My paintings include hints of two-dimensional icons, stained glass windows, ceremonial objects, carnivalesque paraphernalia, dressmaker pattern pieces, and carefully designed altars. I see the work as functional and as such it may resemble a strange alchemical device, a crude vessel, a protective figure, a fortune teller, a shamanic robe, an asymmetrical mandala…all of which shepherd the process of transformation.  

I am inspired by the decadence of Art Deco; the hope and efficiency of Mid-Century aesthetics; the joining of texture, light and comfort in interior design; the riotous maximalism in haute couture; the rawness of tribal mark making; and the implied doorway to the unseen in esoteric symbology. All of these influences are cradled in deep investigations into color, particularly its role as a visual phenomenon and catalyst for sparking feeling and narrative.

Original Art by Alyson Khan

My early forays into making began in 1996 and included sewing, collage, assemblage, and mixed media—essentially simplified joinings of hard edges of color, shape and texture. Working with humble, found materials, I sewed record bags for local DJs out of upholstery remnants; made collages out of huge pieces of painted vinyl wallpaper; and glued together wood wall sculptures out of off-cuts scavenged from construction sites. My first painting show in 1999 was actually pieces made on large shards of glass from a shattered pastry case and vintage windows—the glass being my first teacher as it allowed for extensive experimentation. My self-taught methodology also reflects my math-mindedness and writing background, as I use an underlying grid structure to anchor the ethereality, and often work with many layers that are edited, re-edited and fine-tuned.

Through an intense spiritual retreat in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains of Colorado in 2005, I learned a way to hold space for healing that ultimately sparked the turning point in my work a decade later. In 2015, when foundational elements of my life were crumbling, the studio became that sacred space and painting became a scaffold for making sense, a ground for practicing acceptance, and a way for transmuting difficult emotions. Now I understand that I work to meld the conceptual, visual, and spiritual influences described above ignited by emotional themes. Union, bridging seemingly impossible parts of our lives, mending our brokenness, and the ways we visit the abyss and emerge from it with treasures are some of the universal motifs I approach.

Original Art by Alyson Khan

How has your relationship with art changed over time?

Over time I have learned to trust more and bring more of my life and self into the work. My earliest pieces from over 20 years ago were very small, simple, and minimal arrangements of shapes. Now I work large scale, go much deeper into the work mentally and emotionally while discovering narrative, as well as use layering, subtraction, masking, and transparency. I also spend a lot more time (at least several weeks) on each piece. Time in the studio has become a serious practice—in a good soul-sustaining way—vs. a fun hobby.  
Where do you find inspiration? What drives your work?

I’m inspired by costumes and haute couture, the ideas of how dress connects to the imagination, spirituality, ancestry, and ceremony. I’m also drawn to themes of navigation and wayfinding, as well as fashioning vessels, shelter and altars from broken things. I love quilts and how hard edges make an obvious dialog—the spark of next-to-next—the conversation of the colors and the shapes that make up the overall architecture of a visual story. I love the genius of mid-century design--its elegant response to the needs of the time--and on the opposite end of the spectrum: maximalism and Art Deco—elaborate acts of decoration and expression. I also find a thread in writings by authors such as Annie Dillard, Rainer Maria Rilke, Joseph Campbell, Herman Hesse, Anthony de Mello, and other spiritual seekers.
What is your favorite part of your process?

Hard to pick one. Probably my very favorite part is mixing colors and making translucent layers and experiencing the odd colors that result.  

What is one thing about your art and/or practice that our audience may not know?

One of the most important stages of my work personally is the final writings and deciding on a title. This part of the process is when I am able to fully understand what the work is about and come to know the transformation/revelation that arrives from staying with the uncertainty and all the challenges one might face during the making of a painting.

What does your dream piece/project look like?

To keep painting, especially larger scale and uncover more of the story. I would also love to work with a costume designer to realize some of my pieces in 3-D—to construct the head pieces and costumes through textiles.