Alyssa Monks is one of the foremost emerging contemporary artists in America today. Her paintings are often presented as faces behind sheets of water, whether it be steamy shower door, or within a tranquil pool. Thoughtfully rendered, and conceptually genius, Monks’ work stands alone in the world of contemporary art. Blending both realism and abstraction, Monks’ paintings stop you in your tracks and leave you wanting more.
We were able to interview this talented oil artist recently and given exclusive photo access within her studio.
Can you remember your first steps into the world of art and how that’s translated into a career today?
I had a proclivity towards drawing and painting. I drew a lot and for long periods of time as a child. I was very “neat” and stayed in the lines, which prompted my art teacher in kindergarten to suggest classes outside of school. My mother was dedicated to getting me to many after school art classes throughout my education. I started oil painting when I was 9 years old and throughout grammar and high schools I took classes outside of school at various institutions. After graduating from Boston College I went directly to the New York Academy of Art where I learned all I could about anatomical accuracy and traditional painting techniques. Countless professors and guest lecturers influenced me, Vincent Desiderio, Eric Fischl, Jenny Saville, Will Cotton, Tony Sherman, to name a few. The education didn’t stop at graduation though. As Phillip Pearlstein said at the keynote address, one must now “unlearn” all that has been taught. Putting it all together in the 9 years since and going forward is an ongoing challenge. It keeps it interesting.
Could you tell us a bit about your upcoming show at David Klein Gallery? The subject matter and any new approaches you’re utilizing?
The latest body of work involves more obfuscation of the human face and body using water, oil and other elements as filters. I want to see how far I can push reality to the other side where the “real” is still recognizable, but becoming totally abstract. I want to see how far I can push both the real and the abstract at the same time, into one another, building that tension until they are just one and the same. I am trying to use more paint and imagination in the abstraction that these filters create. There is a lot more invention in this body of work.
I’ve always been drawn to water since I was a child. I was known to venture into the pool unsupervised on more than a few occasions. As an adult, I still love the feeling of warm water around me…it’s the ultimate comfort. And visually it is an infinite world of constantly changing filters melting and disfiguring everything you can see through it like a distorted lens. It is unpredictable and complicated in how it refracts light and reflects images. 15 years ago, I thought it was impossible to paint, so maybe it’s partly the challenge of painting something that misbehaves so much and can still be so beautiful. It’s versatile, it’s serene, it’s disruptive; it is basically a constantly changing lens, reflecting and refracting everything. I find it fascinating. It lets me fulfill my love of creating illusions with paint, yet still enjoy the loose and delicious quality of spreading the paint like icing across the canvas.
What artists have inspired you (contemporary and historically) and why?
I’ve been looking a lot at Egon Schiele and his drawing sense, very sensual and expressive. I love Alex Kanevsky’s paintings. There is so much confidence and freshness in his paint. Its irresistible. Jenny Saville and Eric Fishl have this quality in their work as well. Its also in Rembrandt and Jackson Pollock and Sorolla. Vincent Desiderio is always fascinating me. His paint looks effortless and complicated at the same time. Tony Scherman’s layering in encaustic is so entrancing. Other artists who have inspired me are Gorgione, Klimt, Manet, Nan Goldin, Gregory Crewdson, Diane Arbus, David Lynch, Will Cotton, and many of my peers and students.
The internet has played a role in spreading knowledge about your work, do you have any stories or insights to share regarding this?
The internet is both a curse and a blessing I guess. It is so wonderful for the exposure of artwork instantly and it spreads like wildfire sometimes. But the problem arises when it becomes a substitute for viewing the work in the real. No one would say they saw Michelangelo’s David had they just seen a compressed low res 3×5” jpeg on a laptop. Yet, with contemporary work we feel somewhat satisfied with this representation. Most art looks very different in person than it does on a computer screen, so the jpeg should be only considered a virtual preview rather than a viewing experience in itself. There is no substitution for the intimacy of being in the same actual space with a work of art.
Alyssa Monks new show entitle Fixation runs from October 23-November 27 at David Klein Gallery.
David Klein Gallery
163 Townsend Street Birmingham, Michigan 48009
Visit David Klein gallery for more information on the the show:
For more information on Alyssa Monks and images of her work, please visit her official site at: