There is a certain audacity that comes with being an artist. You have to be bold and brave enough to take whatever you have etched in your mind and translate that onto a canvas for the world to see. As someone whose stick figures are hard to decipher, I can’t help but admire the work of a truly fearless artist like Allison Torneros. Coloring the canvas with more emotion than concept, she manages to draw you in with each piece—even her series of just mouths, titled “Mouth Piece,” captures your eye.
Allison found creative inspiration early in life. When she was just two years old she created her first piece of art by sketching her brother’s Cinco de Mayo mask. As time passed, her interest in art grew. Her parents were supportive, but her mother did urge her to draw something besides graffiti-inspired block letters…something more Thomas Kincade-ish. But Allison was hooked. And the gritty appeal of graffiti culture and subliminal dark undertones began to emerge in her work.
In 2006, Allison created a painting called “The City.” Paying homage to her brother who passed away, she says this piece remains her most popular. The piece is a self-portrait that depicts a city extending from her torso. She said she still receives emails from people saying they've had this image tatted on them.
This style that Allison created was uniquely her own and it clearly was connecting with audiences. But she was not quite ready to throw caution to the wind and commit to art as her career path: “I’ve always been a rational-minded person, so I ruled out art as a career. I thought about architecture or design.” So, like a good little realist, she started a branding and design company called Circledot in college. The company was conceived as a mock business for a class, but once she laid out the pieces, Allison realized she wanted to make it a real venture. “It was like a dream board for what I wanted my company to be,” she remembers. Little did she know she would go on to have clients like Disney, Procter & Gamble, DreamWorks and start-ups like–our fav!—the Nom Nom Truck.
Circledot became a success, but after five years in business, Allison realized that success was no substitute for passion. “I was miserable…I had hit rock bottom. Something had to change.” She began to scale down on her design and branding projects and focus only on clients that she was really passionate about. She had learned a valuable lesson, “If you aren’t super passionate about something, there is always someone who will get ahead of you because they are.”
While Allison now devotes more of her time and creative energy to creating her own original works, that lost period has left its mark on her life and her art. Her subjects remain relatively simple--the outline of a woman, a mouth, a hand—but the colors explode from the images. The pretty pinks and bright oranges mask the eerie undercurrents of each piece. From far away the paintings seem beautiful, perfect even. But up close you see the grotesque deformities and flaws marring the faces of her subjects. You are pulled into the painting wondering what else you will discover on a second look. For her, these sinister undertones are reflective of real life people she’s met. “I’ve met a lot of crazy people who are beautiful and put together on the outside, but once I got to know them the illusion fell apart.” Allison says that she is “embracing the creepy” and exploring “the state between the beautiful and the grotesque.” The dichotomy of the two is striking. Viewing the paintings up close reveals that beauty is nothing more than a trick of the light. She says, “I really like ambiguity because it makes me feel weird and I want others to feel weird.” Mission accomplished.
The paintings strike you like vivid snapshots of a dream you've forgotten. Your eyes are drawn to them, looking for clues behind the soft swirls and bright spots. The effect is created by Allison’s process. She first splatters paint around on a canvas and then lets it dry overnight. The next day she interprets the shapes like a Rorschach test to see what she can create out of them. “Over time this is where my aesthetic has taken me. Flowy, organic, fluid. I like to let loose and see where it goes.” If there is one thing she hates, it's a sketch book. She says that if she sketches things out first they come out too perfect. “I welcome mistakes because sometimes that’s when the best things happen.”
Recently Allison got the opportunity to showcase her work at her first solo art show, Streams of Consciousness, hosted by Hold Up Art in LA. Her next show will also be hosted at Hold Up Art and the theme is superheroes. While she considers gallery shows a huge milestone in her career as an artist, the rebel in her is never satisfied. She recently launched a line of apparel with North Face and will be a featured live artist at this year’s Jazz Reggae Fest. But breaking into street art is the next big step for Allison and requires all of her courage. “Think about it…you are tagging buildings and then signing your name.” She plans to take on a tagging project creating a huge wall mural in Venice. Most artists start in the underground scene and then are scouted by gallery owners. Allison is once again shirking tradition and going the opposite route. For Allison--with her unique talents as a business woman and an artist--we can be sure that her passion and creativity will lead her to success. No sketch book required.
Watch Allison in action in the time lapse video below!
Like many cities, Sacramento is proud of its vibrant local art scene. Especially in recent years, local artists have become a major part of the fabric of Sacramento. Original art is frequently featured on the walls of local bars, restaurants, hair salons and coffee shops. I was fortunate enough to meet one of Sacramento’s up-and-coming artists, Bryson Webb, at a networking event held at BarWest, the newest addition to the roster of Sacramento watering holes. Webb is just 18 years old, and he is already a prolific artist with an impressive artistic philosophy.
