In Studio with Allison Reimus: about decoration, trusting the process and being okay with failure

Allison Reimus’ mixed media paintings reflect on her experience as a mother and female artist. Incorporating craft elements and found materials associated with a domestic context, her art explores ideas of domesticity and conventionally female-orientated realms. Alongside this, Allison is deeply interested in the materiality of paint, other materials and color. Allisson describes her work as representational abstraction, and in the interview that follows, explains how her work relates to her personal identity and lived experiences.

Having recently moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, Allison is currently getting used to her new life and studio in New York City. With an upcoming solo exhibition in October, we caught up with Allison to chat about studio life and new directions in her work.

AMM: Please give us an overview of the evolution of your art over the years and the things that have shaped your practice to where it’s currently at today.

AR: Ten years ago, I was very concerned with painting in a manner which I knew I could do well, probably in an effort to please others or collect accolades regarding my craft, using palatable imagery and color combinations. I had the urge to mess things up, to make work about decoration, instead of making decorative work. I didn’t have the confidence or life experience to know that my instincts were solid and should be trusted. I’m more assured now, and able to trust my process. I’m also okay with failure. Every ruined painting, and every successful one equally inform my decisions. All I can do is continue to show up and be invested in fine tuning my process, while remaining open to experimentation. I’m currently experiencing a state-of-mind that only time could finesse.

There have been tangible things along the way that helped, too. Graduate school was pivotal for me, as was a residency I attended in Berlin. Moving to Chicago really expanded my network and allowed me to learn from so many brilliant artists that I may not have otherwise met. The single greatest thing to ever happen to my work though, hands down, was having children. I’ve never experienced such an intense range of emotions before. I have two tiny reminders, every single minute of every single day, that force me to experience the full range of my humanity. I urgently need painting to help me sort it all out.

AMM: What is the relationship between medium and conceptual elements in your work?

AR: My best work shows no hierarchy of medium or concept, but melds them indistinguishably. If my work was strictly conceptual, there would surely be a more concise way to communicate my ideas. If I were only interested in painting for painting’s sake, I’d be making formally strong work outside of any criticality or larger discussion. I’ve never started a painting with the expectation of a clear outcome. There are too many fantastic and terrible things that happen along the way and I’d hate to be robbed of those discoveries. Concept, or content, often emerges in the process of painting but rarely vice versa.

AMM: Please tell us a little about your interest in formalism and abstraction, and how this translates in your work?

My interest in formalism goes back to my teenage years when I first became seriously interested in making art, painting in particular. Manipulating formal elements, color, form, texture, etc., in order to make an object, and more importantly, make a statement, really appealed to me. It still does. In my earlier years, like most other art students, I tried to render namable things – scenes, people, objects – but quickly realized I cared much more about the materiality of paint than I did of the images I was painting. I don’t think of my work as purely abstract, but as representational abstraction. However, as I continue to evaluate the things I truly care about, I can imagine my work going farther down that path.

AMM: You incorporate textiles and other craft materials in some of your compositions. You mention in your artist statement that these are “closely associated with domesticity and the feminine.” In what ways does your work engage this notion?

AR: I’m a stay-at-home mother and an artist, equally, all of the time. Because most of my day is spent taking care of my children and because most domestic responsibilities fall on me, it’s impossible to look at items that surround my daily life and not appreciate them for their formal qualities. Simply put, I can’t turn off my artist brain. I enjoy considering materials that I’m attracted to and how their usefulness can be altered within the context and language of painting. I’ve used towels, dryer lint, pompoms from a failed home decorating experiment, pillowcases, even cement chunks that fell through a hole in my studio ceiling because of plumbing issues. If an object interests me in terms of its formal qualities, it’s fair game. Historically, the realm of domesticity and care-taking has belonged to women and frankly, it still does. These “feminine” roles are grossly undervalued in a capitalist society and in “high art” alike. I don’t find this to be very productive in creating a more inclusive art world. These concerns closely relate to my daily life and I have to paint what I know.

AMM: What ideas are you currently exploring in your art?

AR: Lately, I’ve been exploring the use of sewing and text in my paintings. I’ve been compelled in the past to incorporate words, or letters, into my work but was met with disappointment. I’m not sure why it took so long to find an appropriate iteration, but I’ve been mindful and introspective as to how my verbal language has been stifled and ignored in a patriarchal society since girlhood. Recently, I’ve been getting very particular, singular words stuck in my head; words I need to reckon with, that embody struggles that carry over from my personal life to my painting life. I relay them in my mind almost obsessively and I’m compelled to paint them. Sometimes the words are painted legibly, sometimes they’re not. A friend told me in a recent studio visit that they seem less about language and more about voice, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. The words are sewn together in a quilt-like fashion prior to stretching the canvas, which by design, creates a drawing, or a plan for which my painting decisions must operate within. I’m trying to paint them in a manner that embodies the meaning of the word.

AMM: What role does color and pattern play in your work?

Color is my first love and most days, it’s what gets me up in the morning. I love thinking about the ways which color can simultaneously be appealing and repulsive, create balance or instability. I’m also a big fan of repetition with variety. The tendency I have to repeat shapes is deeply ingrained in my psyche and goes back to my childhood in the American Midwest, deep in the heart of assembly line culture. Repetition remains relevant even today, as I grapple with the monotonous nature of motherhood. I tend to be attracted to shapes that contend with the grid, as a way to mess with notions like order, logic, stability, and predictability.

AMM: Your paintings have a very tactile quality to them. What kind of experience do you hope people have when viewing your art?

AR: I’m honestly not thinking about a viewer when I’m considering materials or the texture of a work. I imagine that if I went back to caring about what others thought, like I did when I was younger, I’d probably get crushed under the weight of hypothetical expectations. That being said, I do hope my work comes across as genuine, that it was created by a woman dedicated to thoughtfully making and existing within her own set of rules.

AMM: What does your studio look and feel like?

AR: My studio is about 225 square feet, and has a window. It is the first time I’ve ever had a window! Now that I’ve felt a breeze while painting, I don’t think I could ever go back. It’s located on the fourth floor of an old industrial building in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. My studio is private but I share the floor with many other artists. It’s nice to have my privacy but still be able to chat with people in the hallway. The space is new, so I’m still getting used to working here. My family and I recently moved to Brooklyn from Chicago and getting settled has been a process. My studio in Chicago was in the basement of my home and sometimes I miss the convenience, however, I won’t complain because there are much worse things than having a studio with a window in Brooklyn.

AMM: From a career perspective, what are your short and long term goals?

AR: My short term goals are to show in some group exhibitions here in New York and also abroad. I really like having reasons to travel. I’d like to participate in a residency that would allow me to bring my children. I know it’s arbitrary, but I’d love to loan some work to television or movie sets. Last year, I had a few pieces in an episode of “Easy” on Netflix and really got a kick out of it. My long term goals are to move to the woods and paint in a barn in my backyard. I plan on staying hungry and prolific and if I’m lucky, I’ll make my best paintings when I’m 80.

AMM: What’s next for you?

AR: I have a solo show opening in October at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Chicago. I’m really excited about it because it’s been a few years since I’ve had a solo show. Other than that, I’m just continuing to paint and getting acquainted with my new way of life here in New York.

Find out more about the artist:

Text and interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.


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