Words and photos by Olivia Bauso
Passion is an emotion that drives all of us in our daily lives. Whether it’s a passion for our work, our families, our communities or what seems like a simple hobby, we are all motivated by some sentimental connection. Local artist Christie Nesbit's passion lies in her artwork. She says plainly, “This isn’t a choice for me. This is about breathing and being who I am.”
Born in Austin, TX and raised just outside Harrisburg, PA, Christie has always been a practicing artist. She first felt the draw early in school and was lucky enough to attend a high school that offered an honors art track, allowing her to take a multitude of art courses. She explains, “I started exploring with a lot of different mediums — primarily paints and photography, and immersed myself in as much as I could.”
Christie intended on completing her degree in art education, but found she just wasn’t in the right place during that time. At just 17 years old, she was placed in an all girls dorm in a very conservative environment and began to struggle with the adjustment. “I just wasn’t ready for college— at any stretch of the imagination. I started struggling with anxiety and ended up leaving in my first semester. I was just too anxious and was getting physically ill from school,” she says.
It would later become apparent that everything happens for a reason, as Christie went on to earn her Associate’s degree and complete two stints with AmeriCorps, where she eventually met her wife. The two were married in 2015 and moved to Rochester. During this time, art took a back seat in Christie’s life, but she never stopped creating. She says, “Even though I don’t have a degree in art, I can’t not do it. It’s something that I have to do everyday.”
In high school, Christie worked primarily with acrylics, oil pastels and photography, but without any formal opportunity to explore new mediums she began feeling stuck in her work. She says, “I found myself painting a lot and last summer, right around this time, I had kind of a moment where I didn’t want to paint anymore. The process of making for me has always been very tactile: I love the feeling, I love the smell of paint and I always want to touch what I’m making.” So she had what seemed like an out-of-the-box thought: get closer to the materials. She explains, “You know, I’m always separated by this paper or this paint brush or this pen. I wanted to be closer to the materials, which lead me to collage and assemblage. I was finally able to actually touch everything that was going on the piece with my hands. It’s just become and absolute obsession for me.”
While on vacation, Christie visited a shop with antique toys and papers that struck just the right chord. The realization that she could use these previously owned materials opened a whole new world, and eventually led to her first big step as an artist in Rochester: a residency at The Yards Collective. “It was really a great happy accident that happened, in terms of changing my work,” Christie adds.
During her residency at The Yards this past January, Christie was able to work with other artists and receive positive and constructive feedback on her work. She says, “I had such an incredible experience with the other artists, and just really fell in love with the space.” When she had first moved to Rochester, Christie encountered some harsh criticism on her work from a local cafe owner, which initially put the brakes on her prolificacy. All that pent-up energy has exploded into her recent works. She explains, “All this just kind of built up inside of me: my creativity and my emotions. Then after a while I just felt like I needed to do it. I had to do it.”
Christie’s new pieces are made from collage and assemblage, and reflect her exploration of tactile work. “It’s really just been me exploring this new obsession with things that have been owned previously by other people; things that have passed through other people’s hands besides mine,” she explains. Christie continues, “I find that they have this incredible energy — these pieces — that paint doesn’t have. I’m using things that someone else has held, someone else has used.”
The pieces are designed to invoke feelings of nostalgia and ephemera, tapping into our own memories. Christie says, "I love exploring the kind of the coexistence of pain and joy that we have with remembering our childhood, or remembering any other period in our lives. Although the pieces are not specific to you in your life, or me in my life, I’ve found that they’re still very relatable to people because they create a narrative. And that’s really what I like to accomplish: building a story that people can pull from.” Each piece is individual in that they have their own story or narrative that Christie devised during their inception, but if you look at them as one, they share the similar aesthetic that she’s been “obsessed with” for the past year.
Immediately following her residency, Christie moved into a studio at The Yards and has been there since. Right now, Christie is continuing her exploration of vintage aesthetics, but feels like she’s “on the edge of something a little more.” She just completed a piece made entirely out of assemblage and no collage, a gutted a clock filled with childhood toys and including lights. She says, “What I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is going more towards 3-dimensional assemblage and creating pieces that have interactive elements.” 3-D pieces are new to Christie, but she feels encouraged by fellow artists at The Yards to explore further.
If she’s not in the studio or making something at home, you can find Christie working in accounting at a local non-profit, attending school part-time for her accounting degree or taking care of her house with her wife. She says, “I can’t be me unless I’m creating, even if I work 9-5 in accounting.”
Christie’s recent assemblage and college work can be viewed at in our Gallery Room through the month of August.