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12 Questions: Andrea Alonge

Andrea Alonge was born in Mesa, AZ and currently lives and works in Portland, OR. She received her BFA from The School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago in 2013, and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2015. She is an artist primarily working with fiber and textiles, and is a member of Carnation Contemporary in Portland, an artist-run gallery collective. She recently had a solo show at Carnation Contemporary titled The Kind Of Calmness Chaos Brings and has shown nationally and internationally. She will be part of an upcoming virtual exhibition opening November 23rd through December 30th, 2020 China and USA Technology and Innovation in Fiber Art, and has been part of FIberart International and Focus:Fiber. Her work has been published in several catalogs and publications, including the Dutch magazine Textiel Plus.

My work explores connections, relationships, and communication through a lens of tactility in a virtual world. Using patterns, textures, and surface embellishment as marks with which to draw, I create pieces that utilize optical illusions to point to the realm of the virtual, while the symbols and shapes I employ signify spiritual meanings.

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

One of the books that has influenced my life in a significant way is Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. The book is about the creation/ evolution of the universe and the Earth's creatures, told in different first-person perspectives, through the lens of relationships and connections. My favorite short story is one that is told from the perspective of a mollusk, a creature lacking in sight, hearing, and smell, and communicates through chemical secretions with it's fellow mollusk love. The story speaks to the necessities and failures of communication without clarity, and to the need to relate to a fellow being even without clear channels. I am currently reading a lot of abstract graphic novels, and obviously information about current affairs :)

2. What are you reading or watching right now?

I am currently working on a group of small works that connect to my larger body of work, but are smaller "sketches" through which I can work out new ideas. Some of the concepts I am working with are whirlpools/ spirals, boxes and other containers, tunnels/ pipes, and wormholes- all of which are related to flows of energy or communication. I have been creating throughout the pandemic, as I am one of those people who calms down through working with my hands. If I wasn't in my studio, I think the pandemic would be harder for me. Studio work gives me a way to pass the time I would have spent with others, and also a way to connect with other people in the virtual art world.

3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

Failure has often set me up for later success. "Failed" pieces have never held me back; I think of them as studies for future successes instead. My favorite failure was the three years I spent at Arizona State University before I dropped out and took time off before going back to school. The time I spent there (studying ceramics!) gave me an idea of the sustainability of a practice outside of an institution, and taking time off, though it would be considered a failure to drop out, gave me a moment of time to consider where I wanted my practice to go and how I could work without specialized equipment or instruction. After I had a few years of exploring my practice on my own, I went back to school- this time at The School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago. I spent my time there thinking of my experience as "graduate school prep" and was able to develop a very coherent body of work that was both sustainable and different than the work I had made before.

4. What is your most unusual habit?

My most unusual habit is my pre-studio work preparation. My house and studio need to be extra clean and organized before I begin working. I think having a clear space gives me a clear head. If my studio isn't clean, I have a hard time working, especially beginning a new piece. I often will sweep and mop the space before starting to work, scrub my desk, organize my tools, fold any fabric I have lying out for projects. Giving myself the blank slate of my studio also washes the slate of my mind blank, so I can channel the tone for the next work.

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why? I'm not a painter, so I'll choose a fabric artist instead. I would have Tracey Emin make my portrait, because her raw and personal style so clearly communicates the complexity of her experiences, but she likely wouldn't do my portrait because her work is about herself :)

6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office?

I have many tools I absolutely need for my practice, but my sewing machine is probably my favorite. I have a vintage New Home sewing machine, with all metal parts except for the handles that hold the bobbin case in place. It was gifted to me by my best friend Meisha Linwood just before I went to graduate school at Cranbrook. It is simple but such a workhorse, and I can't see myself using another machine to make my work. I think the gifted aspect of the machine provides a secret element of intention, love, and kindness to the work I make with it, and it is a quality machine whose utility I can't live without.

