In her paintings, Alison Barrows-Young captures the spirit and essence of nature, re-imagining the Idaho woods of her home though the filter of what she calls “visual sensuality.” A teacher of painting for many years, she has increasingly turned toward dedicating most of her time to her own work. Using oils on canvas, the artist gives her landscapes an aura that is at once dreamlike and strongly physical. The lush colors and bold brushstrokes in her images bring each scene to life while also illustrating the artist’s personal, interior vision. We have the pleasure to interview this true creative visionary to find out more about her unique influences, focus and journey.
Visual Art allows me to make sense of my reactions to events. My work speaks directly to the role of emotions upon what is perceived as reality. I think that is what we do as human beings, look at what is outwardly apparent and expose it to subjectivity. I prefer to use an expressionist approach as I find it relays my feelings and musings most clearly to myself and to others. My subject matter is often nature as I find within it a consuming fascination and awe. However, I also paint figuratively and perhaps pointedly toward human existence. As a species we have our own nature, which has a beauty of it’s own but it is clearly in conflict with the earth. The subject of this conflict is incredibly relevant to these times. I guess, like everyone else, I’m searching for an answer. In all of my work I find the use of light to be a central concern as it animates and brings drama to my compositions, which I perceive as captured scenes or time frames. I often use extremes of saturated color as I wish to connect to the viewer with an immediate, sensual lure to absorb them into my conversation about our earthly existence before they move on to something else.
Very closely, because for me a work of art begins with an unpasteurized reaction to something I witnessed - an incident, a setting or an event I experienced, a personal interaction or an unusual or unexpected encounter. The actual process of making my art is a personal journey where I come to terms with strong reactions to the world that surrounds me and commands my attention. The finished piece reflects my resolution and closing response. I also sketch incessantly; so copious notes often predetermine the groundwork of my expression, even though the process takes on a life of it’s own.
I must say that beyond all the profundity, the actual act of creating art plays a significant role in my practice. I have a passion for art itself so I don’t need to be chased into my studio by a particular psychological quandary or ensnared by a muse, I am happy to begin without any particular inspiration by playing with color, tangling with design strategies or challenging myself with exigent art principles or unusual elements the other intentions can easily spring forth from that.
I do have some all time favorites; The Lascaux Cave Painters; all ancient indigenous art knockouts me out. Käthe Kollwitz, Emily Carr, Diane Arbus, Dorthea Lange, David Hockney, Leonard Baskin, Frida Kahlo, Fritz Scholder, Annie Leibowitz, David Blackwood, and Yoshitako Amano. I grew up in Canada so I spent countless hours absorbing the works of the Group of Seven; their influence seems almost to enter the world of nurture and environment. I love the Post Impressionist and Fauvists. I am very drawn to and haunted by early Soviet Film Posters and imagery from early cinema. In particular, Ingmar Bergman’s, Seventh Seal, Antonin Artaud’s, Joan of Arc, François Truffaut’s, 400 Blows, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-UP, Bo Widerberg’s Elvira Madigan. I am a huge fan of installation art from the works of Joseph Beuys to those of Yayoi Kusama.
There are a few works that I consider to be meridians and of special value to my artistic history. My current body of work springs from a painting I titled “Hoping For Rain.” Prior to it, during my first couple of years in the northwest, I excitedly took to expressing its idyllic disposition. I was nearly giddy with it all; the slanted light, the confusion of scale and expanse and the distinct seasons. However, the summer of 2014 brought an onslaught of horrific Wild Fires. The surrounding nature was obscured, darkened and the sky was filled with smoldering ash. The question as to how I might faithfully render the effect was sharp in my consciousness. For me, ignoring the moment was not the answer. Representing nature as over taken or defeated was likewise out of the question.
As the summer burned on the severities of the fires were merciless, firefighters could not bring the blazes to yield, and in the attempt, were losing their lives. It was the first time I heard the phrase “super storm” and the discussion of how Global Warming was no longer just a threat but has begun to over take us. The community reveres nature and depends on its summer season economically. We all felt as though we were perched on a knife’s edge. I saw a satellite image of the smoke trailing over Iceland. That infuriated me. The sight of our national carelessness sweeping over another distant land was too much.
At the end of August, with a heart and mind full of paradox, mourning the loss of the beautiful summer lake and the crystal clear and always immense sky that embraces its’ deep fertile waters which now reflected only shallow grays, I closed my studio door and went to work on a sizeable canvas I had prepared. I brought out my largest brushes, and armed with a variety of holstered palette knives I merged the usually distinct colors of summer with each other to create unlikely hues and blurs of value which I slammed, poured, threw and jabbed at the panels’ surface. I kept at it until I saw what I felt and could later emphasize with more careful work. It was a breakthrough.
