December 12, 2019
Designer Details

Artist Feature: Alyson Khan Q&A

Driven by textiles and design, Denver-based artist Alyson Khan blends geometric shapes with bold color arrangements to achieve a cosmic yet contained feel, all while honoring negative space. She starts each piece with "wordless" writing of sorts, then works to resolve that chaos through schematic-like linework. In a recent interview, Khan spoke to us about her artistic roots, sources of inspiration, favorite pieces, and more.

Alyson Khan
Alyson Khan painting

Four Hands: What sparked your initial interest in art? Was it an adolescent interest of yours, or something you grew drawn to in adulthood?

Alyson Khan: As a child I always had the desire to make something, so I asked my mom to teach me to sew. In my teens and twenties, I sewed record bags made out of upholstery remnants for local record shops in Denver. All my friends were artists, makers and musicians, so I was surrounded and inspired by creative people all the time.

After I finished college with a degree in writing, I started making art. My earliest pieces were made on glass, wood scraps and other found surfaces. Working with these humble materials gave me the freedom to experiment and develop my own approach to artmaking. I felt no pressure and had no expectations, it was just purely for the satisfaction of it. I did my first exhibition on a whim and all my pieces were snatched up. I was so electrified that people were into what I was making, and this was what propelled me forward.

Alyson Khan Studio

FH: What are your primary sources of inspiration, when it comes to your visual work?

AK: Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern aesthetics, tribal mark making, esoteric symbology, graphic textiles, interior design, old mechanical devices, carnivalesque costumes, ceremonial garments...

FH: How would you describe your aesthetic in your own words?

AK: Anchored ethereal explorations that are feminine, rough-hewn, riotous yet measured, geometric, hard-edged, architectural, and oddly symmetrical.

Alyson Khan work in progress

FH: You sometimes start a piece with asemic writing, which is fascinating but isn’t something many people are familiar with— could you speak to that a little bit? How you discovered it, how it jumpstarts and/or shapes your work?

AK: Asemic writing is basically pretend writing. The marks themselves have no specific meaning. When I was a kid, I would sit and “write” lines of “cursive” on paper. I didn’t know how to write yet, but I loved the flow of pen on paper, and I guess it lit up some part of my mind to make these meditative marks on the page.

In my studio practice, before I even start painting, I get centered and ask myself what I want to know on the deepest level. I distill this answer into a few words and use this as the prompt for making the first marks on the canvas. For example, when my husband had open heart surgery, I started the canvas I was working on at the time with the question, “How long can you stay?”

Using a brush and paint, I “write” the statement or questions with letters -- but they are backwards, cursive, big to small, upper case, lower case, all over the place, overlapping… This method not only gives me a starting point and begins the dialog for the painting process, it also makes a rich chaotic first layer that contains a theme to explore. It’s the roots, the subconscious of the piece, as well as a bridge for psyche to crossover into the seen.


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