What attracts me is the liberating pulse that resides in her work — the disruption found in the jagged course of movement within the scenes and in the body of the beloved women cloaked vividly, retaining dignity despite apparent flaws or wardrobe malfunctions. Allison sets a new trajectory, as she reassigns female roles in the long libretto of paintings past, in a visually rewritten, updated production all their own. “Dare-a” Moor would be an excellent name for one of her characters.
Her subjects might be happy, sad, anxious, rushed, annoyed, bored, or carefree. They may be toasting joie de vivre in clusters or perhaps alone. Regardless of the tone, these ladies have been given prominence and distinction. Allison has extricated them in a way that makes you almost want to cheer when you realize what it is about.
Writing this article made me revisit an open-ended, ever-expanding subject matter. Where do women get the urge to be perfect? Long before Barbie or face tune ever existed, Old Master paintings often depicted women as subservient, feeding grapes naked to men, primped perfectly in their best clothes, or if they were the main subject in a painting, more likely than not they were sitting pretty for a portrait. What encompasses Allison’s works can be rooted in portraits of the past: For example, Picasso or Lichtenstein. She admits the digital work can often be more of a challenge time-wise than painting, which is surprising as one often thinks technology makes things more efficient. And depending on whom she is painting, sassy, or solemn, the results are blended with traditional and digital formats. She then will add something that reminds her of her childhood, perhaps a recognizable storybook bluebird or cartoon flower. That cohesion of old and new is a statement all her own and keeps your interest as you explore her work.
Allison is also very down to earth and kind. She thoughtfully shares with us her insights and uplifts us with her words on her journey, and gives some great advice for emerging artists.
“The conflicting aesthetics create options for interpretation and keep the narrative unfolding.”
You seek to reclaim female figures and put them into the present context. What is the one attribute you see the female figures of the past lacking in this present time? Have you noticed modern-day attributes the female figures from this time lack from the past?
AZ- Many of the female figures that I liberate from art historical works are submissive and anonymous. They do not have any discernible features that individualize them. They are idealized and quite easy to visually consume. I believe that depicting vulnerability can be incredibly radical. Today, idiosyncrasies are celebrated in a way that was not done in the past.
You have achieved higher education earning a BA from the University of Pennsylvania & an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, yet it was still challenging to find a gallery after you finished school. In such a competitive world, what advice would you give art students for starting their career?
AZ- I would advise recent grads to find a job and a peaceful space to make work. Go to as many galleries, museums, and artist lectures as possible. Make what you love, and love what you make.
Talk to me about how and why you decided to digitally begin to manipulate your paintings and post them on Instagram. Painting is a traditionally slow process. How can painting stay relevant in a time that is so focused on instant gratification and ephemerality?
AZ- My work is bound to the tradition of painting, but also participates in the world of digital technology. I want my work to emulate my day-to-day experience of using a smartphone while I remain human. The technological component of my work is cold, while the act of painting imbues the pictures with warmth.
Your works incorporate beautiful, happy colors with a bit of grotesque, digital memes, and images. Is it your way of exposing the underlying yin and yang of life, or is it something else?
AZ- Life is complicated, memory is unreliable. Events can be joyful while sorrowful. There is dissonance in harmony. I want my work to be open to the viewer. The conflicting aesthetics create options for interpretation and keep the narrative unfolding. There is no single resolution within the story that I am retelling. That is for the viewer to decide.
Your work has a lot of complexity, mixing old and new, with a realistic satire. Today’s sampling’ is part of pop culture from music, to art, to fashion. Photoshop and autotune are part of many creative processes nowadays. Do you think there is a wider acceptance of using these methods as a mainstay of this generation of art evolution?
AZ- Technology and art have always gone hand in hand.Artists during the Renaissance era utilized “camera obscura” to plot and project their compositions. Impressionists were interested in the discoveries of optics and color theory to create the illusion of flickering phenomenological light. Pop-artists drew upon mass printing technology; specifically, silk screening, to make their large scale paintings. Adopting photoshop and autotune to make work is a natural and predictable response to this moment. I know many artists have even embraced 3D printing as a mode to create sculpture. Art will always both reflect and collaborate with the technology of its time.
Why do you appropriate only from male artists?
AZ- While I was a graduate student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I spent much time at the Art Institute. I noticed that women are often the subjects of these spectacular and significant paintings, but rarely the makers. My work is simultaneously an homage and critique of Western art history. I want to take these women out of the confines of their acquiescent past and usher them into the current moment to address, and even interrogate the viewer. I want these women to have an intimidating kind of power that (I feel) they lacked in their original setting. Because female artists have been so underrepresented in Western art history, I do not appropriate from them. Rather, I hope to one day have the opportunity to curate a show of female artists from the past 500 years and make space for that work to sing.
Talk to me about “Paper Doll” and your newest exhibition.
AZ- “Paper Doll” was born out of a collaboration with the latest Louis Vuitton Resort 2020 collection. These nine paintings were first shown in the November 2019 issue of Vogue Italia. I was given images of the models (by Ferdinando Verderi, the director of Vogue Italia) striding down the runway, wearing the clothing. I worked from these photos to interpret the garments and create this newest body of work.
What are your Goals for 2020? What do we have to look forward to, and what are you looking forward to?
Because I so thoroughly enjoyed partnering with Louis Vuitton, I would love to continue a dialogue with the fashion world. I would be thrilled to create more paintings, design clothing, accessories or even sets.
I am currently creating work for a solo booth at MiArt Fair with Stems Gallery and will be releasing print editions with the Rubell Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Joseph Hotel in Nashville. Additionally, I am preparing a new body of work for a two-person museum show that will open this fall.
Whatever she may be working on, we anticipate, as her work consistently evolves and becomes more abundant in content, color, and depth, like the artist!