We knew artist Sophia Allison would be a great fit for our students when she showed us the lucha libre costumes she had sewn from a variety of household and commercial products. She’ll bring that creativity, enthusiasm and unique vision to her class Experiments in Drawing this summer.
We talked to Sophia about her influences, her work, and her advice for the would-be artists out there.
Can you describe your current practice? What projects are you working on or hoping to start soon?
For the past few years, I have been creating work that has to do with the physical and emotional landscape in which I was raised-specifically, the western North Carolina area. I work in a variety of media including sewing, paper-cut installations, cardboard/recycled materials and collage. Much of the work has many small components that make up a larger whole-one could say that there’s a bit of an ocd quality in all of my projects.
One of my on-going preoccupations has been a series of sewn landscape vignettes that reference specific locations on and around my family’s property in Western NC. Placing a printed digital image on fabric, I repetitively sew through the paper, forcing it into the fibers of the fabric, destroying the paper and recreating the image with thread on the opposite side of the material. The effect is two-fold: on one side, the landscape is clearly articulated; on the other, the paper image is obliterated leaving loose threads and uneven textures. The image is simultaneously destroyed and built up; it is recognized as a snapshot of a specific location and at the same time, it becomes fragmented and abstracted like a fading memory. These works are displayed so that both the front and back sides are visible.
Additionally, I have been creating a series of sculptures that are inspired by the Blue Ridge mountains. I cut up several hundred pieces of cardboard into rough, small rectangles and glue these together using foam core as a base between each section. The overall effect is an abstracted shape with undulating ridges like a mountain. I leave the cardboard unpainted; the variations in tone and color of the cardboard elevate the material beyond its humble, fragile quality. The works appear to be quite heavy and voluminous when in fact they are hollow and light-weight.
Who are some artists that you admire and how have they influenced your work?
I am drawn to artists that can work fluidly across a variety of media but turn the traditional on its head, like within the work of Pae White or Tim Hawkinson; I am always amazed at how Tim can take almost anything-plastic bags, cardboard, old tubes (to name a few items) and create incredibly elaborate, conceptual works that transcend the sum of their parts. As a bonus, his work is a big draw to people who don’t necessarily like art-I love that! I am a big fan of materials and am attracted to artists’ works that are visually stunning but then have a lot of layers to dig through-work that continues to reveal itself; these works act as a one-two punch–first to your eyes and then to your brain. An artist I recently became familiar with- Elizabeth Higgins O’Connor- uses materials like old sheets, blankets, scrap wood, thread and cut-up furniture to create large assemblage sculptures of strange animal-doll hybrids. I am also influenced by artists who use craft-aesthetics within their works such as Mark Newport. His embroidered comic book covers are beautiful as are his knit super hero costumes.
When teaching art, do you think there are unique experiences to be had in continuing education vs. undergrad or graduate school?
Oh, definitely! Continuing education is wonderful because, in my experience, most folks are coming to class with a very open perspective on things as well as a bit of maturity-in other words, they know themselves well and are ready to try anything and be receptive to new ideas and art experiences. Often times, some of these folks have not had much formal training in art-making or they are getting back into it after taking a break from it – which makes the class (and teaching it) all the more exciting. I’ve found that some of my best students came to my class as “non-art” people or not art majors; they turned out to be the ones that were most adventurous with class projects and had fresh ideas. Undergrad is usually a time for a person to start finding their academic footing and interests in what they want to do professionally-try a bit of everything and see what is appealing. Also, the typical undergrad is usually younger so they don’t necessarily have the same world experiences that many continuing education students have. In graduate school, students are honing in on a specific focus/thesis, so there’s not as much time for experimentation.
What do you hope students walk away from your class with?
I hope students will come away with an enthusiasm for drawing (and art-making in general) and a willingness to be open to new ways of thinking about art and creating work. Drawing has taken on a new life in the past few decades with more non-traditional media and concepts being explored and utilized but many underlying foundation principles still apply. Also, I hope students will learn to trust themselves in their art-making decisions and take chances that they may not have otherwise. Hopefully they’ll see that it’s perfectly OK to take a risk and fail, as long as they learned something from it and can apply this new information to their next art-making experience. One of my teaching goals is to provide students with technical and conceptual tools that they can have at-the-ready—to broaden their “art-toolbox” so they have more choices and approaches to utilize as they create work.
What advice would you have for people who are thinking about pursuing art as a serious hobby or profession?
Make art, make art and then make some more. I think there’s this false notion that in order to do art, one needs to be “gifted” or have a knack for it. What it takes is A LOT of hard work, time and a real love and true dedication to it. If you don’t like and enjoy what you are doing, how will others? There are many ways to pursue art as a profession, but it does require lots of time in the studio-time spent creating and thinking about the work one is making. It’s important too to have people see and talk to you about what you’re doing and not be too isolated in one’s studio practice; as an artist, it’s easy to work in a bubble and forget the world, but having people take a look at your work is a necessity.
Also, I think it’s very important to look at art in the flesh. Looking at images on-line and in books is great, but they aren’t substitutes for seeing art in person. It’s an entirely different experience to spend time with a work of art right in front of your nose and immerse yourself in it, trying to understand it and what the artist was doing/thinking when he made the piece. With a great work of art, this can be an almost spiritual experience!