Anthropomorphic femme fatale: The surreal work of Alicia Adamerovich

The anthropomorphic shapes and forms that characterise Alicia Adamerovich’s work undulate between rounded and organic and sharp and brittle. Abstract shapes seem to move through space in her drawings like dancers on a stage, the stark contrast between light and dark like the dramatic shadows cast by a spotlight. The objects have distinct form and presence, lending them human-like features, though not quite. The amorphous curves and spirals evoke the sensuality of the female body while the tentacles, spikes and points, like claws and teeth, conjure anxiety and warn of the perils of desire. The titles of her artworks are similarly sensual and nocturnal: Longing to be touched, Nightcap, Infatuation… Like abstracted femme fatales, Alicia’s anthropomorphic visual language is one shaped by the feminine.

Alicia’s primary medium is drawing. Her scratchy, intense cross-hatching focuses attention on the mark-making gesture and the tonality of the graphite lead. This gives the drawings a textural quality and dimensionality that enlivens the so-called negative spaces. Alicia is interested in the politics of space and how an object influences and alters the space it occupies. Recently, she has begun making surprisingly shaped wooden frames for her drawings which extend the amorphous and tentacled forms from her drawings into three-dimensions. These sculptural pieces resemble live objects, creatures, that scuttle on the gallery wall. In her exhibition Vibrant Matter, Alicia included similarly shaped furniture that conspicuously engages the surrounding space. Conventionally, furniture represents the home, domesticity, the female domain. Yet the macabre design and dimensions of the piece undermine this notion of safe domestic space, instead making it strange, alluring and vaguely threatening; like the female spider that lures her mate into her web before consuming him.

Alicia moved to Brooklyn, New York a few years back, and it was here that she began to focus on art full-time. Before this she worked as an illustrator in the advertising industry, receiving her Bachelor of Design from Pennsylvania State University in 2013. Alicia has participated in several group exhibitions and had her first two-artist and solo shows in 2019. Here, Alicia chats with us about moving to the big city, her fascination with weird furniture and making pieces compete in the studio.

Portrait by Jessica Ross

AMM: Hi Alicia! To begin, can you share an experience you’ve had or piece of advice you’ve received that has profoundly influenced you and your art?

AA: I think moving to NY is really what pushed me to create the work I’m making today. I’m definitely not trying to say anyone needs to be in NY, but for me it’s been very inspiring. I love being able to visit galleries and museums every week. Meeting different types of people and learning about how they think is very influential to my work. Everyone should live somewhere that inspires them if at all possible.

AMM: How did you find your way to drawing and what keeps you hooked to this medium?

AA: I’ve pretty much been drawing my whole life. I think my dad taught me how to draw when I was about 4 years old and I’ve always liked drawing because it is so controlled. It’s the foundation for most other mediums and is one of the first ways most people learn to express their ideas visually. I am always able to figure out how to express a certain feeling through drawing first, before bringing it into other mediums (painting, sculpture). Nowadays, I can skip a lot of the drawing stage when working in other mediums. I can just imagine the drawing in my head and move onto figuring out how to use color, form, etc.

AMM: The scratchy, cross-hatch marks in your drawings have an anxiousness emotiveness that seems to correspond to the subject matter in your work. Can you please tell us more about gesture and materiality in your art?

AA: Yes, I would say it is somewhat intentional and somewhat intuitive. My work aims to display the subconscious as it relates to anxiety, sexuality and other human afflictions. I want to give people visceral reactions upon first seeing it. Focus less on pinpointing exactly what’s going on and more about experiencing the world I am showing you. Like when someone runs a finger down your back while your eyes are closed.

AMM: Last year you had your first solo exhibition, held at FISK Gallery in Portland. What themes and ideas were you exploring in Vibrant Matter? Please also tell us about the title you chose for this exhibition of graphite drawings and sculptural works.

AA: Working up to my show with FISK I went through a large period of growth. I was creating work for my solo as well as work for a two-person show I had in Montreal at Projet Pangée that opened two weeks later.
I wanted the shows to be different from each other. At FISK I decided to use nature as a metaphor, applying the human psyche to plants, insects and landscapes. The show title was from a political theory book I was reading earlier that year—’Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things’ by Jane Bennett.

Night cap graphite on paper with custom pine plywood frame 26 × 23 inches

AMM: Do you anticipate taking elements from this show forward into future work or was the exhibition the culmination of a particular series of ideas?

AA: I think all my work builds upon my previous work. Like with most artists, it’s always evolving—some people work through small and subtle changes and others large. I’m learning that I work well by pushing through ideas with aggressive leaps and experimentation. (Partially why I like to jump between mediums) The work I am making now still relates to the work from Portland and my more recent shows with Projet Pangée, but it’s moving farther into abstraction.

AMM: In a statement about your work you say that you’re “concerned with the darkness of ‘things’ and anthropomorphism from a female perspective.” Can you tell us more about this?

AMM: I guess I’m trying to say that objects are informative and we can say a lot about humanity with a single shape. When I say female perspective, this is undeniably my point of view and I identify with being female. But I’m also trying to show femininity not tied to a body or gender. More-so the feeling of the feminine. A sensation that is within everyone as much as the feelings of masculinity are. To me, the feminine always has a sense of darkness that comes from enduring pain, fear and criticism.

AMM: Please tell us about your interest in furniture. How does this relate to ideas and metaphors in your art.

