Now Featuring Alyssa Block
Alyssa Block gives her drawings room to breathe. Whether working in animation, on paper or in clay, the hand-drawn line is complemented by blank space, as if the artist’s decision what to draw or say next is unfolding before us in real time.
MH: Even though you make a range of types of images and objects, it seems like drawing is the through-line in your work. Can you talk about what drawing means to you?
AB: I enjoy drawings and even handwriting because of the expressiveness of each person’s line. I hold a lot of positive connotations for childhood, and I think line drawings and outlines reference things like coloring books or the kind of drawing one might make as a child. I do like to work across a few different media, so it was a conscious decision for me to keep drawing as a recurring element in my work and I think that allows me to spread out a little and not confine myself to one discipline.
MH: There is something about your work that reminds me of tracing – it felt strongest in your Tuesday animated video but it’s elsewhere too. What is your drawing technique like? What are your sources?
AB: I do like to trace things sometimes. In the Tuesday video, each scene was based on individual photos that I had taken in different rooms I’d lived in. I digitally traced over those images pretty closely in that case because I really wanted to evoke the feeling of a still image with a lot of detail. Something that would look like a photographic image but obviously also a drawing and then also a moving image where nothing really moved.
When I make larger paintings I usually have reference images that I collage together and then work from that. I like my work to have a graphic element, so I like planning things and physically moving elements around before I start painting anything. When I need some imagery to reference I look at a file on my computer where I save images from the internet or I look at my own photographs. For plant imagery, I like to look at Home Depot’s website, they have nice plant images! I used to have a physical file folders of little papers or magazine cuttings but I’ve fully moved into digital image collecting.
MH: You use a lot of framing devices in your work, panels that remind me of comic cells, windows, even hands enclosing a space/object. Where does this formal gesture come from?
AB: I’m a very light comic book/graphic novel reader, but I really like the way they break up a story, especially the ones that have lots of variety in the layout of the pages. There’s a way that compartmentalization of a page suggests time passing, like a big black box “reads” as a pause, and maybe a colorblock of yellow can suggest anxiety or a closeup on a face suggests confusion. I like the way juxtaposing a couple separate images creates a little narrative.
This new print series plays off of that also, with captions that don’t totally make sense and ask you to work a little bit to figure out if the words actually work with the image or not. I also like using a framing element because it creates something to look through and adds some depth to an otherwise pretty flat and graphic composition. The cup with the hands glazed onto it is my solution for the problem of how to bring drawing into three dimensions, so I’m working with the shape of the cup and its intended use to make this little object that holds itself.
MH: I’m interested in what you said about certain graphic elements “reading” as a pause, etc. in a drawing because of our familiarity with comics. Are you interested in your drawings being read, in their containing an type of narrative? And are you interested in ever making books/zines etc. that might make the reading element more explicit?
AB: I’ve made booklets in the past and those are fun. I like giving people an experience of holding an object and having a little private moment. I think the natural progression from the books is into animation, so that’s what I’ve been slowly working on. Very slowly. I like taking the motifs and structure from things like comics and applying them to my work in a non-literal way.
MH: How did you start working in ceramics?
AB: I took an elective in grad school with Ian McDonald and found it interesting and challenging and a fun way to reintroduce sculptural aspects to my work–I studied sculpture in college but we didn’t have ceramics so I did things with wood mostly. I got a ceramics teaching job and suddenly had to learn a lot about working with clay and I think that’s what propelled me further into it.
MH: How how has running your exhibition and project space, Studio/Space, which is currently on hiatus, influence your own art practice?
AB: I tend to reach out to artists who are doing things I’m interested in myself, so it’s nice to see how others tackle the same problems or communicate similar ideas. I like having my studio in my house, but sometimes it can be isolating, so working on these peripheral curatorial projects keeps me connected to my other art people.
MH: You mention in your bio on your website the idea of “personal growth.” Some of your drawings could almost be read as oblique versions of a note-to-self. Can you talk about that dimension of your work?
AB: Well, I think that the things I make are heavily influenced by my own experiences. And my life in the past eight or ten years has been a lot about growing up and trying to not be depressed. I think my work reflects that – there’s definitely an element of self-help in there – depictions of things that I do to feel better, things that keep me busy, friendly reminders, things like that. I like these new prints I made because they are a little more silly and light-hearted than my work might have been a year or two ago. Also, melancholy work doesn’t sell well, I’ve learned that the hard way.