If you follow us closely, most of you know that this summer we proudly launched our Ongoing Art Contest. This means instead of just awarding a winner once a year, we are crowning an independent artist winner and awarding $500 smack-a-roos and a chance to sign a vendor contract to join our UncommonGoods family every single month. The first winner from our Ongoing Art Contest was appointed to Caribbean resident, Allison Gray. We received amazing entries from through out the nation, yet it was Allison’s lovely “Babe” that caught our art judges’ attention. Allison’s eye for detail, use of mixed media, and sweet, creative design of her very own pup landed her into the winning spot. In her interview, Allison mentions that “it wasn’t until I began expanding my media usage that I started veering away from strict realism and started redefining my limitations.” We’re more than ecstatic that Allison experimented out of her comfort zone, because as a result “Babe” was created and now will be officially a part of our artist gallery!
Meet Allison Gray, a fellow animal lover and our latest Art Contest winner.
Tell us an uncommon fact about yourself.
I have very vivid dreams. They actually inspire a lot of my work. I may not necessarily dream about a scene and then wake up and paint it, but the images and emotions that are remnants of my dreams can serve as the stepping stones or foundation of my craft.
I don’t know if the vividness of my dreams is a factor in my sleep pattern, but about 75% of the time, I start sleeping by violently waking up. It’s called a myoclonic jerk and of course everyone’s familiar with it—that sudden waking burst of panic preceded by a falling sensation. What’s uncommon in this case is that it’s become routine. I drift off, spasm awake and think, “Oh good, that’s done. Now I can really get started on sleeping.” And, without fail, I have these brilliant dreams, saturated with emotion and light.
(I hope I haven’t confused uncommon with odd.)
What different techniques do you use when creating your art?
I hate to pigeonhole myself when it comes to craft media. For a long time, I only worked with oil paints and I only recreated realistic images. With the difficulty of transporting necessary oils and thinners to continue my oil painting in Grenada, I opted to instead try a different medium. So I began working with watercolors and from there, branched out further. I began using charcoal, India ink, pen and pencil, and masking techniques. I use bleach, salt and even coffee grounds for different textures and effects.
It wasn’t until I began expanding my media usage that I started veering away from strict realism and started redefining my limitations. One of the first paintings I did in Grenada was of a local boy. The painting was from a photograph I’d taken of him. I already had the picture, so I knew I wanted something more than the photo could offer me. So I filled my palette and painted him with every color that was missing from the photo. When I finished, I knew I’d moved somewhere in my capacity as an artist. And I’ve been moving in that same direction since.
In summary, I have and will continue to use whatever techniques I can to perpetually evolve my artwork and myself as an artist.
Describe your daily life in Grenada.
Without an actual career, that varies from day to day. I always try to allot myself a few hours a day to devote to a craft (painting, writing, knitting, photography, etc.). The rest of the time is spread out over responsibilities and recreation.
Of course I’ve got domestic responsibilities. With a medical student for a husband, all household chores sort of fall on me. I’m not totally won over by the cleaning part of the duties, but I love to cook almost as much as I love to eat. It’s hard to complain about having absolute control over the menu.
I run in the mornings. Sometimes I go to the beach during the day and play Frisbee in the sea. I might walk a couple miles to our favorite fruit stand and get our produce for the week from “Fireman,” our fruit vendor. On Saturdays, we go on hashes. (A hash is an all-terrain [mostly off-road] hike, followed by food and drinks and music, that draws hundreds of participants per week and takes place anywhere on the 132-square-mile island.) Occasionally I’ll take a local bus into town and pick up fresh fish from the fish market. I am an executive board member for St. George’s University Photography Club and perform duties as liaison for the organization. On special occasions, we tour the island, go snorkeling, visit the forts or the cocoa plantation. I spend a lot of time experimenting with my photography and looking for ways to intertwine it with my painting and other crafts.
Of course, sometimes, I just lounge around with my husband and watch movies with a little popcorn and wine.
It’s probably every artist’s dream to travel and live abroad, but does living in the Caribbean have its downfalls?
Absolutely it does, but most people don’t want to hear about it. I live in the Caribbean; what business do I have complaining? Even so, this life comes with its own set of difficulties and to reinforce that argument, I actually posted an essay on my blog about the pros and cons of being a married couple in the Caribbean, living on student loans, and following the twisted path to our goals.
