AN INTERVIEW WITH ALLISON SOMMERS:
THE 22 MAGAZINE: You talk about growing up with an abundance of pets. What were some of the animals you kept?
ALLISON SOMMERS: We always seemed to have our own little menagerie, from multiple dogs and cats to birds and crabs and all sorts of lizards. I'm not sure why my folks indulged me (an only child, perhaps,) but I'm certainly glad they did. I think that living with animals radically changes the way you treat others of all ilk.
THE 22: You've got a really interesting educational background. Starting with a B.A. in History, focusing on early medieval England. I kind of laughed a little with delight when I read this because it seemed so random but also completely explanatory for some of your work. Tell me a little about how you ended up studying history, particularly medieval history.
AS: The short answer is that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool dork. I was always a bit of a pretentious romantic as a child, playing at being this or that royalty or clergy, studying fencing, reading books of hours and The Decameron years before I could understand what Boccaccio meant by "putting the devil into hell." Late in high school, I came into a deep obsession with plague and a very strange crush on a certain 16th century corpulent monk of some importance, and once I went to college, I couldn't sign up for enough history courses to satisfy my thirst. Actually, the short answer should be, I really have no idea other than some sort of secret predilection. Towards leggings and bawdiness, perhaps.
THE 22: When did you start painting and why or how?
AS: Drawing and painting have always been there with me; the starting point was, perhaps, a good grasp of hand-eye coordination. I was always lucky to be amply supplied with most anything I wanted to make art ever since I was small.
THE 22: When did you move to NY?
AS: I've been in the city a couple of years now. I just couldn't see any other place I'd rather be, both for art and personality's sake. I might not have come from here, but it fits like a glove.
THE 22: You talk about a fascination with meat, vegetation, birds, and beast. Has your interest in history influenced your paintings?
AS: Perhaps even more than the beasts and meats of Schlaraffenland stories (on which, admittedly, I based a solo show), the most lasting influence of my studies has been that of the church and its stories and motifs. Certainly not a new font from which to drink as a painter, and perhaps a strange one as a militant non-believer, but for some reason I continue to be marvelously inspired by biblical stories and tropes (and the way in which artists have explored them in the past.) Prevalent medieval motifs such as Totentanz and the saints continue to show up in my work.
THE 22: Are you a full time painter now or do you still pursue history?
AS: I supplement my painting with a bread gig in dog walking. I still read books, if that counts as pursuing history.
THE 22: Do any of your pieces represent historical stories?
AS: I'm working on historical religious themes (there's a very large Saint Stephen on my desk at the moment) often more than specific historical stories. I'll have to do a Marat one day, I think.
THE 22: Why gouache? Do you ever use other mediums?
AS: Gouache is just so beautiful and punchy and delicious to me. I've been working a lot in graphite lately, though. I'm finally teaching myself to render, since I sort of skipped over that part.
THE 22: Tell me about the inspiration for the matchbox and tin pieces?
AS: Aside from being an excellent excuse to buy tiny vintage paper things on eBay…Seriously, though, I am working on ideas of encapsulation and concealment of a work and trying to work out exactly how I want art in my life. I like the idea of these tiny boxes—play sets almost—where the work is discovered, and handled, and damaged. I am trying to find ways of liberating my work from being framed and glassed-in, which increasingly feels sterile. It appeals to the library and collection-maker in me, as well, these tiny things which have inner secrets and can be stacked nearly anonymously with no hint as to their contents.
THE 22: In your bio you say your work is "intentionally vague, both conceptually and morally." Do you think it's important to leave room for interpretation in your work?
AS: It's extremely important. I can't claim to be the interpreter of the image for any viewer. It's not a matter of mystery or concealment (although those appeal to me) as much as the impossibility of actually communicating anything to someone.
THE 22: You have an ongoing affinity for hedgehogs. What appeals to you about these animals?
AS: They are such strange little beasts, with sometimes revolting habits. What's not to love?