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co-artist | co-create | connected.

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

Jessica Wachter, abstract artist, creates large and vibrant paintings primarily using oil on canvas. Kent Burkhardsmeier, photographic artist, captures vast and intimate landscape images primarily using a digital camera.

We met 3 years ago at a Halloween themed cooking party hosted by mutual friends. She was dressed as Helen of Troy whereas I was disguised as the Cat in The Hat. My friends had invited me to join them at the cooking party while I was in town visiting family. The party hostess had asked Jessica to help her host the party and serve the guests.

Several beautiful pieces of art hung on the wall, which I admired while sipping wine and munching on appetizers. When I inquired where they found these amazing paintings, they introduced me to Helen of Troy, aka Jessica Wachter. Jessica had painted them! We talked further that evening, sharing with each other our individual passion for art. Through the world of art we connected.

Ms. Jessica Wachter abstract artist

Jessica and I grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota. She lives there as a thriving artist. I live in South Florida, having left ND decades ago when I went out of state to college pursuing my career in engineering and technology.

After our initial meeting, each time I returned to Bismarck to visit family and friends, we’d talk further about each other’s art. Each finding energy, flow, and admiration in the other’s work. During one fall visit, Jessica brought me out to her family’s ranch along the Missouri River so I could photograph the area. The river, as we referred to it while going up, is a defining natural feature for this area – respected, enjoyed, celebrated, and feared. Their ranch on the river is a very personal place for Jessica. Through our North Dakota roots we connected.

Jessica is a single millennium living in rural northern plains of America pursuing her career as an artist. She returned back to Bismarck shortly after graduating from NDSU. Kent is a married late baby boomer living in urban south of America re-careering as a photographic artist. He left Bismarck after high school, living around the world.

During one of our conversations, Jessica mentioned she’d love to paint on one of my images. Whoa! What did she mean paint on my image? Whose art would it be – mine, hers, ours? Jessica’s an energetic, abstract artist using vibrant colors – I’m a subdued, nature artist photographing quiet landscape in a de-saturated color palette. How would this work? Would my images be lost? Questions and trepidation filled my head, but it felt right and magical. From this initial conversation, we began discussing putting on a joint exhibition. Both of us knew it couldn’t just be an exhibition with only our individual body of works. We’d have to be different; challenging ourselves, pushing each other, exposing ourselves, respecting each other’s ideas, and honoring the other’s art.

Jessica was just finishing up a very successful exhibition at The Capital Gallery. The Gallery had recently opened up in Bismarck- a non profit foundation dedicated to “Celebrating History, Art, and Culture!” We approached David Borlaug, the gallery’s Director, with the idea of a joint exhibition. He liked the idea but asked that we schedule the exhibition to be held towards the end of 2019, 2 years out! Through our passion and enthusiasm to co-exhibit our idea connected.

Jessica creates art in a local studio. She paints on large canvas usually measured in feet. Kent creates art outdoors in nature around the world. He prints his images on paper measured in inches. With a green light from a gallery, we needed to figure out the art to fill out the gallery’s walls. And we had to decide what kind of art we’d co-create. How would oil paint react with my digitally printed images on fine art paper? Or would it be better if I printed on canvas? Was digital print canvas the same as Jessica’s normal canvas material? Would her paints adhere to images if printed on metal? So many unknowns!

There was also the question on how to logistically co-creating art? We lived 2200 miles apart! We decided that we’d experiment first, so I sent sample prints on all types of material for Jessica to paint on. Nothing worked. The oil bled out. The ink ran. The material fell apart. These failed attempts forced us to think differently; we were determined to overcome and leap across the barriers within our current art worlds. During one of my return visits, we decided on some other ideas and approaches that worked for us. Next, we needed to figure out which images could be the basis for our joint art pieces. How would we manage all the moving parts putting on an entire gallery exhibition? We had a year to go, we needed to be organized.

Luckily, Jessica’s done several large gallery exhibitions before as well as her recent show at The Capital Gallery. And my business career provided me with tons of organizational and technical skills. Together, we began putting all the pieces in place, creating checks lists, setting up collaboration calls, enabling technology to assist us, and scheduling face-to-face working sessions. Using our experience and skills, our art connected.

Jessica randomly free flows ideas. Kent processes ideas sequentially.

During this year, we scheduled several weeks to work together in the same location. Since Jessica’s work is large and she has a great studio space, we decided it would be best for me to fly up to Bismarck for our working sessions.

This spring, we did a brainstorming session. As visual artists, it worked well for us to brainstorm on large sheets of paper taped to one of the studio’s walls (as shown in the lead photo). We created gallery plans to visualize the art pieces on the gallery walls, laying out wall sizes to art size, envisioning the flow of the art, and identifying all the tasks required.

Preparing Prints

Preparing prints

Before each trip, I’d prepare prints in my home studio and ship them to Jessica. Then we work with them in her studio. While in town, I had some items printed locally. We’d test out our ideas and try new ideas before committing to larger pieces or working on the ‘real’ piece.

Testing digital paper

Testing pastel on digital print paper

We reached out to all the people who could help and started meeting each of them; sharing ideas, reviewing designs, getting quotes, and procuring work.

Through this process, Jessica and I have pushed each other out of our comfort zones. We’ve evolved and changed as artists. The body of work has changed – some of our initial ideas worked while others didn’t. And new ideas came forth. We settled on the exhibition theme and purpose.

Embellishing images in Jessica’s studio

Part of this journey has included hours just talking and sharing our individual stories, ideas, craft, and background, allowing us to better know one another. Over the past 18 – 24 months, Jessica and I have uncovered many points of connection between us beyond our ND roots and artistic passions.

By taking a chance on each other; listening to one another; learning from the other; welcoming the other’s ideas or point of view; and reaching out to embrace our diversity we discovered the theme for our show:

The exhibition runs 5 October, 2019 through 8 January 2020 at The Capital Gallery in Bismarck, North Dakota.

©2019 All Rights Reserved Kent J Burkhardsmeier


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