Interview with Kirsten Wilson – Artist Print Maker

In this Article I interview a fellow Columbiphile, Artist Printmaker Kirsten Wilson where I had the privilege to visit her in her studio in Essex, UK and talk about our shared passion for art and pigeons.

I first met Kirsten by chance when I visited the ‘Goodness’ art exhibition – a collaboration between Kirsten and fellow artist Liz Boast, at Parndon Mill gallery in Harlow, Essex – UK in March 2019. I had seen the exhibition advertised at my local rail station and it had drawn my attention because the poster included a wonderful image of an artwork featuring a loft of pigeons! I looked closer and noticed the Dickin Medal nestled amongst the nest boxes and smiled to myself – I had to see this wonderful picture in person!

I went to the exhibition on the very last day and made a beeline for the Dickin Medal pigeons picture, titled ‘MI-14 Pigeon Heroes’ – a drypoint print hand-coloured with watercolours by Kirsten Wilson. The image had been well researched, with all 32 medal-winning pigeons named and the medal itself accurately rendered with its striped ribbon. Accompanying the picture was some information about the war pigeons, and even a tiny canister which would once have been used to contain a message attached to a pigeon’s ankle.The picture had a distinctive sketchy style enhanced with subtle colours, and a signature stylistic touch of the pigeons eyes both being on the same side of the head, giving them a very characteristic look!

My enthusiasm for the piece had not gone un-noticed and soon I was introduced to the artist herself, who was at the gallery that day and as we talked I quickly realised that we had a shared passion for art and pigeons! We had a wonderful chat about the war pigeons, and some of Kirsten’s other pigeon-related work, such as the drypoint of pigeon ‘Ace’ (of which I am the proud owner of print no. 1!) and her linoprints of the Wood Pigeons. I was keen to find out more about Kirsten’s work and she kindly agreed to a studio visit and an interview for this Blog!

We met in Kirsten’s studio at the Pardon Mill; a beautiful light, bright room with a lovely printing press at the centre. All the surfaces and walls are adorned with fabulous lino prints and print collages of Kirsten’s distinctive Wood Pigeon flocks in works such as ‘Campies Wood’ and ‘Country Run’. Kirsten’s characteristic pigeons also grace the large drum shades of statement-piece table lamps and are even rendered on a tiny scale in silver on a finger ring, a product of Kirsten’s skills as a silversmith as well as a print maker. The MI-14 Pigeon Heroes were not forgotten: the framed original print proudly mounted on the wall, and another smaller drypoint piece ‘Roosting’ close by. It was wonderful to see my favourite birds so celebrated and admired in Kirsten’s fantastic work!

I asked Kirsten a few questions about being an artist, and what led her to want to make art about pigeons:

Please tell me a little about your self, how you became an artist and what you do?

My name is Kirsten Wilson and I studied Art at school, College at Ware, St Albans and Central St Martins in London in the 1980s and early 90s. I studied jewellery design and manufacture for my degree and have painted and drawn all of my life. I am extremely lucky to have a studio space at Parndon Mill in Harlow, Essex, just a few miles away from my home in the countryside near Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire. Being an artist is not something you can choose – I have to create something – I’d go mad!

What drew you towards printmaking as an artistic discipline?

I love printmaking; the process of making a plate and then experimenting with different paper, ink, surfaces and repetition. Many of the processes are similar to jewellery making and the tools and techniques I find I can use in both. I love the printing press and the tools – its very addictive! I have been printing for about 10 years and I still can’t wait to get into my studio!

When did you first become interested in pigeons, and what drew you to them?

When I was little, my bedroom was an attic room in quite a tall house. My window overlooked a large conifer tree that housed quite a few wood pigeons. Their call early in the morning when everywhere else is silent has stuck with me and I find very comforting. 

What inspired you to make artworks involving pigeons?

Living in the countryside next to farmland, I am aware that pigeons are sometimes seen as pests. My studio neighbour Liz Boast and I decided to put on an exhibition called “Vermin” attempting to show the positive and beautiful side of creatures that are sometimes seen as pests. The markings on pigeons are so varied that it lends its self to my prints, using the same or similar plate and adding ink to it in different ways to print an individual bird. Researching pigeons for this exhibition led me to discover Operation Columbus and the inspirational and heroic war pigeon story.

What is your favourite thing about pigeons?

Pigeons have a beautiful call, look fantastic and have the fascinating ability to find their way back home.

Pigeons are often maligned or overlooked by society – what sort of reaction/feedback have you had about your artworks of pigeons?

I always have a reaction, which is great. My reaction to pigeons is dissimilar to most people – I’ve never thought of them as ‘rats with wings’. Most people have a strong feeling for or against pigeons; MI-14 Pigeon Heroes got people talking and after they have heard the war pigeon story they hopefully soften towards them. I have only had one negative reaction from the daughter of a member of bomber command; upset that the pigeons received medals for bravery before they were properly acknowledged. 

Would you consider making art about other kinds of pigeons – maybe exotic pigeons?

I’ve just taken a little peek into the world of pigeons – I’m not ‘pigeonist’ I’d love to explore. I’m not ‘pigeoned-out’ yet! Birds and fish are big on my list to illustrate – I prefer to do things I’m passionate about.

Can you tell me about any upcoming events / exhibitions / projects you are working on involving your artworks of pigeons?

I am currently showing MI-14 Pigeon Heroes at the “Sea Pictures Gallery” at Clare in Suffolk. I am experimenting with pigeons on different surfaces and collage, and I hope to print some clothing!

My sincere thanks to Kirsten for welcoming me into her studio and speaking with me about her work!

Kirsten’s artwork is available for purchase via her Shop, or Email her for information about commissions. Follow Kirsten on Instagram, or meet her at Parndon Mill Open Studios on 20-21st July 2019. Kirsten’s work ‘MI-14 Pigeon Heroes’ is currently on display as part of the PRINTWORKS 10 exhibition at the Sea Pictures Gallery.