In short, yes, life in the Caribbean has its downfalls, but the benefits—measured in memories and experiences—far outweigh the comparatively insignificant drawbacks. (I’m writing this from the sandy shore of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world: La Sagesse.)
Where exactly do you go to catch inspiration?
I love running. I run almost every day. I’m not remarkably good at it. The only records I have or ever will break are my own. But that’s not particularly discouraging to me because it’s the act itself that I enjoy and the reward that I get. Specifically, I like going for longer runs (one hour plus). And while I’m running, I have no obligations to pay attention to anything other than my own wandering mind (except perhaps not tripping). That’s a golden time for me to come up with all sorts of ideas for my art. And the only distractions I have are my mind’s own erratic imaginings.
I could probably have a similar experience if I just sat quietly in my apartment, but then I’m usually surrounded by reminders of all my obligations and responsibilities. When I’m running, I’m both metaphorically and literally getting away from “it all” and with that sense of freedom comes a euphoric rush of creativity.
What’s your all-time favorite quote that keeps you going?
Not including about everything Dr. Seuss ever said (how many genius simple truths did he make catchy with a little rhyme?), I’m quite fond of William Faulkner’s “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” Besides its apropos metaphor, Faulkner’s wisdom rings true in light of our ever-changing future. Without the courage to leave everything behind, we never would have found ourselves living a surreal life in the Caribbean.
When exactly did you discover your talent?
I can’t help but feel at least marginally narcissistic going on and on about my talent and my history leading up to the showcasing of my creations! For a very long time, people have been commending me for my talent and while I can and have admitted (does that imply guilt?) that I have an artistic ability that not everyone has, it’s still humbling to come right out and say, “Well, hello, my name is Allison and I am a talented artist.” No matter if I say that out loud or in my head, I always wind up finishing it in a snooty accent.
A popular quote by Pablo Picasso is “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Children have this perishable fearlessness to create anything and then share it with everyone. But at some point the fear of judgment and criticism makes an unwelcome and permanent guest of itself and we hide our creativity.
Maybe it was my peculiar creative courage that gave me the boldness to keep on drawing and painting and creating despite the crushing potential of failure. Or maybe it was because I just didn’t like math class. The truth is, I find solace in artistic expression and am bemusedly stunned every time someone comments on my apparent talent. And when someone does, I think the most appropriate response is to give credit where credit is due. (I never would have submitted my art to this contest if it weren’t for my friend, Cat. I never would have thought to create a paper collage of my beloved dog if it weren’t for my friend, Patty. I wouldn’t have had the heart to create this piece if Babe hadn’t had a foster home while we’re abroad, Lisa.
My direct response to this question—when exactly did you discover your talent: every time someone reminds me.
Do you have any major projects you are working on now?
I’m afraid I’m going to seem a little boring here, but no, I really don’t. We live as minimalists for the most part and are living in a studio apartment. Working within my means involves smaller projects that are inexpensive and can be tucked away at a moment’s notice. I dream of someday when I can really plan larger-than-life projects.
Are there any particular artists you look up to? What is it about their work that you like?
At the risk of sounding trite, I’m going to go ahead and say Bob Ross. I know my work doesn’t exactly radiate the spirit of the amazingly gifted painter, but he did inspire me to pursue painting and to do so with an almost absurd amount of cheerfulness. He’s part of the reason I began painting with oils and stuck with it for so long. It would be a blatant lie to suggest Bob Ross is the only artist who has inspired me and influenced my work. Modern art, with its shifting genres and techniques, influences the decisions I make when searching for a new approach to a usual subject. I don’t have a secret list of artists whose techniques I use as a paradigm when creating my own pieces, but draw from methods I’ve seen and admire.
What’s one thing you use/see every day that you couldn’t live without?
Well, if I’m being materialistic, it’d probably be a draw between the air conditioning or my morning coffee. Probably the coffee, though. If I’m being crass, it would be sarcasm. If I’m being poetic, it would be love. If I’m being optimistic, it would be humor. But if I’m being honest, it would be Supporter Extraordinaire and Husband, Ivan. (Cue collective aw.) There’s plenty I can go without, but I haven’t been without him for seventeen years and I don’t intend to start anytime soon.
What’s one piece of advice you could give to aspiring design challenge contestants, particularly our Art Contest?
Have the confidence in yourself that all of your supporting friends have. Chances are, they’re right.