on the computer you can use it as your very own paintbrush, multiplying it and scaling it. So I think also using these old references digitally really does push that process of blending old and new forward. I'm also very interested in the fluorescent mixing with the classical palette. I have a love of colour.


AR: So there's obviously multiple steps to creating one of your artworks. How long do you think each artwork takes to make? Do you start one and then finish one? Or do you have multiple on at the same time?

Kristjana: I have multiple on at the same time. Some come together in a flash of an eye and others are brewing in the back of my head for like a year. And sometimes it's just like I've collected a certain engraving in the market that I think is beautiful, but I won't actually use it until a few years later. Now I've got a vast library of items that I've created and that I have built and I feel like when I'm collecting the photographs, or buying dried flowers or old Victorian engraving books, they all essentially go through the same process. So the collection and the research is number one, and number two is scanning them in and cutting them out, cleaning them up, colouring them.

Then you end up with something like a landscape piece, that is made using multiple bits of grass and stone and trees to create a whole new landscape. This is one of my favourite things to do because you are getting to create a whole new place on this earth that doesn't actually exist. It's the same process with my floral and architectural pieces. I take all of these old drawings of columns and windows and make brand new palaces, like I've done in my diorama pieces.


Details of Kristjana's work in progress

AR: I've also read that you call your artworks wistful forests. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Kristjana: I think my universe is like lots of different kinds of travelling wormholes between different parts of it. They're not all the same, but they are interconnected, but I feel like I'm kind of inviting people onto that journey. With my forests, you can normally feel there's a path through it. You can go left or right or straight on, or you might just want to hang around in a tree or lay belly down in the grass...I want to invite people to go anywhere.

I always have very different descriptions from people about how they experience the work, but oftentimes it transports them somewhere completely different. Sometimes the future, sometimes the past, but it's all about enjoyment.


AR: Storytelling and creating your own worlds is obviously important to you. Can you expand on this a bit more?

Kristjana: With my dyslexic brain I have always struggled with articulating meaning. As I'm getting older, I'm able to express this better. But to be honest, often when I look back, I understand what my work is about more than when I am creating it. I use art for learning and evoking deeper feelings, but that feels so obvious! People seem to have an immediate connection to my art. What makes me very happy is that it's from people very young to people in their 90s; it seems to connect with people of different ages and different genders. I feel like becoming more articulate about my work has helped develop their meaning, but I didn't think I'd have to be almost 50 to do this! 


AR: So, when you start creating a piece, is it safe to say then that there aren't any particular emotions or stories that you want the viewers to take away from the experience?

Kristjana: With my maps and world pieces, you will have the balloon, you have little pictures of the buildings, you will have lots of historical facts included. I want the viewer to come on that journey and just be able to imagine themselves within the craziness of my artworks. Sometimes, it's all about transporting and sharing knowledge, whereas some of them are just unforgivingly about appreciating nature and giving each person a place to relax and take in elements of the forest and its animals. I think within the tiny elements of each piece, people just love being able to put in their own interpretations on them. Each reaction is a reflection of how we are feeling that day.


AR: How does your love of nature and wildlife play into your work?

Kristjana: I feel like that's the very root of everything. This deep connection is something that I'm just continuously craving more deeply now. I think growing up in Iceland, by the sea, was transformative - our car, and our windows were constantly covered in salt; it wasn't all romantic sea views. The weather is a force of nature, especially in the long winters. When I moved 27 years ago, London was everything that I hoped for. It was a mental car crash of signals and vibrations and culture. It's just incredible. But as I'm getting older I feel like I'm needing more nature. The lockdown has really probably taught us the value of just breathing and seeing the woods through the trees. I feel like nature leads the way. It always has.


DROTTNING ELIZABETH - WARHOL POP by Kristjana Williams

AR: Do you ever deliberately insert elements of your Icelandic culture and heritage into your artwork?

Kristjana: I think the foundation of all of my work is Iceland. I feel like even though I've been away for so long, now I can look back on my time there and realise I didn't appreciate the beauty of the country when I was younger. I think the crispness and the clarity of my work is down to my time in Iceland. Although I work with old Victorian engravings, the bright colours and elements of nature are deeply connected to Iceland.


AR: Obviously the lockdowns have disrupted the routine of many artists. So how did your routine otter and what does a typical day look like for you now?

Kristjana: With the whole world going quiet, the pandemic ended up being a very creative time for me. I ended up creating a lot of work, which was very therapeutic and calming. It went from 10 to 13 of us working in the studio to only two of us there. So I feel like it's taught me a completely different way of working. I feel like everybody is breathing in a slightly different way and we have all reconnected with ourselves. Overall, it was a huge learning curve. My brain wouldn't have been rewired in this way if the pandemic didn't happen. It was long enough to teach us a permanent lesson that humanity needs to be put first.


AR: So looking to the future, then how do you see your art developing in the next few years or decades?

Kristjana: I used to be very interested in the digital world, and doing the VR exhibition with my Alice in Wonderland commission has brought that back on again. So my thoughts are travelling a bit more in that direction. I work quite a lot in animation as well which I don't really share with people. So I feel like I'm very interested in the new digital world, so I'd like to do something more with that.


CIRCULAR SJAVARSISA WATERFALL by Kristjana Williams

AR: If you could give one piece of advice to new art collectors, especially young art collectors, what would it be?

Kristjana: I think introducing yourself to what is up and coming, and following galleries and platforms that are introducing new art helps you to get familiar with what art speaks to you.

To discover more about Kristjana and her artwork, visit her artist collection page here.

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