Excerpt of Interview with Alyssa Monks

Alyssa Monk’s work is represented by Forum Gallery in New York City. She lives and paints in Brooklyn. Her latest solo exhibition “Breaking Point” was in October of 2018 at Forum Gallery. Monks’s paintings have been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions including “Intimacy” at the Kunst Museum in Ahlen, Germany and “Reconfiguring the Body in American Art, 1820–2009” at the National Academy Museum of Fine Arts, New York. Her work is represented in public and private collections, including the Savannah College of Arts, the Somerset Art Association, Fullerton College, the Seavest Collection, The Bennett Collection, and the collections of George Loening, Eric Fischl, Howard Tullman, Gerrity Lansing, Danielle Steele, Alec Baldwin, and Luciano Benetton. In 2015, Alyssa gave a TED talk at Indiana University discussing her recent work, which is featured on TED.com. Recently, she was named the 16th most influential female artist alive today by Graphic Design Degree Hub. Her work was featured heavily in season 6 of the FX television series The Americans in 2018.

Born in 1977 in New Jersey, Alyssa began oil painting as a child. She studied at The New School in New York and Montclair State University and earned her B.A. from Boston College in 1999. During this time she studied painting at Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence. She went on to earn her M.F.A. from the New York Academy of Art in 2001. She completed an artist in residency at Fullerton College in 2006 and has lectured and taught at universities and institutions worldwide. She continues to offer workshops and lectures regularly.

Alyssa has been awarded the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant for Painting three times and has served as a member of the New York Academy of Art’s Board of Trustees since 2010. https://www.alyssamonks.com/

WTR: Your work has often been described as conveying a deep sense of vulnerability and intimacy. Is this intentional or an unconscious act?

AM: I think it is just how I am in the world. I don’t see much of a point in doing anything without being really invested in it – and that means present, which means some vulnerability, and certainly it will be intimate.

WTR: What role has the natural world played in your artistic expression? In your TED Talk, you mention taking a canvas into the forest after your mother’s death. Would you say that’s the moment when the natural world took on more significance in your work?

AM: Absolutely. I really wasn’t much into landscape painting at all before that. It was a strange thing how it occurred and really surprised me. I almost had a disdain for painting flowers in my formative years. That makes me laugh so much now as all I do now is paint flowers. I’ve even taken to growing my own flowers. It began with trees after my mother died. It was the character of trees, the way they live and die and function and connect and feed each other underground, provide shelter, take the sun in and weathered the storms and just stand there and take it all, swaying as needed but never complaining or resisting…I found it comforting in so many ways. I used to say then – “just be a tree,” and I could get through it. The way I painted changed as well. There was so much less precision and so much more amazement with the medium, itself. The color was earthy and rich and warm. The paint was unpredictable, and the image was coming in and out of realization. It felt “real” to me – more real than any synthetic illusionistic attempt at realism.

WTR: When discussing some of your earlier works, you remarked that you found it interesting how steam and water could be used to distort a figure and noted that you are always “looking for new filters all the time.” In your more recent works, it appears that the natural world and figures pressed against glass are your new filters. Are there any new approaches such as these on the horizon that you have not explored before?

AM: I am planning on there being limitless approaches to explore. And I’m so excited about that. Discovering and experimenting new “filters” as I like to think of them makes my head explode with possibility and ideas.

WTR: While many of these filtering techniques appear to act as a sort of membrane between two worlds or experiences, can they also be viewed as method of transmission, or ritual passage, from one world to the next or perhaps even a boundary or barrier?

AM: I don’t purposely attach or force metaphor or symbolism in my work. It’s a visual exploration for me and while I am in it, I stay with that only. I follow my intuition and aesthetic as I make decisions and experiment. What is revealed is organic and almost subconscious.

WTR: In past interviews, you’ve mentioned the importance of love, connection, and empathy in your work. You have a very keen ability to connect with others on a very human-level in your work. What role do these filtering techniques play in that connection?

AM: Thank you. It is my hope to do that. I want people to find themselves in the work, feel seen by the work and understood and connected to it. I think on a technical level, the filter creates a way to obfuscate the details of a human face. Without so many details and specificity, people can more easily find themselves in the work. I so often get emails and notes that people really think I am painting them or their friend, parent or child. To me, that is perfect.

WTR: If you had to choose one adjective to describe your work, what word would you choose and why?

AM: Searching.

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