Nearly two years ago during the chill of winter, upon Niki‘s suggestion, I stopped by the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago one night to view John Singer Sargent’s painting “Mrs. George Swinton.” At 7.5 feet tall and surrounded by a hefty gilded frame, it is nearly life-sized and retains a commanding presence on the end wall of a long gallery. Upon my first glance, I felt a palpable upwelling of excitement and immediately drew in closer to examine its luminosity, lush details, and painterly quality. Mesmerized, I took a picture of the painting with my phone and texted Niki the with a resounding “Yes! We have to do it.” Shortly thereafter, I started drafting patterns and sewing muslin.

About six months later while celebrating my 40th birthday on a solo trip to Paris, I stopped in a fabric store near the foot of Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Much like the luminosity of the Sargent painting, the sheen of silk shantung beamed toward me from the wall. Having managed with my rudimentary French skills, I walked out with seven yards of fabric. Upon my return home, the fabric took on a new life that filled me with the same giddiness as my first experience standing in front of the painting.

As we are often prone to doing, we gave the painting/project a nickname. It typically serves as shorthand and also tends to endear us more toward the subject of the painting. Besides, “Portrait of Mrs George Swinton” doesn’t necessarily roll off the tongue, so we opted for Tilda after the actress Tilda Swinton. What I didn’t know, until doing my usual research on the painting, was that Mrs. George Swinton turned out to be the great-grandmother of the actress for whom we nicknamed the project. In fact, as I dug further, I learned that the painting was commissioned by George Swinton’s mother to honor her Scottish politician son’s engagement to socialite and professional singer Elizabeth Ebsworth. It has been noted that the painting took two years to complete because of Sargent’s insistence upon taking breaks to play the piano while Elizabeth would sing. Regardless of timing, Sargent’s skill is not only evidenced through the many lush details present within the painting, he seems to effortlessly capture his subject’s signature poise and beauty—a major reason in our choice to reinterpret the piece.

IMG_4832When I went back to revisit the painting, I began to notice distinct elements of Impressionism in how Sargent rendered the translucent folds of the organza cascading down her arm. Up close, the brush strokes look like abstract squiggles of paint, yet at a distance, a luxurious pouf of iridescent fabric appears. Again, upon further research, I discovered that the portraiture for which he is most well-known composed the majority of his commissioned work. Yet he regularly employed Impressionist techniques in his informal work and landscape paintings. Not surprisingly, at least in hindsight, the portrait of Mrs. George Swinton marries the two approaches with a seamless grace and adeptness.

It likely goes without saying that we are enamored by this painting and much of Sargent’s work. We are excited for the opportunity to hang this piece next to our reinterpretation of A Portrait of Madame X, one of Sargent’s most well-known works. There’s also an element of delight in little secrets that Niki and I share in the process (like the fact that I’m standing on top of two art history books instead of wearing heels in the photo). But those are for telling another time. For now, below is our latest addition to the Muse series. We can only hope our gender-bending reinterpretation would bring honor to the original painting’s creator and subject.


Mrs. George Swinton (after Sargent), 2017
© Niki Grangruth & James Kinser

Wikipedia: John Singer Sargent, George Swinton
Art Institute of Chicago

Blooper Heel


During photo shoots bloopers are bound to occur, especially while wearing six-inch heels. This weekend, while Niki and I were in the studio documenting costumes, we happened upon a few such moments. True to form, our process would not have been complete had we not cracked each other up and interrupted the shoot with spontaneous fits of laughter. We had a great time goofing off, camping it up and nearly falling over. Amidst it all we found some fabulous shots that we’re currently editing and will post soon. For now, we invite you to have a grin at a few of our lighter moments. Enjoy!

Of Spirit and Sparkle

Nearly eight years ago, I was introduced to Authentic Movement, a practice of shifting one’s awareness from the mind into the full body as one performs free associative movement. Since then, it has been a regular element of my creative practice. As Janet Adler noted in her book Offerings from the Conscious Body, energetic phenomena can be part of an authentic mover’s experience. As such is the case for me, I often feel waves of energy, light and color moving through my physical body and sometimes the space around my body. These sensations and experiences are accompanied with a joyful, bright and happy emotion. As I’ve grown accustomed to this phenomena in my movement (and at times in my everyday life), I realize that in these moments I feel most connected to the Divine* and sense that a non-linear message or chunk of knowledge is being delivered to me.

