Allison Reimus's work explores the psychology of the domestic interior by addressing elements of the decorative through abstraction. She is currently based in Chicago, IL but earned her BFA from Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI in 2005 and her MFA from American University in Washington, DC in 2009. Reimus is the 2009 recipient of the Crisp-Ellert Prize, awarded by Michelle Grabner. In 2010, Reimus was featured in New American Paintings, No. 88, South Issue as an Editor's Selection and was one of two "Noteworthy Artists" in No. 113, Midwest Issue, as chosen by Staci Boris, Chief Curator at the Elmhurst Art Museum. She has most recently exhibited in Rocket Run, Abstractions from Chicago at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska and New American Paintings: Midwest Edition at Elmhurst Art Museum in Elmhurst, IL.
I am interested in the relationship between decoration and function and similarly, how painting operates as both an object and an idea. Simple compositions depicting singular moments, things and situations in shallow pictorial space, allow me to explore my interests in formalism, geometry and abstraction with the most freedom. By imposing such parameters, I am better able to investigate issues regarding the surface of the work and the materiality of paint, often experimenting with media more closely associated with the decorative arts like glitter, gold leaf and spray paint. My paintings build up slowly, in many layers, allowing for mistakes to play a role in an otherwise controlled environment. I often mimic such blunders with intentional marks, further blurring the line between actual and fiction, subverting and upholding the language of painting and allowing the work to exist in a liminal space between window and wall.
Q&A with Allison Reimus
by Emily Burns
Hi Allison! Can you give us some insight into your process? Do you plan your compositions beforehand or do you work intuitively? / Do you draw in preparation for a piece? (If so, could we see a few of them?!)
My recent work involves sewing the canvas before stretching it, so I do make a series of line drawings before getting started. I don't always stick to the plan, but it feels nice to have one. Once I have a good feeling about scale and shape (I often work on shaped canvases) I usually get into the painting by way of color, texture or motif. I try to follow my gut and do what feels right and eventually one painting move leads to another. Over time, form and content emerge. Sometimes it get tricky with the sewn pieces because the seams read as line work and offer strict parameters to work with. I'm still figuring out how to contend with that.
What interests you most about using non-traditional materials (towels, pom poms, yarn, etc) in your work?
I'm loving the way materials like towels, pom poms, lace, etc, are forcing me to think about the work in terms of both texture and content. My work has always been influenced by domesticity so it makes sense to use actual items from that realm. Until recently, my paintings have been pretty smooth, so the textures they offer are challenging me in a way I've never experienced before and its exhilarating. It is difficult to incorporate those items in way that doesn't feel contrived. Its almost like they need to be exalted, or super low key, and they definitely need to feel relevant or else the work looks forced in a bad way.
Your recent work is quite different from your last series, moving from flat to very engaged/dimensional surfaces. Can you talk a bit about the transition to the newest series?
For many years, my work felt too flat for my liking and even worse, I felt like I was fighting back urges in order to make work that I knew I could execute well. Basically, I was being too safe. I was too confident in my ability to craft something well and worried that my ideas weren't good enough. I was hiding behind my technical skills. Eventually I convinced myself that it was okay to try something new at the risk of wasting time and messing up. It's not like I had anything to lose. It's been a series of baby steps to get from my older, super-flat work, to my newest pieces. I started by using my palette knife in some areas, or dripping paint to get the texture I was craving. That wasn't enough. Then I started collaging bits of canvas or adding waxy, raised dots. Still wasn't enough. About six months ago, I made "Sis Boom", by sewing the canvas before stretching it and adding a variety of handmade yarn pom poms that I had painted or covered in glitter and flocking fibers. The pom poms were leftover from a nursery decorating project gone bad, just one of many examples of how real life influences the work. Anyway, in "Sis Boom", the pom poms are absurd, coy and decorative, and push that real life/ painted object boundary, a place where I love to be. That piece felt like it was the beginning of something. I'm not sure what that "something" is, but time will tell. I can't see myself working in three-dimension, but I do feel an urgency to push my perceived boundaries of the painted object.
Is surface tactility important to you?
It's very important to me. I want every inch to feel special and considered, even the sides. I'm interested in making work that is worthy of experiencing in person and to me, subtle shifts in surface are a way to do that. Unfortunately, subtlety doesn't always come across while viewing paintings on a smartphone, which is most people's first interaction with contemporary art.
You collaborated with Rebecca Murtaugh at DEMO Projects in Springfield, IL earlier this year. Can you tell us a bit more about the experience there, the project, and making work specifically for the space and with another artist?
