Allison James is an Atlanta based artist whose work reflects femininity and expression. In part one of our interview, she opens up about life, inspiration, and the importance of her relationships.
Tell us about yourself.
I have been drawing and painting since I was a year and a half years old. Art is pretty much all I have ever known and it is the biggest part of my identity. I think about it every day.
My biggest mission with making art is that I don’t make it for myself — I make art to contribute to society. When I make something, the purpose is to create something that can have someone feel something that maybe they don’t tap usually into, or think about things that they keep in the corner of their mind.
Has anyone significantly impacted your work as an artist?
Two people. One is Kathy Heller. She was my elementary school and high school art teacher. She was the first person who told me I could go to school for art. My parents were always really supportive, but she encouraged me to see my talent and pursue it in school.
The second is Max Rebel. He was a graduate student at Georgia Southern where I went to college, and he walked by while I was working on my capstone project for my printmaking class. I had this huge shower curtain and I was making a piece about my mom and I was afraid to put anything on the curtain because then it was permanent.. And he came by and said “What are you so afraid of?”
And it was like the light went off. He showed me mixed media. If I made a mistake it was as simple as taking a rag and wiping it off. It made me feel limitless. He is the reason I claim mixed media as my art form, why I feel comfortable using every medium on one piece. I had never done that before and now I think about it every day. I should probably tell him that.
Are there any artists you look up to?
My favorite artist is Robert Rauschenberg and my favorite piece by him is Bed. I saw it at the MOMA when I went to New York. He literally got the sheet and the quilt and the pillow from his bed and he put it on the wall and painted all over it. That was mixed media to the max.
I have always liked Jackson Pollock. I know that is cliché. But just how involved he was with his pieces, the physical action of how he was laying his paint down. His work influences mine; I stand over my board and drip paint.
And there are a lot of artists today that I follow on Instagram that really inspire me, most of whom are women. Meredith Rush is one based in Atlanta. She uses black ink and all her art has this delicate line work and compositions of flowers. I love how she puts her representational work over ink work.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing right now?
When I was four my mom asked me what I wanted to be, and I said a politician. I think I just liked the way it sounded.
But really, if I wasn’t an artist, I would love to be a professor. It is kind of a trick answer because I would want to be an art professor.
If I were to do something outside of fine art, it would be something with fashion. The second biggest part of my identity is clothing and styling. I was a personal stylist for a few years and loved it. There is a huge film hub in Atlanta now, so being a stylist for movies would be interesting. Or The Real Housewives of Atlanta; I would love to be a personal shopper for that.
Do you live by any philosophy?
I have a lot so I will just give you a few.
If whatever you are saying is not going to be productive, helpful, or kind just don’t say it.
Be a sponge, because you never know who you might meet or what story they might tell that will change your life.
Another one is to always try and be positive. I know that is very generic, but I wake up with a morning reminder that I have so much to be grateful for.
Be loving. tell the people around you that you love them and never be shy about that. That is one of my biggest things. It is important that they know and they never doubt it.
If you can’t tell I wear my emotions on my sleeves. I told myself a long time ago that I would rather be vulnerable and have people learn from me, in my art and as a person. If I share my story, someone else may feel comfortable and feel like they are not alone.
What is important to you in life and how does that come through in your work?
The most important thing in my life are my relationships with my friends, my family, and my husband — keeping them healthy and taking care of them and nurturing them. That has been one of my biggest struggles as I have dived into my art full-time. I feel like I am working 8 days a week, and I have put my art in the forefront of my relationships, which I realize needs to change. So my relationships are my number one. My relationships are the fuel behind my work. I want to make my friends and family proud and although it can be overwhelming, it is my drive.
A lot of times when I am creating, I don’t know what I am making. I just say I want to use these three colors and I add as I go. I am thinking about how I am feeling that day, things that have happened in the past, thinking about all kinds of things, and creating this thing that reflects my relationships and how they are effecting me. It all comes back to reflecting on my happiness.
It may look chaotic, but all my work is a little snapshot of my life, of me. There are so many layers, and that is like my personality. But that is my interpretation. Someone could look and see something else.
Stay tuned for Pt. 2 of our interview where we will get a closer look at Allison’s current collection, and where her work is headed.