We had the good fortune of connecting with Sophia Allison and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sophia, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I knew when I was very young that I wanted to make art for the rest of my life. It just made sense to me; it was a natural extension of who I was. Of course I had no idea what that would look like when I got older, but as a young adult, I recognized that it was important for me to do something that related or connected to my studio art making – whether that was teaching in various capacities, working in museums and art-related non-profits or creating my own projects that would provide exhibition opportunities to other artists. I understood early on that, while art-making can be a very solitary practice at times, it was important to be around, work with and support creative people and organizations, and to be part of and participate in like-minded communities – not just for networking, but for lifting each other up and providing a foundation of support.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
For over a decade, I have been working and experimenting with paper, using paper making techniques and incorporating these into sculptures, 2-dimensional pieces, installations and other works. Much of my art, whether abstract or representational, references nature and is influenced by physical and emotional landscapes from experiences and memories around my hometown in the Western North Carolina (WNC) area. I love trying out various material techniques and processes to see how I can manipulate and alter forms through paper. Paper is incredibly malleable, versatile and plentiful. It’s been especially rewarding to process my own handmade paper – from existing recycled paper or even plant materials. Not every paper experiment is successful, and many hours can be spent on a work that no one will see and that eventually winds up being recycled into something else, but that’s all part of the growth of the work. Most recently, I have been working on a series of bird mixed media paper collages; the birds are native to WNC (the series is a love letter to my home state) but some can be seen around the country. I plan to do a SoCal series at some point as well. I studied painting through undergrad and graduate school and only came into working with other materials and sculptural forms when I started teaching college in 2001. Teaching opened me up to working with a broader range of materials, ideas and processes, and expanded my practice exponentially. I have always found that anytime I teach, no matter what the student age level (and I have worked with elementary, high school, college and continuing education levels within various capacities), my art grows by leaps and bounds. The exchange of ideas, discussions, the levels of varied lived experiences and insight people bring to working with art, no matter if people are beginners or seasoned art professionals, all of these are valuable in how they shape our approaches to our own work. After moving to Los Angeles in 2003, one of the biggest challenges was finding an art community to which I could belong. I didn’t go to grad school here in LA (I went to UW-Madison), so I didn’t have a built-in support network upon arrival. It’s been quite a rich learning experience – working with various art non-profits, galleries, artist groups and individuals over the past 17 years. I am particularly fond of artist run projects, so in 2015, I started Parlor, a unique domestic art project. This project originally started in my studio, but in 2018, I moved it to my apartment and then branched out to other artists’ living spaces. The format is bi-monthly, usually showing 3 artists, holding artist talks and then wrapping everything up within a 2-hour event. These made for some wonderfully fun and intimate shows. I have even produced a couple of Parlor artist zines, featuring artists I have shown (and will show) at Parlor. I am currently doing Parlor projects on-line now and plan to continue to do so until we can all safely be together in-person again
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Since my best friend already lives here and we tend not to be to strict about itineraires, we would probably head out to some of our favorite places throughout the week: maybe breakfast at Cafe Los Feliz, take a hike in Griffith Park, check out some art galleries and museums (Hammer, MOCA, The Broad, Hauser & Wirth, the Huntington, LA Louvre), play board games and eat pie at Game Haus Cafe, go to the museum of Jurassic Technology, hang out at the Elysian Valley Community Garden (where I have a couple of garden plots I tend), go to Descanso Gardens, walk around Elysian Park, go to Skylight Books and Vromann’s bookstore, pick up take out at Hugo’s Tacos, drinks at Big Foot lodge, dinner at Baracoa Cuban Cafe.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My family in Western North Carolina has always been supportive of my artistic endeavors as has been my wonderful husband, Matt Gill. My first real art mentor in NC, Jessica Claydon, deserves so much credit. When I was a teenager knowing nothing about nothing regarding art galleries, she guided me in putting together a professional portfolio and artist statement. She was a former New Yorker, running a small gallery and progressive space in my hometown. She was the first to show and sell my work while I was still in college. She was always supporting young artists in our town. Jess and I stayed regular pen pals (pre email!) and good friends up until her death in 2010. I started an annual small art scholarship in memorial of her at my high school so that she wouldn’t be forgotten. Kirsten Gray of Eric Schindler Gallery in Richmond was a terrific supporter of my work even after I left Richmond for grad school in Wisconsin. Kirsten really took care of the artists she showed. She even fed us and gave us art supplies from time to time! Leslee Nelson, my grad advisor, teacher and friend during my time at UW-Madison taught me that there were many different “art worlds” and that it was important to be part of a community of supportive people. Finally, there are many great people here in LA that have been supportive of my projects, been willing to collaborate or just spend some time with me hatching various art plans and shenanigans. At the top of that list is a very dear friend and artist Paul W. Evans. We have done so many art projects, critiques and exhibitions together, and he has always been honest and incredibly supportive. I look forward to many more art endeavors with him. Other fantastic artists and friends include: Susan Tompkins, Aaron and Ari Kimbrell, Alex Gano, Mariah Anne Johnson, Nicole Stirbis, Heather Arndt, Yevgeniya Mikhailik, Fiona Chang, Diane Williams and many others.
Sophia Allison, Abbie Gill