Throwback Art

Throwback Art Part 1: Beauty In The Unfamiliar

When people ask me when I first got into art and my answer is shortly after birth, I inevitably end up mentioning my mother’s astonishing archival skills. I have drawings from every year of my life starting at 1.5 years old. After mentioning this, the response is usually that they sure wish I would share some of these older drawings on my website. As I was going through my past sketches and choosing some to post, I realized though my style over the years has changed quite a bit, there are common themes and purposes behind my work, including within my childhood scribbles. So begins the first part of a series using the past to delve into why I create what I do… I hope others find this interesting and entertaining, and I hope it helps readers reconnect with their past selves and realize how all of those different “us-es” had a part in creating who we are today, even those versions of us we don’t like to spend too much time with.

I have always been drawn to art depicting people. Portraits and figures were typically the vehicle for my art’s story from early on. Growing up I loved studying the differences in faces, how some could look so similar but no two were exactly alike. I would sit for hours studying my elementary school yearbooks as a kid, just staring at the different faces, observing. From a very young age I found beauty in that which was different and unfamiliar to me. I grew up in a very non-diverse setting, and didn’t see many people of color in my day to day life. However, I loved watching movies and television shows. As I started to see people who looked completely different from me and my family on the screen, I was fascinated by the wide range of hues and textures that could be present within these other faces – beginning to see people as truly living, breathing sculptures. I went through a period in younger elementary school where much of my figures I would draw were actually POC, much to the amusement and at times confusion of those around me. I also drew plenty of scenes from my day to day life; illustrations of my family, of my friends and neighbors playing outside; but only creating art depicting my own day to day existence just seemed so boring to me. Though a very socially anxious kid, I loved learning about other people and what their life was like, and even enjoyed when friends would show me photos and video of trips their family went on and other important life events. As you can imagine, they were quite pleased to have a not only captive but eager audience.

I’ve been told I was always one to stand up for the underdog, and this extended into the realm of art and fantasy. Although of course I drew princesses, I was also interested in the stories of supposed villians, witches, and other outsiders despite being quite the kind hearted soul and a bit too much of a rule-following goody-two-shoes, at least outside of the home ;).

Once I got a bit older and started actually learning about art, I connected instantly with surrealism, especially as it relates to the human figure. In junior high one of my favorite shows to watch was Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. My favorite stories were the aesthetically bizarre tales of extreme body modification which are all over on youtube now, but back then such slices of life weren’t as readily available. There was the man who had turned himself into a human-tiger hybrid, the woman who got specialized dental implants so she could live out her dream of being a real life vampire, the one who got their tongue split into 3 independent forks that could all move on their own … Though I am in no way a big advocate for plastic surgery, there was something interesting to me about individuals “making the internal external”, a term I use often to describe the aim of my artwork. The idea of people crafting their external persona as a living sculpture to match who they are on the inside was captivating, and though these exact characters never made their way into my art, I did end up drawing a series of 4-legged ballerinas and people with animal heads.

As I continued to develop my surreal portraiture, I depicted facial expressions that wouldn’t typically be captured in a portrait drawing or be considered beautiful, such as negative emotions like fear, anger, or anguish. I also continued to blend human and animal physiology in some of my portrait and figure drawings under the observation that oftentimes, animals can be seen acting like people would and people can act more like we assume an animal would act and react. The lines blur more often than we’d like to think.

Today, uniqueness of spirit, self expression, and animal representations still play a large part in my art just in a different way. When I look at my aerialist mixed media works, I can’t help but be reminded of the dark, vintage circus aesthetic of my earlier 4-legged ladies. I have no tie to gymnastics or dance myself – I am horribly awkward and unskilled at anything requiring physical coordination and spent my time in gymnastics lessons as a kid climbing up to the highest possible spot at the recreation center and simply jumping into the foam pit over and over. I took a ballet class once as well and recall ending the day giggling with a friend as we rolled ourselves up in the dance mats and pretended to be burritos. I pretty much joined just for the outfits. But, again there is that attraction to the completely foreign, those characters that are completely different from myself. Animal imagery abounds, mainly in the form of birds, but it is no longer a bodily extension and more instead a physical representation of the figure’s soul.