AA: I’ve always been interested in forms and objects. When I was a kid I used to love going to Goodwill or the Salvation Army with my mom and just looking at all sorts of stuff. Eventually this just became my way of studying shapes and forms. I think at an early age I was attracted to how an object can transform a space and therefore, your experience. Now I collect a lot of old art and furniture books. Mostly looking at late 19th and early 20th century works, i.e. surrealism, futurism, art nouveau, cubism, dada etc.

AMM: You’ve been interested in the physicality of objects in your art for some time. What scope and complexities do sculpture and three-dimensional media add to this equation?

AA: I think it was a pretty natural progression. I have a lot of sculptural projects I want to start, it’s just a matter of gaining the skills. I really just enjoy the physicality of creating something that can transform any space it’s added to. I like how furniture interacts with the room. It casts shadows, hides things, gives clues to what the space around it is about. A painting feels like looking in through a window, whereas sculpture is like having passed through the window into the world.

Butterfly graphite on paper with custom plywood frame 26 × 23 inches

AMM: With the custom wooden frames and furniture pieces that you’ve made recently you seem to be introducing a craft element into your practice. Can you tell us more about this?

AA: True, I do spend a lot of time just figuring these pieces out. Building is a lot more problem-solving and feels a lot more like design work. It’s very satisfying when something works the way you imagined, but very frustrating when it does not. The sketching and finishing phases are much more like the rest of my work though. I draw very fluidly onto the wood and work out the shape the same way I do when I start a drawing or painting. The sanding is much like shading; slow, controlled and refining.

AMM: You started out your career as a designer at an ad agency. What motivated you to make the change to become a full-time artist? Do you use any of your previous skills and experience in your current career work?

AA: I never grew up around any artists and it never seemed like something someone from a small town in western PA would be able to achieve. Even after going to art school for a little while I felt like I had so much catching up to do. Everyone there seemed to come from private art high schools and I felt a little discouraged. Like a lot of people my age, I grew up thinking I had to get a practical job after school so I ended up transferring to Penn State and majoring in graphic design which led me to working at an ad agency. I don’t think I ever really liked it but I did get to move to Los Angeles and San Francisco for a while and then eventually New York. It just took me a while to learn about life and people to realize what I needed to be doing.

I don’t regret the time I spent working and I do think I learned a lot of skills I use today—i.e. using Photoshop, making my website, being able to support myself with freelance design work while making the transition and overall time management.

AMM: What’s the Brooklyn art scene like right now? What do you find exciting and what do you wish you could change?

AA: The best part is the amount of artists here. There are so many. Sometimes it feels very commercial but that’s just because it’s such an art market city. I have a small handful of artists I’m close with but I haven’t shown in New York very much yet so I have to make efforts to meet and visit artists whose work I really connect with.

AMM: You’ve curated a couple of group shows. How did these come about, and what impact has this experience had on your own practice?

AA: The shows I have curated normally came out of my desire to share the work of some artists I think are great, but haven’t had the opportunity to show very much. There are parts I enjoyed and some I really did not. It’s a great exercise in writing and definitely got me thinking about my own work in the context of others.

AMM: What is your process of working? How do you start a work, and how do you know when it’s complete?

AA: I prefer working on 3-5 things at once. This isn’t always efficient, but it’s how I’ve made some of my favorite pieces. There’s something nice about seeing a bunch of works developing around me, each teaching me something about the others. Sometimes one piece will be the hero and I’ll have to make the others catch up to it. But then one of the other pieces becomes the hero and that one I thought was great is now the weakest in the room. I do this until I’m satisfied with all of them.

Feelin good after feelin bad oil on canvas mounted on panel 18 x 24 inches

AMM: Please tell us about the way you use colour in your work. In the past you’ve worked on coloured paper, you’ve done brightly coloured paintings, and currently you’re working in monotone graphite with heightened light and shadow.

AA: I’ve actually always done monotone graphite drawings. It’s probably been the most consistent part of my practice. When I used to make zines I would print them on colored paper but since I don’t usually make prints anymore I’ve stuck to a more natural palette. Even my paintings are starting to use neutrals more than highly saturated tones. I keep finding myself wanting my work to have more serious and possibly banal undertones. My work will always be inherently humorous, so I want there to be more contrasting feelings at play.

AMM: Give us a little taste of your studio— what does your space look and feel like? What’s important in a space to you?

AA: My current studio is a +-200 sq ft windowless space in a small building of about 6 studios. It’s technically underground… so I guess I’m not too picky. The most important thing to me is to have as much space as possible for the least amount of money. Most studios in NY are pretty overpriced and tiny. Since I’m mostly working from memory and imagination I don’t technically need to have natural light (but it would be really nice to have someday). When I work on furniture and larger sculptural projects I will make a trip to my parents’ house in western Pennsylvania. They have an 800 sq ft garage and 25 acres of forest that I try to take advantage of.

AMM: What are you watching, reading and listening to right now? Does this influence your art at all?

AA: I listen to a lot of podcasts while I work, my favorite being Seek Treatment with Cat & Pat. They are truly the best. Otherwise I like to make disco and R&B playlists. I don’t know if anything really shows up in my work, but I always need something playing in the background to get in the zone. I’m mostly trying to distract my mind just enough to let me paint.

AMM: What’s next for you? Please tell us about any exciting projects or exhibitions you have coming up.

AA: Good question. In May I’m supposed to be at the Palazzo Monti residency in Italy, but a lot of things are up in the air right now due to the current circumstances with COVID-19. It’s a hard time for both galleries and artists so I’m trying to just take this time to focus on my work and stay healthy.

Find out more about the artst: www.adamerovich.com

Interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Magazine.

Chair graphite on paper, birch plywood frame 21 × 16 × 1 1/2 inches