Combining classic iconography with Instagram filters, Allison Zuckerman presents a comprehensive history of art on the canvas. From a street art project with Colossal Media to cover art for Charli XCX, Zuckerman’s oeuvre questions the male gaze with a vibrant and surreal sense of humour. We caught up with her to discuss the beauty in the vulnerability of her figures, and how her creative process is founded on an act of ‘self-cannibalization.’
After graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015, you started out your career as a working artist producing and adapting older work for Instagram. This, you note in previous conversations, helped develop your go-to method of design that incorporates digital collages and photoshop editing as part of your artistic process. Talk us through your design procedure and how you know when a work is ‘finished.’
Conveying a deeply personal and idiosyncratic vision within my work is crucial to my artistic process. Therefore, I visually ‘sample’ my work alongside art historical work. This act of self-cannibalization makes for an ongoing dialogue from painting to painting. Each painting is an inextricable link in a long line of storytelling and character development. The painting process brings the entire composition to life, giving it a kind of warmth that is impossible to create digitally. When the painting begins to sing, I know that I am close to letting it go into the world.
One of the most striking elements of your latest collection is how a single canvas can present a very comprehensive history of art. Tell us more about how you interpret traditions of art, and the power your surreal, collage style gives you in interpreting convention.
The Internet has flattened art historical hierarchies. One can simply do a Google search and find a Dutch Renaissance painting, a Modernist sculpture, or even a clip-art rendering of an emoji. I want to reflect this flattening, immediacy, and ease of image retrieval in my work.
While we are on the topic of the Internet, do you feel, being an artist that utilises social media’s outreach, that the social media ‘filter culture’ that Instagram facilitates has had an impact on your work?
We are inundated with imagery daily through our screens. I have been working to harness this deluge of visual information and synthesize it within a painting. I think my maximalist paintings are both influenced by, and reflect, an experience of social media.
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It’s fair to say that your art plays with its similarities to artefacts of Antiquity and the Classic period. For me, looking at your depictions of naked bodies is like looking at a punchy parody of the Venus de Milo. Do you feel you have a responsibility as a female artist to challenge art traditions and the sexist narratives in art culture (e.g. the male gaze)?
While there have been some crucial and incredibly important female artists in the canon of Western art history, women have largely been the subjects and rarely the makers. I am drawn to art history so I can re-present it. I would like to tell a different story, one from a female point of view. The woman on display is proud while vulnerable, imperfect yet real. She intimidates rather than seduces. I want these figures to be empowered and autonomous.
Speaking of fem power, let’s talk about the I Finally Understand EP artwork for a moment. What was it about Charli XCX as an artist that you made you think, ‘I must create something for you’? Where do you feel the overlap was between both of your creative visions?
Charli XCX is an inspiring woman, sharing her emotions bravely through her wonderfully inventive music. She raises other women up and I would love to be a part of that.
As your work thrives on art culture references, everything from Leonardo Di Vinci to Lady Gaga, how do you feel about audiences trying to dissect or decode your art?
For museum exhibitions, I will often make diagrams of the work on view. These depict the art historical source material I utilize. I want my work to be specific while open to interpretation. I embrace any and all interpretations of the paintings.
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In a few words, what do you hope that viewers take from your work?
That there is beauty in sharing vulnerability.
Talk to us a little bit about your Strangers in Paradise (2017-2018) exhibition at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. Can you tell us more about your thought process behind the works in this collection?
I spent the summer of 2017 at the Rubell Family Collection as an artist-in-residence. During this time, I used an exhibition space as a studio. The space was quite large, and I approached that as a challenge. I made the largest work I had ever made, using a scissor lift to manoeuvre around the canvases. This truly was the time for me to make my figures as striking and commanding as possible.
Can you tell us more about Vortex? And what other projects can we expect from you next?
I curated Vortex, a thirteen-person show, at Kravets Wehby Gallery this past fall (it is currently on view until mid-November). The ongoing collective survival of our human spirit and our steady emergence as a solid yet weathered community throughout this past year inspired the development of Vortex. We have been uprooted and dislocated but remain resilient. Our differences are our strengths and bind us together.
Each of these thirteen artists, using the body as subject, presents their experience of living in the United States in 2020. As individual works of art, and as a united whole, Vortex encapsulates the urgent necessity to stay connected and to speak, shout, and maintain the truth. I am currently working on a dinnerware collection and have a show planned in Brussels for 2021!
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