Interview with Allison Kunath
Photography as noted
Artist Allison Kunath looks to her inner landscape to inform the marks she makes when painting.
What did the path to being an artist look like for you?
Like every kid, I was born an artist. I feel really lucky to have parents that always nurtured my creative interests. I took every art class I could in high school and got my bachelor of fine arts in graphic design. I worked at a boutique design firm in Los Angeles before transitioning to freelance design and illustration. As I started to focus more on painting, I was able to phase out of the design world.
Have you always lived in California? How does this place inform your work?
I was born in California, but it took me nearly twenty years to come home after spending most of my childhood in Minnesota. I never lost my connection to the coast, and I feel so grateful to have taken up surfing when I moved back to Los Angeles after college. I get so much energy and inspiration from my time in the ocean. There’s really no substitute for sunshine and salt water.
Was there pressure to find a specific style and stick to it?
I definitely felt pressure to find a clear voice and commit. But at some point, I decided to focus more on what I wanted to express than how I wanted to express it. Allowing myself the freedom to change how I share keeps me in the game, as does freedom in general. The tighter the confines, the more likely I am to want to check out.
How does your style continue to evolve? What is your process for beginning a new series?
My work is heavily driven by my meditations and writing. The themes that emerge in my personal life through these reflections often become new series. I’ll spend time writing about what it is that I want to explore and then sublimate those ideas into simple shapes in my sketchbook. Sometimes I have plans for a set of works, but often the writing and sketching blend together and create a vocabulary that I pull from when I sit down with a blank sheet or canvas.
The titles of your series are so thoughtful and intriguing. What inspires the names?
Inner Architecture is a series of watercolor paintings that compares the process of self-development to building and renovating a three-dimensional structure. Letters to My Unmet Self are totemic paintings made up of a few really simple glyph forms, exploring what it might look like to write love notes in a secret language to someone I haven’t met yet. It was partly inspired by the poetry that I’ve written all my life about (and to) people who may not even exist. And it is also partly about romancing the soulmate of the self. Since part of the rush of falling in love is seeing ourselves through the fresh eyes of someone new, this process of courting the other is just as much about courting ourselves.
In what type of environment are you most productive?
Close proximity to the water. Minimal distractions with just a little high-quality social stimulation. Lots of quiet and unscheduled time. High ceilings. Bright natural light.
What is your favorite art medium and paper?
Daniel Smith watercolors and Arches watercolor paper. Sometimes I get lucky and find special handmade papers—that’s even better.
You also do murals. What do you find most challenging about them?
The days are long and physical and can be exhausting. I get excited about their completion, so I find it really challenging to pace myself, take proper breaks, and end my days at a reasonable hour, especially when I still have more energy to use.
You have worked with some big-name clients, including Starbucks and Lululemon. How did you get your first gig? Was there a moment when you felt like you “made it”?
My first murals were donations, and I used them essentially as experiments. I feel grateful that people were willing to let me take a crack at the concept on their walls. When larger projects started to roll in more consistently, I definitely felt a type of pride and security I hadn’t experienced before (or expected, to be honest). But I think the concept of “making it” as an artist is kind of funny. The way I view this lifestyle is as one of constant revision—always a work in progress, always a new question to answer. It’s the nature of innovation. “Making it” gets tricky with a moving target.
Do you have advice for artists who struggle with impostor syndrome?
Try to remember that no one is immune from this trick of the mind. We’ve all felt it. Just keep going anyway.
Do you go through phases of being uninspired? How do you break through artists’ block?
I often do. Inspiration is like a tide that ebbs and flows. I do my best to appreciate that when the tide is low, there are important bits that are finally visible that I usually don’t see when the water is rushing. I take a lot of notes during these times and spend extra time doing other things that bring me joy, and the desire to create always comes back.
Do you have a bucket list for art?
To be honest, I don’t have those lists. My choice to pursue my art full time was coupled with detaching from the pressure of concrete goals and mile markers. At that time, I was living paycheck to paycheck, and simply being able to survive as an artist surpassed every goal I had ever set in the past. Of course, I’m not immune to comparison or generally longing for more, but that sense of early accomplishment set me up for a career orientation that is more focused on process than results. I evaluate my progress based largely on how I feel in my body and my practice every day.
What kind of people do you like to surround yourself with?
Most of my closest friends are funny, expressive, tenderhearted, generous weirdos who skew toward athletic and adventurous. I feel happiest when my days are slow and full of creating, surfing, meditating, and laughing and eating with friends.
In an alternate reality, what do you do?
My current life—making art while traveling and exploring where I most want to live—is feeling pretty good to me. But if the alternate reality can make me an heiress, I’ll take it.