Born in Yorkshire, England, Alison moved to Texas in 2003. She is currently Artist-Residence at the Dallas Arboretum, and has been accepted into the Hambidge Center Residency program. Alison’s work has been featured on television on CBS, and was part of the UK’s cultural Olympiad of art events; she has written articles for art magazines, presented talks about aspects of art, taught art in public schools, and has managed art shows and events for a non-profit art organization. She has exhibited locally, nationally, and internationally, and completed a public art piece on Henderson Avenue in Dallas (2011-2013). Her work is in the collections of institutions such as University of Wyoming, businesses such as Select Energy, and individual collectors around the world. In 2009, she won an art competition that awarded free studio space in Dallas. She works out of her studio at the Continental Gin Building in Deep Ellum, Dallas.
Alison was kind enough to sit with The Ball to learn more about the artist herself and the beauty she creates.
Did you know from early on that you wanted to be a full time artist?
“Art was always around me as a child; my father had been offered a scholarship to art school as a young man, and although his mother wouldn’t let him go preferring him to start working in the local coal mine, he still painted with oils, pastels and watercolor in his spare time. My older brother was attending art college also when I was young, and so the house was full of his bits and pieces, and kit and equipment. Personally, art was something that spoke to me intellectually as well as emotionally, my favorite artist being Picasso. I remember being shocked by the self-confidence and precocious arrogance of his paintings. I needed this cultural interaction, and it was a source of great joy for me.”
At what point did it click that you could make art full time?
“I can tell you this exactly – 2009! When I’d been at art college in the late 1980s, the whole focus was to produce art teachers. This was a huge turnoff for me and it deterred me from continuing.”
So you were born in England, but moved to Texas in 2003. What’s the difference between those two art scenes?
“In the UK, art had a huge mini-Renaissance and democratization in the 1990s, thanks to the so-called YBAs (Young British Artists). It is a country in which art has penetrated to every socio-economic level, and that is something that I think is wonderful about the modern United Kingdom. When you want to rejuvenate a fading resort town, you build a modern art museum! I now live in Dallas, which is itself in a huge explosive growth spurt. It’s an exciting time to be in Dallas, as an artist.”
A lot of artists flock to Texas. What is it about Texas that is so good?
“In Texas, fundamentally, there is a low cost of living, and high standard of living comparatively to other states. In places like Dallas, and Houston, and Austin there are a lot of people who can afford to buy art, and there’s also corporate money to support the art institutions.”
What kind of schooling did you do?
“I attended art college for two years, but was anxious to leave home so I went to West Germany, then London, and never really went back. In London, I studied Politics, Philosophy and History at the University of London. Since moving to Texas, I have found inspiring teachers to continue expanding my skills and practice at SMU and UNT Print.”
Where has your work been featured?
“Gosh, lots of places!! I think being juried into a group show by Trenton Doyle Hancock – an artist I admire very much – was wonderful. My digital artworks being part of the 2012 cultural Olympiad was also very exciting.”
What’s the biggest show you’ve been featured in?
“I am not sure what ‘biggest’ means, but a fun experience early on was a show that I was part of was in Manhattan. I think it was in 2010, and a San Francisco-based gallery showed my work at the Affordable Art Fair. I took the opportunity to attend and enjoy a week in New York. For the record, New York is now my favorite city (after London!).”
You have a style that involves a ton of colors. Is black and white too bland for you?
“Black and white isn’t at all bland. In fact, I am simply telling the truth about my environment. For me, art is the honest truth about how you see the world and what you encounter, within the framework of your intellectual concerns and formal considerations such as using materials and visceral explorations. I am deeply concerned about the environment and spend a lot of time in nature; all my life the light through leaves and forests has resonated with me, but also on a metaphorical level; I have experienced a lot of loss and grief starting when I was very young, and so there are lots of intellectual and metaphorical levels to why I choose to paint what I do, which are deeply personal.
Here in Texas, among trees and skies thickly daubed in intense light, I paint the truth as framed by my life and my interests.”
What is your preferred medium and why?
“Oil paints. I’ve pretty much mastered the ways to use oil paints, and I love letting myself enter the ‘flow’ zone as they call it, where you use your tools instinctively.
It’s taken about a decade for me to understand them, however!”
What inspires your works?
“Life, grief, love, hope. The need to communicate my intense experiences.”
Who were some of your favorite artists growing up?
“I loved Picasso, Lowry, David Hockney in particular.”
Who are your favorite artists now?
“Oh my there’s so many! Olafur Eliasson blows my mind, Hockney remains an inspiration, as does Lowry. I also love Gwen Johns, Hieronymous Bosch, Caravaggio, Diebenkorn, Freud. Recently, Zaha Hadid, the architect has transformed my understanding of how female artists and visionaries can interact in the world.”
Are your Sunlight Abstractions based on photographs or your own visuals?
“It’s an interesting question. This series has the most explicit use of my photography of all my series. It’s integral, because I used what I called a “Machine” ~ I took a photo of a scene I experienced; I digitally manipulated that image (like a memory), then I used it as a basis for an oil painting. When completed, I photographed the painting, and digitally manipulated the image of the painting. This in turn, became the basis of the next painting, and the feedback loop continued into entropic loss of a recognizable image.
The whole process is important to me and my art, from conception, through the physical experience of viewing the scene, to the photographs, digital manipulation, translation into paint, then naming the work. It’s the whole experience the artist has that comprises the artwork, not just the physical object.”
How has your work developed over the years?
“It has grown immeasurably over painful years in which I’ve tried every kind of art, and every kind of medium (pretty much). It has taken a long time to discover what it is I want to create each day. The lovely thing is that I have discovered is that when you get this stage it is not in fact a closing down of your expressive options, it is the beginning of them.”
Explain to me how your 365 iPad project came about. Did it just hit you one day that you wanted to take on such a lengthy project?
“Yes! My impulse came from two different ideas. The first was that I would love to try to download from my brain the ‘summary’ of my day as a sketch. The second was that I wanted to see what was possible with finger painting on the iPad. David Hockney had just has a big exhibit in Paris with his iPad drawings, and I’d just got an iPad as a present, so I thought – why not? Looking back, over the year I really did get to a level where I could create really well-crafted artworks on this device. It also was extremely fun to record what I was thinking and feeling randomly, without it being connected to the previous work (other than by the fact that it was by the same artist).
It was like running a marathon! It was at times difficult to keep going, but ultimately very rewarding.
I also got to think about some intellectual questions and wonder about this new technology. For example, this is the first time I’d created works on the same device that it would be viewed on. Would it be a different artwork every time a user opened the image with their individual settings, or the same? With a painting, the viewer uses their eyes to look at an object in a controlled environment. On an iPad, the viewer uses the same tool with which I created it to view it.”
Your focus is paints, but you also deal with photography. Will we be seeing that more in the future?
“Photography is a step that distances me from my object; its function is like a memory, and just as subjective. For me, it is a creative tool not an end in itself.”
How did the opportunity with Sony come about?
“I have no idea! They contacted me! I suspect it was social media….”
What are your goals for the future in regards to your art?
“To reach a point where I can fully express the extent of my vision.”
Is there a possibility that you might move across the pond again?
“Oh yes! I am not ‘done roaming’!”
What’s your advice for those out there who are trying to make art for a living?
“Love what you do, and have something to say that is truly honest.”
Eric Witmer is a college student who is currently majoring in professional writing. He currently writes for several different online publications. He has never written for a school newspaper before, and he refuses to ever touch foot in their office.
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