Allison Sommers by Lori Zimmer

March 2011

One particularly crowded art opening that I was working–James Jean I believe–I befriended a cute, bespectacled girl while working the front desk. This was a little odd, as I was usually too busy to chat, and most of the people that would swarm me would just bark demands. But this girl was sweet. I saw her again later at the gallery after-party and struck up a conversation with Allison Sommers. I learned she was visiting from Virginia, and was an artist herself. She and her beau were so charming and sweet, we spent the rest of the evening together, and got drinks again before she went back to Virginia. A year and change later, Allison has some exhibitions under her belt and has moved to the big city.

Imagine a world where grotesque can be adorable. This is the world of Allison Sommers’ paintings. Her freaks, monsters and evil cats make the monster under the bed seem kinda cute. Even if they do eat babies. Allison’s tiny paintings can be found at LA’s Thinkspace Gallery.

Lori Zimmer: How did you get into illustrating? Is it your full time gig?

Allison Sommers: I just paint, basically, and over the years the painting part of my life has started elbowing out the obligatory day-job part of my life.  I’m still working full-time as an art director alongside my art-work.

LZ: I noticed that you work on a very small scale–do you plan to work on larger pieces, or is this your signature?

AS: I’m on a slow process of opening my sizes and compositions up a bit, because as much as I love the small size, and as much of an intimacy it creates with the viewer, it can be limiting and get a little stale.  Working larger (and it’s only by a few inches larger, really) requires me to rethink the whole process, start to finish, so it’s a slow progression.  I’ll always return to teeny-tiny detail painting, even if it’s only a “moment” within a larger painting, because I love the indulgence of really losing yourself in a different scale.

LZ: Tell me about your characters. They are monsters that appear to be both grotesque and delicate at the same time, a fine and interesting balance.

AS: Sometimes I think I’m character-building in the way that one does for a long narrative, except each painting is a new or revised sketch.  I suppose I like to relate to them a bit, make their forms and personalities interesting, but I always end up wanting them to do naughty things and be a little terrifying, sort of when you made your dolls have (un-genitaled, mashed-together) ‘sex’ as a child.  I don’t trust them, any of them, with the exception of perhaps the large, sad beasts, but they’re usually goners in the paintings anyway.

LZ: Rudi Cats??

AS: They were born out of two things: A) cats give me the creeps, and B) they’re terribly interesting to draw.  So I came up with the Rudi Cats, which are even more blank-eyed, slinky, bony, and creepy than the average cat is to me.  They’re depraved, and brainless, and eerie to me, though since they resemble a creature that many folks love dearly perhaps the effect is only in my mind.

LZ: What is your typical working style?  What are you listening to? Where is your studio?

AS: I have a studio conveniently in my apartment, which is where I am holed up nearly every waking moment I’m not at my day job.  I listen to a lot of podcasts and music–a lot of jazz and noisy electric things for sketching, fun nostalgic things to sing along to like the Pet Shop Boys, strange songbirds like Joanna Newsom and Bjork, fast Balkan-y music and hip-hop when I’m antsy.  A bit of pop when no one’s looking.  And in the last hours of a painting, when it’s not the brain power, but the tedious last touches that are needed, I watch things on my computer.  I’m slowly rotting my brain with procedurals.


LZ:  How the heck did you come about getting a hedgehog? It seems very fitting for your work that you should have one as a pet!

AS: I think the same thing that appeals to me about my creatures appeals to me about hedgehogs–they’re terribly cute in their own way, but also terribly strange–they “anoint” themselves with foam, they’re sensitive to barometric pressure and occasionally just go a little nutty, they roll up in a ball if they meet someone they don’t like.  And while Americans don’t have a tradition, or nostalgia about them, there are lots of neat old world stories about hedgehogs.  They’re quite beloved…

LZ:  Name five things that inspire you

AS: 1) The beautiful insides of bodies, 2) elephant shrew nose-twitchings, star-nosed moles, 3) moss and mushrooms good enough to eat, 4) tales of poisonings, 5) tschotchkes.

LZ: Who are your favorite artists? Living, dead, whatever…

AS: I’ll name three, since I could name until my fingers fall off: Rackham, Beuys, Mary Blair.

LZ: If you weren’t making art, what would you be doing?

AS: As a lifestyle–?  I seriously have no idea.  I don’t think I could pull out that part of me out without killing the host.

Allison Sommers is an artist with a surreal imagination and an exquisite attention to detail.  Imagine a world where grotesque can be adorable. This is the world of Allison Sommers’ paintings.


Allison Sommers’ Site

Allison Sommers’ Flickr

Allison Sommers interviewed by Lori Zimmer

Photography by Jonathan Grassi

Design by Marie Havens


Page 1/Cover:

Allison Sommers, in her studio, NYC, Photography by Jonathan Grassi

Page 2:

The Studio of Allison Sommers, NYC, Photography by Jonathan Grassi

Page 3:

Allison Sommers, in her studio, NYC, Photography by Jonathan Grassi

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