I continue to celebrate beauty in all of its forms, especially that which is underrepresented. One of my favorite pieces to date that I’m sure I will cherish forever is the portrait in the center that was part of a 12 part series I created for ArtPrize on year depicting a young woman with down syndrome. She exudes joy, confidence, and freedom.

For a number of years I have worked with an inclusive arts program suited for young adult and adult artists of all abilities, including those with disabilities. I suppose looking back I was always meant to use my gifts to reach people of all abilities. I have a distinct memory from first grade. 2-3 students from special education would spend the first half of the day in the traditional classroom I was a part of, including recess and lunch though during lunch all of the kids from special education would sit at their own separate corner of the lunchroom. One of the girls who visited our class in the mornings wore a fantastic velvet dress with black and pink flower print on it one day, and though remember, I was severely socially anxious at this age and only ever spoke to my one neighborhood friend in class, I gathered my courage and told her I liked her dress because it was just too cool to not say something. From that point on we were kind of friends. She asked me to swing with her at recess, and eventually invited me to sit with her at lunch. Ridiculously enough, I accidentally caused quite a scandal by breaking social lines and sitting at (I will not repeat the name fellow classmates had for this particular table) with my new friend. Differences were never seen as anything for me to fear, but parts of another to appreciate and learn about.

Appreciation for all living beings that make up our wonderful world are a large part of the emotion that goes into my current work, and though sometimes I fail at this concept in practice as do we all, I hope the impulse to draw towards and not shrink away from diversity is a part of myself I always keep with me.

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Artists To Know

Artists To Know: Art About Resilience

As this strange year has progressed and people are adjusting to more and more temporary lifestyle changes each day, I have seen the role creation and the arts are playing in people’s mental and emotional survival. More and more people are turning to creativity as a release from stress, uncertainty, news, disappointment, grief, and longing. Art also has the power to remind us of things, like the fact that we as a society are more resilient than we think. Today I’m going to share some art with you that conveys hope and resilience, something we should be sharing more about right now.

Yoriyuki Ikegami

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Ikegami is an illustrator from Tokyo, Japan. I discovered Ikegami’s illustrations during some mindless Instagram surfing on a not-too-cheery quarantine day, and they truly did have an effect on my disposition. I left my screen time feeling at least a bit more cheerful, inspired, and in an unexplainable way kind of hopeful. That’s the power of art! To me, these illustrations speak to hope as their characters see what might be in the colorful reflections of their landscapes. So often when we imagine futures we go towards the worst case scenario, but what if things turn out alright in the end? What if we aren’t as alone as we think?

Brooke Smart

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Smart is a successful illustrator with clients including : Random House Kids, Penguin Workshop, andThe New York Times. Her bright watercolor style illustrations made with a sketchbook appeal resonate with both kids and adults alike. This illustration in particular caught my eye with the strong symbolism of pictures and scenes drawn on band-aids. Each experience adds to our story. We don’t always need to regret or curse difficult circumstances or wounds, because these occurrences add to our story and what type of character we will become in our own life. Oftentimes, as shown by the hands carefully applying a bandage, there will be someone there to share our story with – don’t be afraid to accept that support.

Abby Aceves

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Aceves is a fine artist with a BA in fashion design from The Advanced Center In Fashion And Styling in Mexico. She is now based in California, and had her own fashion label for 7 years before transitioning full time into fine arts. Her paintings celebrate women’s narratives and unique personalities, their place in the world, and within Mexican culture. This both jarring and elegant piece speaks to me about the pain of growth, and the contrast between beauty and pain. There can be no transformation without discomfort. I have always been a highly sensitive human that experiences strong emotions. I’ve often wondered if I’d be happier a different way, but came to the conclusion that if I had to give up the brilliant highs I experience; the way I can get lost in the detail on a piece of bark while walking outside to get the mail, the childlike joy and excitement I get out of seeing a sunset or an interestingly shaped cloud, the way my brain can turn something pretty basic into a fun adventure … it wouldn’t be worth it. I would never want to give that up even though sometimes the negative emotions I experience are intensified too. When we experience struggle as we all are collectively right now, we can choose to grow from it so that nothing is wasted, not even time. We can as a society and individually choose what we want to learn from this, and what we want to carry into the future.

