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Interview with artist Allison Svoboda

'Fauna No. 4', ink on rice paper collage, 40" x 30"

Following on from the interview yesterday with Diane Huff, here is an interview with the other artist in the current two-person show at the Chicago Artists' Coalition gallery. Allison Svoboda is exhibiting stunning black-and-white collaged ink drawings, that look part Chinese ink-brush painting and part science-fiction alien being.

Philip: How did you arrive at Sumi ink and Japanese paper as your current materials of choice?

Allison: My previous series of work was 'Carbon', consisting of charcoal drawings on paper. It's a wonderful medium where you can make mark upon mark and continuously layer and remove the charcoal.  I then started working with ink, which is really made out of the same material—charcoal compressed into a block, which I grind down using a grinding stone, and then I mix it into ink. I enjoy the meditative process of grinding the ink and the immediacy of the ink flowing onto the silk or paper. Once the ink fills the brush and you lay it on the paper, each movement is permanent yet ethereal. After working this way for a while, I soon found that I preferred the sketches on rice paper to more finished pieces. I then started my latest body of work where I collage hundreds of smaller ink paintings into a composition. I find this practice to be a perfect marriage of the immediacy of ink on paper and the slower process of working into a composition through collage. 

Philip: The repeated shapes in your work are derived from fractal geometry. For the less scientific-minded of us, can you explain that term a little? 

Allison: Fractals are all around us from pine cones to the branching of a tree or river.  The infinite layers of self-similar forms that are repeated in all living things are really what I find to be the very nature of beauty. 

Philip: There's something both very beautiful and a little unsettling about the arrangement of shapes in your work. Sometimes they look like flowers, but others look aggressive and skeletal. 

Allison: I'm glad you see that unsettling beauty in my work. I think it leads back to this theory of fractal geometry.  Fractals are found in everything from the microscopic to topography. These patterns found in nature lure the viewer into the composition, and once there, the viewer might start to question this attraction to the unconventional. 


'Ubiquitous Fecundity Series No. 2', ink on rice paper collage, 72" x 40"

Philip: How much do you guide the process once you start it?

Allison: What I like most about the medium of ink on paper is the intuitive aspect where the ink almost finds its own path on the paper. Unlike the charcoal on paper, once the ink is on the paper you can't remove it. It’s very Zen: being in the moment where each brushstroke speaks. I then take time to look at the intuitive paintings, digesting the composition and working slowly through the process of collage. I find this to be an exciting balance between accident and choice.

Philip: How do you arrive at the decision on the size of a piece? Many of them seem like they could keep on going. 

Allison: They just grow almost on their own!

Philip: What are you working on right now? 

Allison: I'm doing two large symmetrical pieces that use color. These pieces will be installed in the lobby of Prudential Plaza in January 2011.

The show at the Chicago Artists' Coalition gallery at 2010 W. Pierce Street, Chicago, runs through June 24th. You can see more of Allison Svoboda's work at www.allisonsvoboda.com.

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