Every week, The Mac Weekly sits down with an arts major. This week we caught up with studio art major Allison Stahr ’17.
How would you describe your style of art?
When I paint, I work a lot with the color palettes of Van Gogh, and I really love impressionism. I’m still figuring myself out, I guess. I’ve been working a lot in oil paints and in charcoal. They’re both very versatile, and I like mixing them. I probably draw mostly from the world around me instead of from my imagination. I’m not at that point yet where I’m confident enough to just start drawing things. Having some kind of reference photo is always a good thing in my mind.
I like to create tension. I like making the ordinary seem strange or disturbing, but not necessarily in an absurdist or surrealist way. I suppose my motive is really to explore what makes people uncomfortable, and what makes things feel wrong or weird. For example, I did a series on light and shadow, where I painted scenes that I remembered from my childhood. The scenes included light coming in through the window in the basement, light coming in from the crack in the door at my grandparent’s house and a light on a pole at my aunt and uncle’s farm that you could see through a window. My intention with that was to show how even a nightlight can be disturbing or strange or creepy to a child.
How has that style developed over time?
When I started out here at Macalester, my style was very hesitant. I had some bad teachers in high school, who had told me I was doing something wrong, but then they wouldn’t show me how to do it right. I’ve become more confident in what I’m working on, and I’ve become looser in how I do things. I’m less of a perfectionist now, and I think that helps a lot with art.
Were you interested in art as a child?
I was kind of obsessed with having good grades when I was younger, and art’s something that people don’t normally grade. It’s not terribly valuable in the academic world. Even though I always liked it, I just didn’t really have anybody showing me how to do art, and it wasn’t something I took classes in or anything like that. In high school, I chose to do art. We didn’t have a music program or anything like that, so I think at the time, art seemed like the only option. And when I started doing it, I got really into it. It’s a little funny. I’m really good at traditional academic stuff; I’ve always had straight A’s in math, history, science, literature, all of that. And art is the one thing where there’s no defined rules. For me, somehow, that’s a challenge. When there are rules and structure, I can do really well because I know what I’m supposed to do. But in art, there’s no one thing that you are “supposed” to do. There’s no guideline. I got bored with everything else, and I thought it would be a great challenge to start doing art. I really liked it.
Did you always know you wanted to pursue art at Macalester?
Not originally. I came here thinking that I would be a history major because I really enjoy history. History kind of intersects with art in that I’ve had to take art history courses, and I’ve really loved them. But initially, I didn’t intend to be an art major. In my first year, I took Drawing 1, and the professor just changed my whole view on everything about art. I decided to change my major.
What’s your creative process like?
It depends on what I’m doing, I suppose. Generally speaking, I tend to like to have a prompt of some kind. I think I work better when someone tells me “your topic is containment” or “your topic is birds” or something like that. Then I usually spend a long time looking things up. I save a lot of things to Pinterest boards. It provides inspiration, but also a lot of reference photos.
I have a completely different process right now. I’m taking 2D Design, and graphic design is really different. I like it because there’s usually a prompt, and when working as a graphic designer, you have a client who tells you what they want. Then it’s just figuring out how you want to lay things out.
Can you tell me about your capstone project?
I have an idea of what I’m going to do, but I’m still looking at the details. Several artists that I really like do a lot of work showing middle class interiors from the 1800s with all these female figures. The pieces express the entrapment middle class women felt at that time, when they couldn’t leave their houses on their own without a chaperone.
I want to do a modern take on that. I’ve lived in the same apartment for about two years, and I want to do interior shots of my apartment. I want to do three or four large-scale paintings of different areas, showing what it’s like to be a middle-class woman today, when I can live on my own and have this place that’s mine, whereas the houses in those paintings were owned by the women’s fathers or husbands. They felt like they were trapped, and I want to show how I’m comfortable in the place that I have.
What’s your greatest challenge with regards to your art?
It would have to be my perfectionist tendency. I have an obsession with having really good grades, and it’s hard to let go of that when you’re drawing or painting. Part of me wants to have these really crisp lines or for things to look really really realistic and natural. But when you’re thinking about it, when you’re trying to force yourself to be realistic, it doesn’t end up being that way. You just get weird angles and people don’t look human. It’s hard to just let go and not try to make every little detail exactly as it is in real life.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about majoring in art?
Talk to a lot of people. Really consider what your motive is when it comes to art. Do you want to make art that is politically relevant? Do you want to make art that is relevant only to you? Do you want to make art that makes people upset, angry or happy? Think about whether you want art to be a hobby or your livelihood.