Kelly Kruse uses her work to explore the painful, beautiful experience of human longing and suffering. She developed a visual devotional practice as a response to her battle with depression, through which she wrestles with beauty, longing, and God. Kruse describes her work as contemporary illumination. Like the medieval monks who perfected the art of illuminated manuscripts, she seeks to awake in the viewer a sense of spiritual contemplation. Her first exposure to the idea of illumination came when she studied Medieval and Renaissance music in Italy. Her background in classical music and opera puts her in a unique position to explore the intersection between scripture, poetry, musical works, and the visual arts. In addition to her artistic practice, she works as a music educator in the KC metro area.
This body of work includes seventeen abstract paintings that are illuminations of the multi-movement Ein Deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms. Composed in 1868, the Brahms Requiem was the first work of its kind in German, breaking the mold of previous requiem masses. What makes the Brahms Requiem unique is the absence of traditional, nonbiblical Latin texts and the use, instead, of texts from the Luther Bible. Brahms deliberately chose and edited his texts so the work never makes direct mention of Jesus, which became a point of contention for many people when it premiered. Brahms composed during the Romantic era, firmly situated in a post-enlightenment world, and he could be quite ambiguous and even evasive when discussing his religious beliefs. Some historians believe he was an agnostic, and therefore the Brahms Requiem, though set to Christian texts, has often been viewed as a humanist rather than Christian work. My inspiration came from the work as a whole, including its context in Brahms’ life, the musical structures, the biblical texts, and my visceral reactions to the music itself. The work explores many themes that I hope those who view the exhibition will have a chance to engage, particularly the inevitability of death and human life’s fleeting nature. Meditation on this solemn theme is practiced in the Christian church across denominations all over the world during the forty day Lenten season. Beyond the solemnity of the season, the Brahms Requiem reveals glimmers of hope amid suffering, the promise of comfort in sorrow, adoration of God and meditation on his promises, and finally, the powerful reality of a God who would enter into the world to conquer death, one of the few things that man, in all his finite glory, is unable to conquer.