Sure. So, it wasn't really a collaboration or site-specific. I loved the idea of showing my work in a space with such a cool history. DEMO Project is located in a formerly abandoned home that was taken over by a fabulous group of artists and curators in Springfield, IL. Being relatively new to the Chicago area/ IL, I'm always grateful when exhibition spaces host an open call because you don't have to be a friend or former student of somebody in order to have your work noticed. I applied and to my delight, they decided to pair me with Rebecca. I feel stifled, I mean really terrified, if I I feel like I have to produce work in a way that feels unnatural, so I continued to make work free from any perceived boundaries. Of course, my work has always been about domesticity so I was never worried about it being a bad fit for a space like DEMO. I just showed up there with everything I had and worked out which pieces to show taking DEMO's unique space and Rebecca's sculpture into consideration.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting aspects of your newest work?
One thing I've noticed lately is my ability to trust my instincts and to not over think things. Maybe it's my age, or having something more important to do (raise kids), but my work feels bold and unashamed and I feel really good about that. I'm also totally okay with making a bad painting and not worrying about lost time, because I truly believe in learning through mistakes, a concept that would have been lost on my twenty-something perfectionist self.
What is a typical day like for you?
There isn't really a typical day. Mom-life and studio life are very different. On the days when I'm on stay-at-home-mom duty, my entire day revolves around the kids and their needs, and they have plenty. I drink cold coffee, not by choice, and rarely get a shower. I'm lucky to have an hour to myself. That desperation is an effective fuel for my studio days. I think my Mom-life is making my studio life feel extremely urgent and its been a great benefit for me. Anyway, on studio days, I start around 8:30 and end around 4:30, taking a quick break or two to eat or just to look and reflect on my works in progress. It's a luxury to have kids in daycare two days a week so I can work, and I will never take that for granted. I usually spend one weekend day in the studio as well and stick to a similar schedule. At night when the kids are in bed, I do other art-related things like apply for shows, write essays for grants, residencies, etc, or do interviews like this one.
Q: Do you feel like it is necessary to get into a particular headspace when in the studio? If so how do you get there?
Its essential to experience flow. I'm pretty lucky to be able to get into the headspace needed to make the work right away. Maybe it's a learned thing? I'm not really sure, but my work feels so necessary to make right now that I don't have any trouble getting to that mental space.Towards the end of a studio day, I can tell when that headspace is fleeing, so I stop working. I find that if I force things, they end up looking bad. Instead, I'll do mindless work like stretch or prime canvases, etc.
What are the most important components of your studio?
The most important components of my studio are its convenience and size. I don't have time to waste by traveling into the city every time I feel the need to work, nor would I be able to afford it. The size has allowed me to work larger, which is great. When we lived in apartment, I couldn't do that because I had nowhere to store anything. I have loads of storage now.
What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of your practice?
I always start by listening to NPR and once I've completed Morning Edition and On Point, I'll switch to other podcasts usually related to contemporary art or comedy. I find it difficult to listen to music while I work because I feel that it takes me into a creative space that's not my own. I also feel that music makes me feel too safe, like I'd be more likely to make easy decisions while painting. Maybe I'm crazy but I just can't do it. I like to listen to podcasts because hearing people talk sort of lessens the blow of feeling isolated.
What are some of the artists that you look at the most often or most recently?
Oh geez. If I listed every artist I'm blown away by, I'd be typing for years. Most recently though, I'm loving the work of Kristy Luck and Scott Anderson. For most often, the award goes to Judy Ledgerwood. I'd like to be the President of her fan club. She continuously leaves me breathless. She's probably my favorite artist of all time.
Any advice to recent grads who are interested in getting their work out there and exhibiting?
My advice would be to try and shed your grad school skin as quickly as you can and Just. Keep. Painting. It is a difficult adjustment to go from painting 24/7 and being surrounded by people who have to talk about your work, to real life. The only way to incorporate art making into your real life is by stubbornly deciding to make the work, despite the obstacles that are sure to come your way. Work hard, be nice to people, apply for shows and cross your fingers.
Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
I can recall two pieces of advice that stuck with me from my earlier years that have truly helped me. About five years ago, when I was at a residency in Berlin, I met up with a former grad school professor who had recently moved there. He told me that there would be times in my career when I'd feel like nobody was watching, but he assured me that indeed, there are always people watching. Its important to continue to make your work, even when it feels like nobody gives a shit, because when the gatekeepers (galleries, curators) come calling, you have to be ready. The second piece of advice was terrible and I work hard to prove this person wrong every single day of my life. In college, a respected professor acknowledged my talent and told me that the only way to become a successful artist was to move to New York and to never have kids. I don't believe his comment was sexist in nature, because he was speaking from his own experience as being a midwesterner with children that came to age in a time when this was the norm. I think he was honestly relaying information as he understood it to be true. I've never had a desire to live in New York, and I've always known I wanted to be a Mother so his words, even though they were well-intentioned, have always bothered me. I'm so grateful for that.
What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
Kerry James Marshall at the MCA was the best painting show I've seen in my entire life.
Q: Do you have any news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
I have a solo show this January at Knox College and I am also participating in a group show here in Chicago at Roots & Culture, also in January.
Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Allison and her work, check out her website.