Allison Kunath Press
Allison Kunath in the News
Allison Kunath’s Geometric Portraits of Historic Personalities
by Roxanne GoldbergPosted on August 17, 2015
Allison Kunath uses strict geometric lines to convey the bold personalities of some of history’s most important personalities. Gloria Steinem wears her signature round glasses and long locks of the 1970s. The pioneering feminist and political activist is in the good company of fellow civil rights activist Angela Davis, who Kunath depicts with a strong upwards gaze, as if she is seeing a vision for a better future. Nelson Mandela joins the political camp alongside philosophers Nietzsche and Plato, depicted in profile, and existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, drawn with square glasses perched upon a pointed nose.
To give them distinct personalities, Kunath places focus on the hands of early 20th century psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud holds a cigar and looks outwards accusingly, coaxing the viewer to lay bare his past, while Jung rests his hands on his folded fists, analyzing and peering into the unconscious. Actresses Audrey Hepburn and Josephine Baker represent two generations of entertainers, while a collection of visual artists like Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, and Georgia O’Keefe symbolize the importance of visual arts in not only the reflection, but also the shaping of modern philosophy, psychology, and politics. By using this technique of abstracted realism, Kunath breaks open the architecture of these figures’ personalities, histories and legacies.
Los Angeles, CA
By Amanda Smith
Few of us have the luxury of watching sunlight move through physical space. For visual artist Allison Kunath, tracking this daily movement is all in a day’s work.
Kunath is gaining notoriety for the portraits and landscapes she creates by simplifying her subject to a collection of triangles – what she calls geometric fragmentation. Much like facets reflecting light these triangles create depth and warmth as their subjects take shape.
Beyond canvas, her pieces find homes on pottery, tattoos and walls all over southern California. The most visible example of which is an expansive 50-foot mural on the side of Marco Polo Imports on Santa Monica Boulevard that depicts its namesake explorer.
For a full week Kunath lived, worked and even slept in the loft above our pop-up in downtown LA. There she created the first piece that will live on the Wall of our newly opened Abbott Kinney shop in Venice.
Kit and Ace: Does working out of a different studio space impact the finished piece?
Allison Kunath: It's always nice to get a change of pace. It's funny – I've noticed light changing in different cities in the world. Some cities have a blue‑toned light, some cities have more of a yellow‑white‑toned light, and I was really surprised to see how different the light felt downtown. It was refreshing.
The space keeps really consistent, gorgeous light all day. In my studio in Venice, I usually hit this three o'clock break time where I need to either refuel, sit down, or take a nap. But in this space, the light was so crisp and bright it gave me more energy. I was able to just keep on going and catch that second wind.
How does it compare to the light in Venice?
Venice feels cooler. Venice is shadier. It's got the marine breeze and lots of tree cover. The light shifts a lot. Downtown it was definitely more of a bright white on the warm scale. It's probably a 15‑degree temperature difference as well, away from the water.
Did spending nights there have an effect?
It was really immersive. I was in a remote location, separate from my regular life, separate from my regular work. It was great to be able to silo the experiences in my head and work with extreme focus.
I was able to get up at 6AM because I was excited and didn't have to commute to get there. I was living, eating, breathing, sleeping this particular piece for a week. The piece already feels really connected to my process, my journey, my story right now. It makes perfect sense for that to be my life for a short period of time.
In what way is it connected to your journey?
A lot of my work explores the feminine form. It's part of my process of connecting with my own sense of beauty and empowerment, strength and grace. This piece to me feels very quiet and reverent, but strong and powerful at the same time.
The energy behind it for me is this woman – she's blooming. She's emerging and coming into herself in a way that’s strong and sensual, but in another way it's soft and it's innocent.
My pieces are always a way for me to explore what it is that I'm experiencing myself – coming of age and growing into my essence as a woman. These pieces are ways for me to experience my own beauty and for other women to experience theirs. I'm 6 foot 3. I’ve had this frame since I was 16 years old… regardless of how beautiful I actually was, I never felt like it. It's only in the last few years that I started to honour myself.
Is there a parallel story going on in your life that really makes this relevant for you?
The easy way to describe it is I'm 6 foot 3. I’ve had this frame since I was 16 years old. Growing up in this body, I was never chosen first. I was intimidating and because of that, regardless of how beautiful I actually was, I never felt like it.
It's only in the last few years that I started to honour myself. That's important in how I've been shaped, how I show up to the world and how I connect with others. It's also really sad to me that it took so long to feel myself in that way.
I can always identify beauty in other women regardless of what they look like or how they carry themselves, but I’ve always struggled applying that type of love and care to myself. The way we experience the world is pretty much a direct reflection of the way we experience ourselves. In the last two years I've started to actually love myself, value myself and see myself as other people see me.
Most of the time I'm painting women that don't look anything like me. The intention is that no matter what the representation is the energy behind it could connect to me and women everywhere.
Your work obviously is really diverse, but you use triangles as your primary form. What are the limitations of using only triangles?
They [limitations] definitely exist. It's like a love/hate relationship. I love them because constraint makes creativity. It makes you push yourself to find ways to solve a problem within a certain confine. Triangles offer a chance to really understand form because I have to simplify it so far. You have to strike a delicate balance – with such high levels of simplification, all the angles have to be pretty spot‑on.
A lot of it ends up being quite intuitive, so it's interesting to see how my brain mathematically dissects these forms and finds places of light and dark to make something really feel like itself with as few lines as possible. It's challenging in a way that I find to be enriching. It's like you learn to play a classical instrument so you can deviate and improvise however you want.
Some of my pieces are changing. They're not all triangles. You can see that showing up a bit in Kintsugi – and it's part of my own transition, part of me breaking free. That's part of me stretching my boundaries and limits and finding new ways to express things.
“Constraint makes creativity… Triangles offer a chance to really understand form because I have to simplify it so far.”
What was the process for creating the piece?
For this particular piece I was manipulating acrylic paint so it behaves like watercolour. It's a really physical process. In the video you'll see bits where I'm down on the ground, lifting, turning and manipulating the canvas to sort of roll the paint around.
It is a necessary contrast to the hyper‑controlled architectural elements in the line work. With this process, this is the wild, the loose, the free. You can look at it as the feminine aspect of the piece, and the line work is the rigid, masculine aspect. There’s layer upon layer of different overlapping transparencies and glazes. Once that is dry, I go in with acrylic paint for the line work.
I lay down my lines in graphite first. I'm pretty good at making freehand straight lines. It's become a meditation for me and a really fun challenge to perfect that. Once I get into the stage with the line work, everything is just deep breathing and focus.
On a piece like this, there's not really room for error. In the same breath, in art there's really no such thing as error. If there's a mistake, it's an opportunity to improve and grow the piece.
What do you hope people take away from it?
I hope people experience it as both calming and enlivening. I want them to slow down and feel the peace that she’s in. I want the viewer to think of themselves (or the women in their lives) and the experiences that they've passed through to make them as beautiful as they are today.