A variety of Webb’s pieces were on display throughout the venue, but one in particular caught my eye. Called “Rock It,” this piece outlines a rocket pointed upward and set against a multihued blue sky. The 48" x 48"acrylic on wood is beautiful and vibrant – a photo really does not do it justice. The use of bright oranges and blues create a beautiful contrast in the piece. A playful use of puff paint creates the outline of the rocket – my favorite touch.
While looking at this stunning piece, it became clear that this young male artist has something in common with a Made Woman: vision, passion and aspirations. I had to take advantage of the opportunity to meet the artist and ask him about his work. He told me that he likes to capture a childlike innocence in his art, and that this particular piece symbolized adventure and excitement about the journey ahead. His hope is that others appreciate that idea of escape.
“Rockets are a metaphor for escaping real life. Whether they might be working multiple jobs or going to school, everyone needs to enjoy the adventure of life and the best way I have found is through the eyes of a child,” said Webb. When I commented on the vibrant contrasting colors in the Rocket piece, he told me that he frequently uses shades of blue to bring a calm and collected feeling to the art.
What I find striking about this particular piece is that it successfully captures this essence of boyhood that Webb talked about, yet it is also visionary and grown up. The idea of a rocket breaking through space and time and going out into the unknown is really symbolic of life itself, and of what it takes to be truly daring. The piece resonated with me because of that fact: What is life if not an exploration of the unknown and an opportunity to take chances and make escapes?
A few of Webb’s other paintings were on display, and dozens of young professionals enjoyed spending the evening mingling and taking in all of the art. It was a great privilege to see this promising young artist in his element. I will be on the lookout for his next great show. If you like what you see as much as I did, be sure to check out ArtbyBryson.com for samples of his other imaginative pieces.
Imagine seeing a picture of yourself on the wall of a museum. A massive portrait of you--flaws and all-- lit up and on display for the world to see. Looking up there at yourself might bring on feelings of pride, delight, insecurity, or narcissism. You may wonder what everyone else was thinking as they looked up at that image of you, captured there forever for examination.
Even though none of the photos on the walls of the Posing Beauty in African American Culture exhibit at USC’s Fisher Museum of Art were of me, I still felt all of these things. The photos spanned different time periods and styles. Some were captivating, making you wonder about all the moments in the subject’s life that came before that photo. Others were just, shall we say…unique. Like Batete Ross Smith’s “Prom Night: Here Come The Girls” series that looked like it was taken from Media Take Out’s “ghetto proms”. But viewing the museum’s collection of photos of African American cultural icons like Lena Horne, Ray Charles, Stokely Carmichael, Denzel Washington, Billie Holiday--and everyday people whose names I don’t know--was somehow like looking at pictures of myself, my family, and my own personal history.
Leonard Freed, 1963, Harlem Fashion Show, Harlem
I thought about my mother’s style when I looked at Leonard Freed’s pictures of fly fashionistas in the 1963 Harlem fashion show. I thought about my grandmother’s wisdom when I looked at the commanding portrait of Carrie Mae Seems entitled “I looked and looked to see what so terrified you.” I thought about my own love of music when looking at pictures of Michael Jackson and Lil’ Kim. And those prom photos? Definitely reminiscent of my cousins.
This exhibit offers a rare opportunity for people to come and observe the vast, contradictory and lush beauty of African American culture. After my experience there I understood the curator Deborah Willis’ statement, “it is important to appreciate the duality of this topic: beauty is personal and political; it can be read both aesthetically and within the context of cultural studies. My goal is not to produce a sociological study, but one that focuses on the aesthetics of the photographers and the posing of their subjects within black culture.” Thus Willis has created an exhibit where there is no judgment hung on the walls of the museum; just the vibrant, honest truth about the culture of African American beauty.
Ken Ramsay, c. 1970s, Susan Taylor As Model
Lyle Aston Harris’s haunting photo “Miss America” (1987-88) depicts a naked black woman, her face painted white, eyes tightly shut, with an American flag draped across her shoulders. This struck me as a true political commentary on what it means to be considered beautiful in America. The photo is hung near another photo taken on the street during the 2008 presidential election. It depicts a man with an extremely elaborate hair cut with Barack Obama’s face etched into his fade, complete with Barack’s smile lines and teeth. Although the second photo may seem silly to some, when put into the cultural context of what the 2008 election meant to African Americans, it speaks volumes about how much love and respect we had and beauty we saw in our newly elected black president.
The Posing Beauty exhibit runs now until December 3rd at the Fisher Museum of Art. No matter your race, I recommend checking this out and seeing if you find a bit of yourself reflected back from the extremely honest representations on the walls.
For more info on this exhibit visit: USC Fisher Museum of Art
Read the NY Times review of Posing Beauty in African American Culture here!