Cultural Quarterly Magazine Online
Featured Artist_12-2012

Christina Pettersson
Christina Pettersson: Resurrecting Reality
Appearances can be deceiving.
By Rachel Galvin

One look at Christina Pettersson's portfolio might lead you to think her a bit melancholy. Her drawings poetically sanguine, solemn, still and often seemingly devoid of life. In her “The Hunting Ground,” her self-image lies strewn upon steps, skirt cascading down the stairs pooled in blood. A crocodile and curious turtle wait. Images like these certainly can seem morbid, as are the graves of famous authors, the tree that she sees as being by her grave and others. But appearances can be deceiving.

Desdemona Sleeping Beside Death

 "Desdemona Sleeping Beside Death"

A closer look at many pieces peels away a deeper layer. Her “Desdemona Sleeping Beside Death” gives a clue. Desdemona was slain by Othello, in Shakespeare's novel, due to her supposed betrayal. One side of the graphite drawing shows the murdered one, the other side shows Desdemona very much alive and only resting. There is a minx in the middle chomping upon a toad, an allusion, she said, to Othello's statement that he would rather be a toad in the mouth of a minx than see Desdemona live with her betrayal. This drawing seems to show two sides of a coin and make a fool of Othello.








Using literary references throughout her works, Pettersson's pieces are multi-layered. By using herself as her model, she is both the narrator of the story and a character within it, adding modern meaning to traditional allegory.

Her piece “We Are No Longer in the Land of Kings,” shows herself with a cropped top with a sword slung over her shoulder and an impaled head hanging lightly near the tip. This bearded and wild-looking fellow represents in the most shallow sense the Assyrian Holofernes and she, with blood dripping down her belly-button pierced stomach, symbolizes the Biblical harlot and holy heroine Judith. But this is only skin deep. Utilizing this imagery on a blank page with no background implicates that this is not a mere landscape or historical rendering, but an abstract showing an idea. She explained just that, that her piece is meant to be “memory of no time...” She has, in essence, killed history. She is now an inventor of reality and time means nothing.

Desdemona Sleeping Beside Death

 “We Are No Longer in the Land of Kings,”









Using literary references throughout her works, Pettersson's pieces are multi-layered. By using herself as her model, she is both the narrator of the story and a character within it, adding modern meaning to traditional allegory.

“Reality is not the world as it exists outside our minds, but the product of the imagination as it shapes the world,” she said. “Because it is constantly changing as we attempt to find imaginatively satisfying ways to perceive the world, reality is an activity, not a static object. We put together parts of ourselves in an attempt to make it seem coherent. Recent research into the brain and memory tells us that the very act of remembering is a creation, and every time you remember, your brain is writing the story anew.”

She seems to take comfort in the idea of renewal. Her installation “Resurrection” features flowers which spring forth beneath disassembled pieces of what must have been a building, a crumbled wall after destruction, reminiscent of a story she heard about the flowers that bloomed after the bombing of Hiroshima. In “Christina Pettersson's Grave,” the tree she imagines perhaps just behind her headstone is filled with birds, renderings of extinct species in Audobon's book. The birds he once stuffed in order to draw she now brings to life through her drawings.

Desdemona Sleeping Beside Death

"The Sentinel"

Sometimes, her works seem like fantasy. In “The Sentinel,” she lies almost seductively, nude, on what seems to be a bear skin rug atop crumbling steps. A, possibly live, bear cub sits by, looking down. Birds, almost in suspension, hover above. She claims that she is not intending to draw what the outside world views as fantasy, but, rather, that everything is fantasy.

Using literary references throughout her works, Pettersson's pieces are multi-layered. By using herself as her model, she is both the narrator of the story and a character within it, adding modern meaning to traditional allegory.








“It's all a fantasy, not just art, all of it. If you put on makeup and carefully chose an outfit and pose a certain way for the camera, is that not a fantasy of how you want to be seen?”

She added, “A drawing glows like nothing in life ever can … Empty one world and exchange it for a new sultry vision, one more voluptuous.”

She visited the old habitats of many well-known authors, including Jack Kerouac, William Butler Yeats and William Faulkner, among others, and sketched bricks from their homes. These domiciles once were the foundation upon which these literary masters nourished themselves; their inspirations welled forth from these hallowed walls which Pettersson has so simply captured in her drawings. The bricks are just a cornerstone of an idea, again a way to memorialize the lives of authors gone by.

When asked why her works gravitate toward death and if she has been affected by it, she answers, “Nothing I would call traumatic.  If anything, the depiction of death in my artwork is precisely because I have not had to deal with it intensely, and, thus, can explore it visually and even romantically without great pains.”

Born in Sweden but raised in Miami, Pettersson began exploring art as a child. Her mother put her in an art class when she was 6 and she went on to go to arts magnet programs starting in the third grade. She attended New World School of the Arts in downtown Miami for high school and received a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art.

When asked what first propelled her into the art world, she said, “I have no idea ... I only know that I've always been interested in stories, the reading and the telling of them and how they shape our lives. I am still doing what I liked doing most at 6 and 10 and 14 and 20 … and 35. I find I am not so much interested in telling you the stories of my past, which keep going out the door, as imagining new ones.

In addition to drawings, she also does video work, implementing sounds and words both written and spoken into live action.

I got lucky and my very first video has been displayed at the prestigious Margulies Collection in Miami for many years.  A later one was shown at MOCA in their yearly Optic Nerve competition. It really became a way of recording my travels and also explorations within South Florida.  I love just driving around streets I've never been down and finding some empty building, unexpected tree, bit of history. But my perfect spaces are admittedly more natural. I would rather walk in the deep woods than anywhere else. That can be a tough thing living here, where half the year the heat and mosquitoes make it uninhabitable,” she said.

Desdemona Sleeping Beside Death
"The Lost Year”








It is not the heat, but the cold that inspires her the most, leading her to do residencies in frozen places even in the dead of winter. Currently, however, Pettersson, a South Florida Cultural Consortium winner, is an artist-in-residence at the Deering Estate at Cutler. It is there that her work comes to life. She has also lived in Broward County and created masterpieces in various areas, including exhibits in Hollywood through the years and one at the Girls Club in Ft. Lauderdale.

She said of her creative process, “I usually have something on, music, but just as often it's NPR. I'm a bit of a junky. I'm addicted to Radio Lab … and coffee. The morning is my real exploring time, and I like it real quiet. I like to sit on the floor surrounded by pillows and books, read something, browse images, stare at the ceiling, whatever. By late afternoon, I'm more in the working zone only considering pragmatics, a little to the left, a little darker, etc.”

It takes her several months to create a project and she is slowly evolving her style, and now exploring adding color to her images in the form of pastel and colored pencil. But she doesn't plan to make this shift anytime soon.

When not drawing or creating videos, she loves camping, birdwatching, cooking, playing piano, watching movies and TV shows, and diving into a good book. She spends time with her long term partner and sometime collaborator, who is a photographer.

Broward County Cultural Division
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