For example, during the past year of my authentic movement practice, I have repeatedly found myself lying flat on the floor with my arms extended near my sides with my palms up. My mind is in a meditative state, quiet except for conscious awareness of movement impulses with in my body. Mind and body are relaxed yet attentive. My heart and chest feel warm and open as if my rib cage and skin do not contain the swelling bubble of energy within. The energy eventually reaches out of my body and to the heavens. I feel white light return, beaming down and creating a loop cycle. My awareness shifts to the palms of my hands. My fingers are spread as if holding something round. I experience a tingle like a light draft is passing across them. The tingle begins to flow and fold in upon itself, recycling, growing. In my minds eye, I see white glowing orbs of energy in my palms. They vary in size. The more I connect with the experience, the more the orbs grow in size, brightness and intensity, and initiate the flow of the light and energy through the rest of my body. In these moments I feel ecstatic, alive, vibrant, uninhibited and available to the Divine. These experiences can last for a mere moment or they can be prolonged for several minutes. Regardless of the amount of time, each experience fills me with joy as if I have connected with my Creator and have moved one step closer to fulfilling my Divine purpose in this life. I luxuriate in these moments and slowly bring my awareness and consciousness back to the the physical space I am inhabiting. I do so slowly as to honor the experience and retain the memory within my mind and body.

Rhinestone FootballAbout five years ago, I felt compelled to cover a football in rhinestones. (Stick with me. I promise this relates to the accounts detailed above.) After 24 non-consecutive hours of gluing thousands of rhinestones, the football seemed an adequate metaphor for the mashup of masculinity and femininity that is often central to my work. Shortly thereafter, I began having visions of football pads covered in rhinestones. Knowing the amount of work and expense that would be involved, I moved on to other projects. After two years’ passing, I finally listened to the recurring impulse and began collecting materials and working on the project. (Read my recent post Football, Fear & Fringe for an initial insight into the project.) The underlying notions of the project have continued to address and digest fear. However, as art making is a ritual of transforming my life, it should have come as no surprise to me when the project led me to murkier places, deep crevices ripe for the Alchemist’s touch. On the flip side of fear, I’m learning how to love more – myself and others.

rhinestone-palmAnd now, as I hold rhinestones in the palm of my hand before tweezing them into place, consciously feeling that familiar orb of energy, I find myself reaching out in faith to the Divine. I find peace in the placement of each rhinestone, a confirmation that I am right where I am supposed to be, and a knowing that this sparkly ritual is a prayer to the heavens for transformation such that I may better fulfill my spirit’s purpose.

*I use the term Divine, Universe, Divine Creator, Spirit as proxy for God as they carry less dogma and negative associations for me. However, I view them all as the same.


Lips, Nips & Gallery Exhibits

Detail of "Madame X [After John Singer Sargent]"The other day Niki and I were assessing the final color edits needed before printing Madame X [after John Singer Sargent] from the Muse series. Visually combing through the whole image, she noted the usual process of balancing skin tones, and then mentioned bringing up the color in my lips. Observing the lips, I immediately looked for adjacent color relationships to ensure balance. In all artistic seriousness I replied, “Oh nice…my lips match my nipples.” After a half-moment’s pause, we both burst into laughter having realized the disparately serious tone against the slightly absurd words. Fortunately, these exchanges are an often occurrence during our collaboration, and we revel in their beautiful spontaneity.

In addition, we are proud to have this image included in the Kinsey Institute 2013 Juried Art show from May 17 to July 13, 2013. View an online gallery of the exhibition – but note that, considering the nature of the exhibition, sexually explicit images are included.

GirlwiththePearlEarring_200Also, “Girl with a Pearl Earring [After Vermeer]” is on exhibit as part of the Face Value: Portraits from The Kinsey Institute exhibition from April 12 – August 30, 2013.

Face Value: Portraits from The Kinsey Institute explores the various ways that artists utilize the portrait. This exhibition in the main gallery includes contemporary and vintage photographs, as well as painting, prints, and sculpture.

It’s truly an honor to be included in the same exhibits as Pierre et Gilles, Herb Ritts, Joel-Peter Witkin and other artist who’ve provided artistic inspiration along my journey.