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'rak'rüm (noun);
the back room of an art gallery
where artists and art lovers hang
Milan, Hiroki and their Dust, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Milan, Hiroki and their Dust,
2007, oils, dust, glue, acrylic sealer/canvas, 60x72 in
Fountain, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Fountain,
2007, dust, glue, acrylic sealer/canvas, 30x40 in
Ry and his Dust, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Ry and his Dust,
2007, oils, dust, glue, acrylic sealer/canvas, 46x72 in
Karen and her Dust, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Karen and her Dust,
2007, oils, dust, glue, acrylic sealer/canvas, 72x100 in
Small Big Bang, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Small Big Bang,
2007, dust, glue, acrylic sealer/canvas, 30x40 in
The Being and Fading of Particles, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson,
The Being and Fading of Particles,
2007, oils, dust, glue, acrylic sealer/canvas, 84x120 in
Inside a drop, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Inside a drop,
2007, dust, glue, acrylic sealer/canvas, 11x14 in
Bridge, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Bridge,
2007, dust, glue, acrylic sealer/canvas, 24x30 in
Particle Accelerator Drawing, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Particle Accelerator Drawing,
2007, pastels on canvas, 18x24 in
Particle Accelerator Drawing, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Particle Accelerator Drawing,
2007, pastels on canvas, 16x20 in
(installation view), Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, (installation view)
Eric Descending the Staircase, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Eric Descending the Staircase

© Courtesy of the Artist and Happy Lion
Eric Descending the Staircase, 2009, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson,
Eric Descending the Staircase, 2009,
2009, Oil, dust, glue, acrylic medium, canvas, 68 by 90 inches
© Allison Cortson / Happy Lion
Alison in Salzburg, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Alison in Salzburg,
2009, Oil, dust, glue, acrylic sealer on canvas , 60 x 48"
© Courtesy of the Artist and Happy Lion
Madeline and Her Dust, Allison CortsonAllison Cortson, Madeline and Her Dust,
2008 , oils,dust,glue and acrylic sealer on canvas, 20" x 24"
© Photo by MIles
My interests in the investigation of the known world through physics and biology are reflected in my practice. Currently, in my own work I deal with the representation of the figure through my series of Dust Paintings. For these portraits, I photograph the subject in their home. Then over a period of months I collect the dust from their home via their vacuum bags. Dust arrives in our homes as a remn...[more]

Interview with Allison Cortson

ArtSlant writer, Alex Couri,  met up with Allison Cortson at the Happy Lion Gallery in Chinatown where her solo show, From Dust, is on view from September 8 - October 13, 2007. 


For more information on Allison, see her Artist Profile [here].


Courtesy of the artist

Alex Couri:  What are your influences?  How were you inspired to use dust? 


Allison Cortson:  My current work is mostly scientifically versus art historically inspired.  The decision to make paintings using dust came to me after taking a class at UCLA titled “Elementary Particles in the Universe.”  We were learning about how matter is mostly empty space and this concept is very strange and contradictory to everything we experience on a daily basis.  I was sitting on the couch watching dust particles float around in the light coming through the window and the idea came to me to use dust as a material to depict solid space as something light and ephemeral.  I later read about dust and discovered it is up to 70% dead skin.  I found it interesting that just the act of someone living and regenerating cells creates this substance that is everywhere.


AxC:  Can you discuss your fascination with the world of physics and its impact on your recent work?


AC:  When I was a child my parents told me the story of the big bang and about black holes.  Since then I’ve been fascinated by the science of the universe.  I think learning about matter and elementary particles is interesting to me since the concepts are so crazy and abstract and trying to marry that with daily life is what I am trying to do with my recent paintings.  The recent drawings come from images of hypothetical particle acceleration collisions.  Two particles are shot at each other in an accelerator at high velocity and all the lines coming out from the center of the drawing represent new particles that are created from the destruction of the original two.  I see it as a portrait of matter as bundles of energy.


AxC:  What is your relationship to the people and scenes in your paintings?


AC:  I mostly paint people I know.  I go to their home and casually take photos while they engage in everyday activities.  I usually have to take a lot of photos in a session.  Typically the photo I pick for the painting will be one of the last ones I take because by that point the subject has relaxed and starts forgetting about the fact that they are being photographed.


AxC:  What is your process?  How do you collect your material and how is it applied so evenly and skillfully to your canvas?


AC:  When I approach someone about doing a portrait, I ask them to start saving their vacuum bags for me.  Unless they already have a full bag, it can take two to three months of regular cleaning to get enough dust for a painting.  I use a spray glue and liquid glue to make the dust stick to the canvas.  I also use a brush to take away dust to try to give the background a ghostly depth.  I then seal the dust with a clear acrylic spray.


AxC:  Why do you choose to paint the people in oil paint instead of dust?


AC:  I want the figure’s presence to be vibrant and alive as the active participant in reality and for the background to appear light and ghost like as an illusive representation of physical space.

AxC:  Do you see a relation between your work and, say,  the sand paintings of Dubuffet or Man Ray’s dust photographs of Duchamp’s Large Glass? 

AC:  Duchamp’s “Dust Breeding” project in collaboration with Man Ray seemed to use dust as a  marking of time.  Dust was collected on a pane of glass for a year and then abstract images were formed out of the dust.  My work functions much in the same way given the time it takes to collect.  Also, it relates in that I too use unconventional materials to make images.

AxC:  Using the materials of dust and dirt you are able to create paintings that are both alluring and repelling, the first when seen from afar and the second when the collected materials are seen up close.  How do you explain this conflict in your work?


AC:  When I have observed people looking at my work for the first time, most don’t seem to know what they are made of until they start to investigate closer.  Then they will see a few hairs or dirt clumps in there.  I think an object that is appealing and repelling can create an interesting and delicate tension.

AxC:  In a few of the most recent paintings, you focus only on the abstracted landscape and omit the presence of a subject.  What motivated you to do this?  How do they relate to your figurative pieces?


AC:  I wanted to expand the medium in to the realm of abstraction and free up my process a little.  The dust comes from my home and the photos are found images.  The figurative paintings are far more determined,  while I fell the landscapes can have more open interpretations.   


AxC: In what direction do you see youyour work going?  What about 3D?


AC:  I have actually been working on some sculptures lately which relate to the ideas about matter as empty space that I have investigated with the dust paintings.  However they take on a completely different form.  I turned a chair into a line.  I took a chair and cut it up into 2 inch pieces.  I labeled each piece in order in a pattern that zig-zagged through the entire chair and then laid out the pieces in a straight line on the floor.  It ended up being over 30 feet long.  I essentially wanted it to appear like I had unraveled the object like one would unravel a sweater.


In general, I think I see myself continuing to be interested in the same ideas for some time.  I can however  see the artworks manifesting themselves in different forms, such as sculpture, drawings and maybe even some paintings without dust.

ArtSlant would like to thank Allison Cortson for her assistance in making this interview possible.


-- Alex Couri


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