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

When I feel overwhelmed or uninspired, there are two tactics I employ to get past this. If i'm overwhelmed, sometimes visualization works best. I will sit in my studio and think about what needs to be done, coming up with a list of concrete steps in my mind. Sometimes these are construction steps (this piece goes here and then I sew these things together etc.) I make lists to help myself visualize what comes next. If I'm feeling uninspired, often what I will do is go through the images/ symbols I've saved, through old sketchbooks, or through open tabs on my internet. I also like to get out all of my plastic totes of fabric, pulling out the scraps I've been thinking about forever, or making color/ pattern families. I get a lot of inspiration from the textiles themselves- a good stripe combo, or fabrics that are very similar and could be combined in a way that blurs the viewer's ability to tell one from another.

8. What do you see as the artist’s role through this difficult time?

I believe as artists, our role during this time of crisis is to provide images that calm, bring joy, give patience, and remind others of the time that will come after. In this time of uncertainty, where so many are losing their jobs, museums are closed, galleries are virtual if operating at all, our job is to do what we can (if we can- no shame!) to hang on and support others in hanging on. If we let go, it's going to be even harder to make it back to a world that had a hard time allocating resources to us anyway. The art world is already so much a "pay-to-play" system that prioritizes those with capital or stature, and so many small galleries and individual artists are having trouble staying above water. It's important to keep in mind what we want our art world to look like after the virus is under control, and if we want an equitable art world (there wasn't really one to begin with) then we should prioritize ways we can support that vision. I am lucky enough to have an essential job that allows me to keep my studio practice afloat, but I am mindful that those who were teaching in small art centers, who were running gallery spaces based on a selling business model, who were having workshops or performances or making music etc. are still struggling, and I do my best to offer support as I am able.

9. Do you collect anything?

I collect vintage trims and fabric. I am always hunting for interesting bits and bobs that are not in the collective awareness. I'm interested in shiny things, upholstery fabric, trims with dangly bits, and odd cords. I have a huge wall of totes of fabrics and trims, and I like to go through them every so often to refresh my memory on what pieces I have to use.

10. What words of advice would you give to artists during this time?

I would tell artists exactly what I said about our roles as artists- hang on. Just hang on for dear life. Don't let it be the affluent inheritance-funded artists that are left after this. Your art practice doesn't have to be big or even look like it did before. I saw an amazing artist talk in grad school by Charles Spurrier, who changed his practice from the hefty time-consuming practice he had in school to one that was broken into small, bite-sized tasks and steps that he could do if he had fifteen minutes or three hours. Think about how you can break it into manageable parts that you can do on your own, in your house, in the five minutes before you get into bed. My professor in grad school, Mark Newport, whenever I asked what I should do or how I should navigate the art world, would say "keep working". That was it. Keep working. It doesn't have to look the same forever, it doesn't have to be all the time, it doesn't have to use special equipment or even be seen by anyone on the planet. Just keep working. Just hang on.

11. In the last five years what new belief or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

In the last 5 years, the belief that has improved my life is the belief in every person's unique timeline. After grad school, I didn't get a fancy teaching job, or gallery representation, or special accolades. I went right back to working at JoAnn Fabrics and still hold a working-class job. But every time I've been ready to quit my studio practice, to recognize that no one will ever see my work and no one cares but me, I've had something come through- a show invitation, or a commission, or an interview. And I've come to realize that my timeline looks different than other people's, but my timeline is my own and unique. Just because I haven't yet reached the success some of my peers in grad school have seen, doesn't mean my work is unsuccessful. Another graduate school professor told me during a review after I said something about another critique, in which some people didn't understand my work, "that work is not for them". It really stuck with me. The work is for me. The work makes me feel better. The work is my expression of my true self and the way I see the world and the way I process trauma, grief, joy, and love. Those who understand my work understand me, and those who don't, don't, And they don't have to. And that's ok.

12. Share an inspiring image.

Alonge's work is available on ARTSY as a part of the ongoing online exclusive exhibition: Every Day Is Fun With Us. For more information about the work above visit ARTSY

James May Gallery

Dousman, WI


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