Discovery Series: Allison Schulnik Interview
by Rhoni Blankenhorn for COMPANY
Allison Schulnik is the daughter of an architect from the Bronx and a painter from British Columbia. After studying and performing many forms of dance, she left San Diego for California Institute of the Arts, where she received her BFA in Experimental Animation in 2000. Allison's background in dance is clear in her dynamic paintings, and of course in her animation as well. The resulting works are deliciously rich with thick layers of paint, tragically enchanting figures that draw you into their dream-like world. We at COMPANY especially love her newest animation, MOUND.
Allison received rave reviews for her recent exhibit with Mark Moore Gallery at Pulse Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach. Allison lives and works in Los Angeles, and is represented by Mark Moore Gallery.
COMPANY: How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it?
Allison: Hand-made, living, breathing, explorations of rejects, misfits and their landscapes. Imagined realities, farcical theatrics, and honest earthly moments that attempt to find valor in adversity. Figures awkward in their humanity, studies in dignity and performance, human-like animals with misshapen bodies, and feline memorials.
COMPANY: What are your latest inspirations?
Allison: Lately I’ve been obsessing over my old favorite painter Bonnard, and of course nothing has played more in my studio this year then Scott Walker. The work of my three favorite, most influential teachers, all who passed recently E. Michael Mitchell, Corny Cole and Jules Engel. Especially Corny’s unfinished masterpiece Heaven and Hell, and his drawings of the homeless man on the beach. Ryan Gosling and his jacket in the movie Drive. Hedgehog in the Fog by Yuri Norstein. Eric Yahnker. Game of Thrones. Adam Beckett and his loops, Paul McCarthy and his ketchup, Pina Bausch, Rose Kemp, Megadeth, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers floating on air in white feathers.
COMPANY: Whats the deal with your hobos, clowns, and sprinkling of creatures? Where did they come from?
Allison: I don’t know. I seem to be drawn to the forlorn reject and the stubborn fool.
COMPANY: How do you feel about selling your work? Have you noticed one medium draws more collectors than another?
Allison: Selling is a means to an end. After working in menial jobs, and then animation for 7 years, the chance to not have to have a job working for someone else, and instead getting to make my own projects 12 hours a day, exactly the way I want to make them, with no compromise, was an amazing thing. I didn’t know it was possible when I was in school.
COMPANY: Do you collect art as well?
Allison: I like to trade with people for things, art, etc… I do collect, but mostly pieces from my family and my boyfriends’ family, and from antique stores. I did start to buy some art from galleries, 3 pieces to be exact. I’d like to buy more. There are definitely pieces I would like to have but can’t afford. I am also a collector of collections. I collect discarded relics, memorabilia, figurines - hobos, clown, Vikings, animals, gnomes, sculptures and objects made with shells, and also misshapen antique taxidermy.
COMPANY: Three essential objects in your studio?
Allison: Too hard to choose only three! It would have to be my stuffed mallard duck with a broken neck, the drawing my boyfriend did of my cat Gin, and my antique set of miniature gnome chess pieces… and as backup the sculpture I did of my parent’s pet possum (it doesn’t sleep in the house, at least not to their knowledge).
COMPANY: Who would you like to collaborate with? Artwise, musicwise, whatever?
Allison: I would have said Scott Walker before this year. I still would like to collaborate with him more. There are tons of other bands, musicians I would love to work with, too many to name. I could think of someone I would like to make a film with, but I don’t like to talk too much about work that hasn’t been made.
COMPANY: Can you talk about MOUND?
Allison: The centerpiece of the exhibition is my new video MOUND, a celebration of the moving painting. It is a macabre wandering featuring animation as dance, where its subjects are choreographed in abstract, emotive, gesture and movement. The line is blurred between the material elements of painting (texture, color, form) and the physicality and movement of ballet and theater. Although there is a beginning, middle and end, what it retains in traditional material and methods, it avoids in narrative structure. It is an uncertain account of what exists somewhere between tragedy and farce. It is also a celebration of the hand-made, and a purist clay-mation where all effects are done in-camera. I animated thousands of frames entirely myself, and alone constructed over one hundred figural puppets made of clay, fabrics, wire, wood, paint and glue.
COMPANY: What inspires your paintings and sculptures?
Allison: The paintings and sculptures are influenced by people and creatures around me I know and don’t know, and also by discarded once-sentimental relics, old books, movies, cartoons, flea markets, music, trash, food, dance, history… These things make their way into my brain and then seem to make a home amongst my many imagined realities. My brain blender takes these ingredients of earthly fact and blatant fiction and attempts to serve up a stage of tragedy, farce, and raw, ominous beauty. When I put something in material form, I just hope to capture this otherworldly buffoonery, or maybe present a simple earthly moment.
Idyllwild is from a photo of my brother and his dog in Idyllwild and Rhys is a portrait of my friend's cat. Dempster was one of many childhood felines we found in a dumpster as children. Yogurt Eater is a portrait of a man I saw at the airport, and Standing Gin #3 is one of twenty-ish portraits I have done of my cat Gin. Often the characters are based on photos of myself as well.
Really, painting to me is another form of dance and movement. I tend to mosey about in a crestfallen, lonely kind of world sometimes with my work, but these recent works, like FLOWER MOUND, feel kind of theatrical, almost like the figure is nesting together and hunkering down in performative glory and flight, or it is just a big mound of stubborn felines, a sad hobo, and breathing floral orifices, conducting the big lampoon or ridicule, similar to the hundred puppets in Mound (video), and the Funeral Party gouache.
COMPANY: What are you working on now?
Allison: A costume I’m going to wear for my band Barfth’s next performance, involving hot dogs, and I am going to plant a pineapple.