Kristen Napier

Oakland Artist Kristen Napier

Bartender by night, artist…all of the time. Originally from Richmond Virginia, Oakland artist Kristen Napier has been in the Bay Area for the past three years supporting herself and her art by bartending at your favorite local watering hole, Eli’s Mile High Club.  It’s easy to see that her deep commitment to her art blends all aspects of her life bringing them together. Here we venture into perks of being a bartender, where she gains her inspiration, and what you might want to do with that random animal skull you’ve had on your bookshelf…
What drew you to Oakland? I always had an idea of the Bay Area never having been here really before I moved here. There’s just something that always drew me here. So one day I just packed it all in and drove out here you know? Didn’t really know anyone or anything and it just really worked. There’s so much going on; so many creative people you know? Artists, musicians, it just seems like there’s a lot happening. There’s also so many different types of people here. It’s a lot more open minded I think in a lot of ways then Richmond where I come from which is cool. Plus the weather is amazing. It’s beautiful here, you couldn’t ask for more; you’ve got everything you want. You have mountains and forests and beaches; you have it all.

How did you end up working at Eli’s Mile High Club? The owner’s girlfriend mentioned that he was looking for a bartender. He’s also lived in Richmond before so we had a connection with similar friends and things like that. There’s a lot of Richmond people out here.

What’s your favorite part about being a bartender? Bartending allows me to be an artist. I can work in the evenings a certain amount of time, make a decent amount of money, be able to pay for supplies and have time to work on my art and everything more than a regular 9-5 would allow me.

Do your day job and night job overlap at all? I do make some flyers for the bar, lots of band flyers. I also make signs for the bar, like my purple punch signs have become very popular (::laughs::). I think I’m going to turn them into a calendar once I have twelve of them, I think I have like seven of them right now. So yeah there’s definitely a blurred line there.

Judge and Jury by Kristen Napier

Judge and Jury by Kristen Napier

Do you like doing art for the bar? Yeah, I like having a project. It’s kind of fun to have parameters and to problem solve.

You said that you make flyers for shows; do you go to a lot of shows? I try to get to as many shows as I can. I’d say that the house shows are the most fun for sure there’s some really good spots here. Unfortunately The Swamp is not around anymore. Everybody misses The Swamp.

What are some local bands that you’re interested in right now? Replica, Femacoffin, Ruleta Rusa, and Side Effects. And Brainoil. Can’t forget Brainoil. (::laughs:)

Any upcoming shows you’re looking forward to? Yeah, Tankcrimes Brainsqueeze is gonna be awesome. Brainsqueeze is an event put on by (the record label) Tankcrimes. All bands from the label, three day music fest. Friday and Saturday will be at Metro and Sunday will be at Eli’s actually.

Aside from your job and shows, art is obviously a huge commitment in your life. How did you get involved with art? I started ever since I was a kid, it was always all I wanted to do. It’s been a driving force my whole life. I’ve been to Art school and…

Cool, where? Pratt Institute in Brooklyn New York as well as Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond Virginia.

What medium did you start out with? I started out thinking that I would do graphic design and immediately realized that it was not for me. I went more the fine art route and was a glassblower for a long time. I started there but then I realized it’s a medium that is very expensive. It’s actually probably the most expensive art to do as far as having your own studio and everything so I decided to go into print making which I just totally fell in love with it.

Deer skull

Deer skull

How would you describe your style of art? I’m definitely more drawn towards etching, graving and subtracted processes where you’re removing. Instead of adding paint or medium to a surface I’m actually removing a medium which is what I’ve been doing with the skulls that have become really popular. I spray paint them and then I cover them in a thinned layer of asphaltum which is like a tar. After they dry I remove it with a sharp object which is not my original process. It’s actually a process Native Americans use. I’ve been using that process a lot, just experimenting with different surfaces.

What kind of vibe do you think your art gives off? I think my art tends to look very dark in subject manner. The interesting thing is they may look dark but for me it’s like a breaking down to rebuild in a way. I’m really into the idea of entropy and that things have to break down before they can grow again. Everything will eventually crumble but will come back like in a phoenix way. Even though things may look dark and you’re like “Ohh she must be really depressed” it’s actually more of a metamorphosis.

Favorite medium to work with? I would say etching. I currently don’t have anywhere to do etching but if I could do anything I wanted to do that would be it.

Your favorite piece you’ve done and why? I would say probably the one I call Narcissist; it’s everybody else’s favorite. It’s the one with the coffins in the shape of a heart and the

Kristen's piece titled Narcissist.


skeleton and the woman inside? It was just really successful in so many ways. That so many people respond to in makes it even more successful for me because it speaks to other people as well as me which is really cool.

What do you gain inspiration from? Oh from all over the place! The bay is really inspiring. Like the flora, it’s just totally different from the east coast. Everything around here is really inspiring. I get a lot of inspiration from classical sculptures like Greek and Roman art, to famous Japanese printmakers like Hiroshige, and artists like Edward Hopper. Little bits from all kinds of things. So many things. And then so many projects I want to do from all of those things.

Any local artists you’re into? I’m really inspired by the two girls I have the (art) show with right now at Eli’s, Carolyn Lebourgeois and Samantha Mancino. We have similar tastes in things like line quality and subject matter so it was really inspiring to work together with them.

What is it like being a female artist? Do you feel like there’s a difference in the genders? I do. I know that we’ve made a lot of progress, I’m sure that women from the 60s would say that it was a different world then but I still think that it’s a male dominated world in a lot of ways. It still can be a boys club especially in areas like tattooing and glass blowing and sculpture. We’re still dealing with certain issues that women have dealt with forever. So it’s really great when you get together with other (female) artists like I did with this show feels really empowering and really cool to just support each other and to be inspired by each other. It’s really awesome.

Anything you want to add? Just that art is my life. Everything that I do is to keep going as an artist. Everyone maybe knows me as a bartender and it’s a good job and I enjoy myself but it’s a means to keep my art life going.

Any upcoming art shows? Where can people see your art? There’s currently a show up at Eli’s with the two other artists I mentioned before, Samantha and Carolyn. It’ll be up until the 13th. I am currently working on new work and looking for skulls to use so I can have another show. There are also prints available on the website and I am currently setting up an Etsy site.

See more of Kristen’s art at and check out Eli’s at

Kristen’s Top Five Places for Shows:

Coyote Skull

Coyote Skull

1)     Sugar Mountain: I picked all the spots because they’re kind of off the beaten path. Sugar Mountain is really close to Eli’s so it’s easy for me to get to a show right after work which is really great.

2)      Pink String: Another kind of underground spot. They usually have a solid lineup and its fun. They did some after party shows for Manic Relapse and that was really fun.

3)      Hidden Temple: Good spot on the other side of the lake. I don’t think that there’s really a lot of other spots over there to go see shows.

4)     World Rage Center: Also super close to Eli’s and it’s an outdoor venue.

5)      Continental Club: Because Manic Relapse was awesome.