Stephanie Molstre-Kotz tries to create skies that are like something out of a Gothic novel. She uses pastels to create giant purple bruised clouds, flashes of lightning, and to suggest of whipping winds in dark and stormy scenes.
In many of her pieces, as in Asian landscape paintings, humans are dwarfed by the dramatic skies and ethereal scenes. In some, tiny, shadowy figures hold strings that loop up into the sky attached to something unseen. In others, antique flying machines battle the elements.
“Sometimes the sky is the only celestial part of the suburbs,” said the Rosemount artist. “All you have to do is tilt your head up. The sky informs you that you are part of nature. In the end, if I just look outside, it tells me everything I need to do to put into my work.”
Molstre-Kotz’s work is now on display at the Robert Trail Library in Rosemount through Oct. 31.
Her work — a combination of pastels, painting, and mixed media — often merges abstract backgrounds with more representational depictions of animals and humans. She draws inspiration from sources as varied as the atmospheric work of British Romantic landscape painter J.M.W. Turner and the “guttural” abstract calligraphic pieces of American artist Cy Twombly. Molstre-Kotz appreciates Twombly’s palimpsest quality, where the original writing has been erased but traces remain and become part of the art.
“I erase about 50 percent of what I make,” she said, pointing to the eraser shavings on her studio floor.
Before she occupied her airy studio in the Casket Arts Building in Minneapolis, she spent many years working in her basement studio at home, often drawing the most readily available models — her kids — and many of the pieces in the Rosemount show feature children. “I really enjoy drawing children because they’re funny,” she said. “My kids really inform my work.”
Now her kids make her sit for them, as both became artists, and, as she did, went on to attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
“Everything was available to them, so they just started picking stuff up,” she said. “My husband has been the most amazing guy ever. He has put up with ink stains around the house.”
Molstre-Kotz teaches at Eagan High School. “I’m laughing until I’m crying at least two or three times a day,” she said. “I love the spontaneity.”
She highly values having space, and she said she “jury-rigged the art room” so her AP students have their own individual workspaces. “It’s sacred ground,” she said. “Other students can’t go back there.”
She, too, disappears to her studio after school every evening and on the weekends to work on her art. Her kids often come to her studio to work. “We’ve always worked in tandem with each other,” she said. “They’re here to work. It’s not just about visiting for them. We just go into the zone. And then every once in awhile a song will come on and we have to take a dance break.”
Molstre-Kotz, who also has a show up currently at Anchor Fish and Chips in northeast Minneapolis, appreciates the chance to show in Rosemount.
“I’m so glad that I’ve had an opportunity and a place that’s close to me,” she said. “There’s never been a venue before where there’s people who are my neighbors can see my work. That’s really been wonderful.”
She likes for her students to see that she shows her work. “If I’m going to tell you to love something and do something that’s a risk,” she said, “I should be taking a risk, too.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.