Polina Bright

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Bright is a watercolor artist from Sydney, Australia. Her main sources of inspiration are plants and animals, and she is a strong believer that there is “an unconditional bond between a Woman and Nature” because “Love, Beauty, Strength, Power and many others traits are shared between a Woman’s inner world and wildlife.” This piece of hers struck me the most, not only because of the dynamic composition but because it is one of the best representations of an internal mental battle that I’ve ever seen. It would be easy to become devoured by fear right now, but who would that help? Mental strength and developing healthy emotional habits has never been more important than now. I know creativity, keeping active, and making sure I enjoy the outdoors for at least a little each day has helped me stay focused.

I hope something here today has inspired you, and I will continue to regularly share art demos accessible to all ages and skill levels to try when you are feeling bored or anxious. We got this!

<3XO<3 Allise

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Art Discussion, Exhibitions and Other News

Women’s Centennial Celebration Exhibit At Art Reach

Amidst a lot of bad news on a worldwide scale lately, I was blessed to receive some good news: One of my pieces shown in Art Reach’s Women’s Centennial Celebration Exhibit, July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit, was awarded Best Of Show. This piece received a 2nd place award previously in 2018’s Midland Artists Guild Annual Juried Exhibition, and was a part of my Unlimited series shown in ArtPrize 9 in Grand Rapids. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to delve into this work deeper.

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July: She Is Free

A vital part of my Unlimited series was being sure I represented a variety of ages, races, and also abilities in my portraits. Though varying abilities can mean many things and a lot of disabilities are invisible, I wanted to represent an easily recognizable visible disability that is not often seen represented in art. I chose to depict a young woman with down syndrome.

When people think of the lives of individuals with disabilities, often all they can see is the struggles. Yes, we need to be aware of the struggles and be sure that we stand up for the rights of individuals with disabilities, make sure they have access to the healthcare they need and tools to help them live as independently as possible in their communities. But, like all people, individuals with disabilities are multifaceted beings. People with disabilities are rarely seen depicted in art, and are seldom shown in any media as empowered beings with their own unique personality beyond having a disability. I wanted to depict a woman who was confident in her own skin, and believed in her own unlimited potential.

The symbolism in this piece can mean different things to different viewers, and I love the fact that art is open to interpretation. That being said, I wanted to share what I was thinking when I created this piece. But remember, even as the artist, my interpretation is by no means the only interpretation :). I drew the face in prismacolor pencil. I wanted a scene around the head(mind) that exuded peace, so I filled in the hair with a watercolor landscape scene. Along with inner peace I wanted to depict the idea of freedom, of this woman not being limited by anything despite what others may assume. Birds taking flight have always been one of the biggest symbols of freedom to me, so I used prismacolor markers to draw birds in the same colors as the landscape circling around her. I reinforced the bird imagery with metallic gold prismacolor pencil in a radial flying bird pattern on her shirt, with an empty birdcage in the center of her chest. I wanted the figure and background to be seamless and flow into each other, but also wanted something to set off the figure so that she was the main focus. I wanted her face especially with its welcoming, content, confident expression to stand out. Using a black base created contrast, and I filled in this galaxy background with stars in the same pastel colors used throughout the rest of the piece. In most of my portraits I use the background to speak to the content of the figure’s mind and soul, and a galaxy fit perfectly to me as something vast and unlimited. 

“July” is very close to my heart, and the meaning behind it signifies why I am involved in the arts to begin with. In running an arts program for adults with disabilities, I feel I have found my purpose. I am excited to continue using art to form connections between all different types of people, help others tap into their unexplored potential, give a voice to those that often go unseen, and challenge ideas of what beauty is in art.

Art prints are available in my ebay shop!

There will be virtual tours of the show available through Art Reach soon. I can’t wait to see all the other work up close!

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