Artist Crystal Hartman: ‘If you really believe in it, you just keep making it’

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Local artist Crystal Hartman is vivacious and filled with passion for her craft. When she speaks, she usually gushes – about art, love, her dog or the “nourishing” community of fellow creatives she’s found here in Durango (where she was also born and raised). Hartman is a jeweler, drawer and painter in equal measure, though she feels her jewelry design contributes something of pure light and beauty into the world, while her paintings explore heavier, challenging themes. Hartman’s creations are like miniature silver sculptures: you’ll find tiny three-dimensional deer and elephant rings, or a bangle bracelet made of a skinny person contorted in a yoga pose. Her paintings pulsate with vibrant color, swirling shapes and nods to the animal kingdom. Hartman is represented locally by the Studio & gallery, and will be showing her work there at next Thursday’s Art Walk. We chatted with Hartman about her process, why she doesn’t make art in a big city and how she sustains herself as a full-time artist.

On showing her art There are quite a few spaces where you can work large in Durango; warehouses, airplane hangars. But it would be nice to have spaces like that in the community, where you can go get coffee and food. They’re not really downtown – rent is high. It’s also difficult to find a place here to show edgy, contemporary art. And now with Open Shutter leaving … they provided such an amazing space for us. With large-scale painting, it’s hard to find a place that has large enough walls where you can step back from the work and actually take it all in. Studio & is small, so I struggle to show my large pieces. I love to encourage people and places with big walls to show big, edgy art – take a risk! Create a space for conversation that’s outside of what we expect.

On where she finds inspirationI’m inspired by concepts. I’ll be in conversation with someone or reading a book and some part of the human experience will grab me. Then I’ll take months or years studying that concept in every facet; reading about it, watching movies, talking to everyone I possibly can, historical research … and finally I’ll start painting. Right now I’m very interested in love, and in social structures and how they relate to our concepts of identity. I’m inspired by the mundane. Sitting on the grass, looking around, you see a bee flying by, then a bird, then the bird has a nest with babies, then an airplane flies by and a dog is watching the airplane … just daily life, what it is to be human. Storytelling is my greatest love, in every form it comes.

On her jewelry making processI do traditional lost-wax casting. I start by carving wax, and I work predominantly with beeswax now. I carve at about 500 degrees, and I build a mold out of something called investment, similar to plaster, around the wax. Then put it in a kiln, heat it up, melt the wax out and heat the mold until it’s 900 degrees. Next I melt silver – I work predominantly with recycled silver, a little bit with bronze and gold – and I melt the metal to 1,800 degrees, pour it into the mold, let it cool off, and break it. From there I start sanding, filing, soldering pieces together, buffing, polishing, setting the stones. Most of the stones I use are cut by my father and brother.

On living in Durango instead of a big cityLast year, I was packed up and ready to move to L.A. But then I realized that for me, it’s so important to be able to get away from people. I’m like a sponge, and I love conversations and hearing other people’s stories, but I have to process by myself. I have to have quiet, and living in a city is loud. There’s so much of the stuff that really inspires my work going on all of the time there, that it’s exhausting! I also think it’s important to have conceptual, contemporary artists in more rural areas. It is good for me to be in cities, since it’s there my work really translates well, and I make the majority of my money – people are more willing to ‘go there’ with edgy art. But I love being in this community, our access to healthy food, the fact that I can know the person who raised my eggs. Studio & is so supportive and willing to take risks on artists, no matter what point in their career they’re at.

On being a full-time artistIt’s so hard and so rewarding. The most difficult thing is that you have to be a business-person. You have to learn the art business, stay in touch with clients, listen to people’s needs. All you really want to do is come back to your studio and sit quietly by yourself. People who think you have to be inspired are nuts. You do the work. No matter how exhausted you are, you pick up the paintbrush.

When you start trying to make a living off of your passion, there’s so much you have to go through. The pain of feeling like an art slave. You will feel like you’re chained to your desk and you cannot leave it. You’ll have to say no to a million things that sound really fun. What am I doing with my life? Shouldn’t I be out climbing this mountain? It’s hard. But if you really believe in it, you just keep making it.

Anya Jaremko-Greenwold


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