Nude Truths: An Odyssey in Poetry, Painting, and Prose


The Inspiration


The idea for a collaborative effort came as a vision and quickly became an imperative. Working on their respective sides of the Atlantic, Kristi Ylvisaker and her sister, Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen, first read books of poetry by Denise Levertov, noting lines that were, for them, the most evocative. Of course there were hundreds, representing a number of conceptual areas. The necessary decision to focus on one conceptual area, thus eliminating many favorite quotes, was painful. But once they decided on a personal and cultural cycle representing the journey from innocence or, perhaps, ignorance through the dark places of the soul and out into a mature serenity, the exhibit took shape. 

    Ylvisaker and Nilsen are deeply grateful to New Directions Publishing Corporation for permission to use the Levertov quotations.


The Exhibit


The thought progression of prose and poetry moves from innocence to awe and in between struggles with the illusive quality of peace in our world. The intensity of color combined with tight and powerful thoughts inspires viewers to explore their own unique responses, thus continuing the flow of creative energy.

    Nude Truths has been exhibited in 19 locations in the United States between 2005 and 2010, including exhibits in Portland, OR, Minneapolis, MN, Dallas, TX, and New York City.



#1) Is it innocence or ignorance, acceptance or apathy?  Floating above humble earth—is that eternity or indifference?   Only by landing, will we know.  



#2) The child covers her eyes.  Trouble vanishes.  Adults cover their eyes.  Troubles encroach, enlarge, entrench. 



#3) But how do we know a cocoon from within? From that safe place of half-light and half-life, of waiting and wondering? Only in the breaking open, in the flying free. 



#4) Freedom—breather of life into dry bones, granter of vision, empowering force—descends into the tyranny of choice, the burden of responsibility.  And joy crumbles if clutched.  Dare we open that door?



#5) Daily, they die by the thousands—unnoticed, unnamed, unaided—bone and flesh, sinew and soul. If we cannot save, when we cannot help, our seeing gives their lives meaning.




#6) The pilgrim sets forth, tethered to the past by unseen 

bonds of memory, yet cloaked in hope, afoot in sandals 

of determination, trudging toward something new. 



#7) Imagine for a moment emotion—fierce, loving, true—finding its way from your inscape to mine along smooth paths.  Try.  For what we cannot imagine we cannot achieve. 



#8) Memories take root in our minds, innocently and 

automatically. Unexplored, unquestioned, unchallenged, 

they grow tall and dense, tangled and dangerous.



#9) Descend.  Risk the pain.  Unearth the memory.  Set it into your foundation as a solid building block.  Then give it a name—past. 



#10) Dead and wounded.  Dead and starving.  Truth and half-truths.  Lies and counter-lies.  The News:  poison for our spirits, yet necessary for our communal soul.



#11) First it horrifies, then it tantalizes, then it dulls—

and we long for new horrors to jolt us back to life.  That is the terrifying terror of terror.



#12) Is it war we love or the rush we crave?  The heroic action? The defining moment?  The struggle that gives meaning? Something peace rarely provides.



#13) When what we have believed lies shattered at our feet, we reach out for the idea, 

the image, the inspiration that comes from somewhere and changes everything. But we cannot pluck with clenched hand.



#14) Not what we wanted.  Not the goal we sought while suffering through dark times.  Must we say yes to light and storm, growth and pain?  Will we?



#15) Without those named and unnamed great among us, the words humane and humanitarian could have frightful meanings.  For without an image, we languish.



#16) The brooding Spirit works tirelessly, nudging us toward the voice, the word, 

the touch we need, then forcing the choice—to be attentive or to ignore.



#17) Too long alone, the despondent toil.  Too long together, the dutiful plod on.    

By moving between solitude and communion, we discover a third way, a way of great energy and great power.



#18) Peace pleads for redefinition: From non-violence to robust creativity.  From the absence of war to the presence of compassion, cooperation, and collaboration.



#19) Dare I leave the safe ground of cynicism?  The security of despair? Dare I risk believing the world could be different?  That I could change?



#20) To move beyond our wearied “Why?” and hope for answers, signs, even miracles is easy.  But to hope in?  In what?  In whom? Herein lies the invitation.



#21) We cry out for a guide.  Who can travel the distance without one?  We long for companions.  Who will come?  Made bold by promise and memory, we set forth.