With my art I wish to communicate the excruciating beauty of nature as it stands against the tortured environment we have created and the archetypical qualities of the human condition, which I feel fuels our disregard for it and ourselves. I would like to think my work might lead to a real and immediate conversation about our environments’ and societies demise at our own hands. It’s remarkable to me how comparatively few people in our culture get it. People see what they want to see and in doing so often choose allegorical blindness. That is a significant character of who we are, and of course, part of the problem.
Extraordinary weather phenomena, such as tornadoes are clearly terrifying, especially out on the Great Plains where you can see them moving as colossal towers between earth and sky, unpredictable in their wild path, extemporaneously destroying what had seemed so certain and solid.
Just before their onset the world becomes filled with an oddly saturated light that is unmistakable to anyone who has lived through seasons in this region, and an eerie and almost reverent stillness among the birds an insects electrifies the air. At times like this one knows with certainty how small and insignificant we are in the face of the earth's majesty. I find within the terrible reality of the ever more forceful "super storm" that manifests from our unnatural disrespect for the very environment that we need to sustain us, a certain breath taking beauty in our mother's rage.
In this painting, as in many of my works, I wish to express the absolute awe I feel when facing nature, always incredibly beautiful even in its astounding fierceness.
I have spent a great deal of time hiking above Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho. No matter what time of year the panoramic quality of the area is breath taking. In the autumn, as the light begins to shift to a northern angle earlier in the day there is a sense of scope and span to the land as rolling patches of farm and delta are lit and stretches of mountain and trees both at your feet and deep into the distance take on cooler hues. As the storm clouds build high into the sky and begin to roll in over the terrain a visual drama of dimension and space ensues that makes it is impossible to imagine how any aspect of the scene will succumb to another.
When I began on this painting it was cold and wet outside and the seasonal creeks were high. I wanted to get the feel for the darkness created by the storm clouds, the bellow of the thunder and the lightning the way it seems to pass quickly from cloud to cloud lighting the air behind the thunderheads rather than illuminating the foreground. It was a deep heavy rain and the way I like to apply turpentine to the oil paint to express the streaming water didn’t seem to capture the gravity I was looking for. I went searching around the tool shed looking for some thicker medium and I found a can of liquid black rubber. It was just the element I needed to express the mood of the day.
As I grew up in Ontario Canada and I am often visiting there to see my family I like to take the remarkable drive up through Banff to Calgary to catch my flight. Everything no matter what the weather or season seems sculptured by some liquid upheaval that suddenly froze just as it passed its apex. At that high altitude winds often whip the clouds above the towering mountains into frozen curves. Somehow I wanted to capture the entire scene from fertile valley to icy sky. I chose a fairly narrow canvas and turned it vertically in order to create the towering layers that fascinate me about that area. When I was finished I could see how I had captured the enormity of the area and yet I was uncertain the painting could express that feeling to the viewer. I decided to include a barn adrift in lower fields set off the scale.
My home sits at the edge of an escarpment 200 ft. above the Selle Valley. Ten miles across the view Schweitzer Mountain cuts against the sky, revealing the giant granite bowl that harbors a multifaceted ski area. I have noticed that these naturally occurring bowls are often used for ski areas and have wondered how a glacier must have slid then held for a time to compress the area before dropping over the edge and carving out the valley below. In the winter when the world between here and there is covered in snow, the morning air between almost crackles with frost, refracting the sun upon the carved geographic aspects of the land into a crystalline vision of frozen beauty.
I wish to cross unknown borders, reach out to and collaborate with other artists and art enthusiasts. I plan to continue to reflect these convictions in my art, to take on mixed an unfamiliar media and methods; whatever is needed to speak my truth. I strive to point out to my audience that what is experienced visually is powerful. It is transcendent in its ability to be all-inclusive and to communicate our circumstances. Just like science, music, philosophy, performance and literature, visual art is part of a long conversation about the human condition. This point of view drives me to create immediately compelling imagery. “Pretty windows” are not the definition of art. If it’s hanging on your wall and it doesn’t stop you to rethink things, to dream or to inspire new ideas, if it essentially has been created to match some curtains then it isn’t art. I’d like to somehow get away from preaching to the choir and entice individuals toward their susceptibility to the visual. Even if they don’t understand its historic value I hope to engage them in its current value. I guess the ultimate underlying message I am always driving at is that Art can serve you but it’s more meaningful if it creates you.