#22) Not often, just now and then, a thought interrupts, clarifying our perspective—all this might just as easily not have been.  But—I am!   We are!   Everything is!   In this mystery we live. Sustained. 



#23) In moments when scales fall like dying leaves from our eyes and we allow ourselves to be shaken by beauty, humbled with gratitude, and released into joy, eternity is ours.


Exhibition Sites for


Nude Truths: An Odyssey in Poetry, Painting, and Prose


  1. 2004, November: Des Moines, IA
  2. 2005, February-April: First Lutheran Church, Duluth, MN
  3. 2005, October-November: Luther College, Decorah, IA
  4. 2005-06, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN
  5. 2006, February: Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA
  6. 2006, September: Plymouth UCC, Des Moines, IA
  7. 2006, November-December, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, IA
  8. 2007, February-March: First Presbyterian Church, Portland, OR
  9. 2007, May: Enterbeing, Portland, OR
  10. 2007-08, December-January: Peace Lutheran Church, Columbus, OH
  11. 2008, February: Texas Lutheran University, Seguin, TX
  12. 2008, February-March: First Baptist, Dallas, TX
  13. 2008, April-August: Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY
  14. 2009, February-April: Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Baxter, MN
  15. 2009, May-June: Stevens’ County Historical Society, Morris, MN
  16. 2010, February-April: Rensselaer Newman Foundation Chapel and Cultural Center, Troy, NY
  17. 2010, August-September: 2nd Reformed Church, Pella, IA
  18. 2010, October: Concordia College, Moorhead, MN
  19. 2010, December: St. Mark Lutheran Church, West Des Moines, IA


Overview of Site


Current Works:

Kristi’s brilliant work, so pure and emotional, projects the scope, the scale, the per-spective of grand space. When I look at her paintings I feel as if I am breathing the air, with no end to the canvas.” Bev Weismann, Iowa City, IA, USA

      All these oils on canvas have been painted since 2005 and exhibited in Norway at a number of galleries. The majority are now in private collections throughout southern Norway.

Early Works:

The first seven paintings are examples of work Kristi Ylvisaker did while in college. The bust and the self-portraits were created while a graduate student. The next group were painted while she lived and studied at Woodstock in 1968  and in New York City 1969-1970. The final two paintings were done during her early years in Norway.


“Everyone Wants Kristi on Their Walls,” the headline proclaimed. And what people want on their walls are the colorful paintings that have become Kristi Ylvisaker’s signature work. These were painted between 1985 and 2004.


Kristi Ylvisaker has illustrated with drawings three published books: A Time for PeaceFor Everything A Season: 75 Blessings for Daily Life, and Beyond the Dead End: A Memoir. In addition, drawings of farm animals have appeared in many of her exhibits. 


“The daily round on the farm has given me knowledge of the labor and life my great grandmother must have lived,” Kristi wrote about this exhibition created for the 150th anniversary of the major emigration of Norwegians from their homeland.

Family Portraits:

“Family Portraits,” created in 1999 in collaboration with Joan Stuart Ross, Seattle, WA, artist, as a follow-up to “Foremothers,” was exhibited across Norway before being shipped to the United States where it toured in 2000. This page features a number of Kristi Ylvisaker’s contributions to the exhibit.

Through the Tunnel:

Kristi Ylvisaker watched as workmen carved a tunnel through the mountain just across the lake from their farm. The tunnel became for her a metaphor for the painful physical process one goes through giving birth and metaphorically the process of creative or psychological birth. Here are seven of the nine paintings comprising the series.

Nude Truths: An Odyssey in Poetry, Painting, and Prose:

Created in collaboration with her sister, writer Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen, and based on the poetry of Denise Levertov, "Nude Truths," through 24 large paintings, leads the viewer on a cycle from innocence, into the dark places of life, and out into awe.

Cave Paintings:

A recurring theme in Kristi Ylvisaker’s drawings, since she began using her farm animals as models, is inspired by the cave paintings of Lascaux and Chauvet in France. An exhibit of these drawings traveled to the United States in 1995. She has turned the cellar under her home into an ancient cave and also has cave murals in her gallery.  In addition, she did a commissioned cave spa in Des Moines, IA.


In 2000 the L.C. Lions Sogndal Løvetann commissioned Kristi Ylvisaker to paint one of the area historical churches. They created greeting cards from the painting, which they sold to aid charity. They also auctioned off the painting. For three more years they had paintings made of the other area historical churches, and after that suggested themes for the paintings.