Thinkspace is excited to present Allison Bamcat for ‘Fish Fingers,’ where a menagerie of animals and creatures serve as avatars for the artist herself, assembling a series of surreal snapshots of her own personal journey, one of beautiful growth and also the simmer of trauma. With her candy-coated landscapes, there is an underlying sense of unease, whether through the piercing gaze of a voyeur parrot or in the melting and sinking of her figures. The loss of innocence and a sense of calm-among-the-chaos are feelings works to depict through the use of stark, flat fields of color against her obsessively-detailed brushwork. The velvet finish of gouache matched with her love of wood and paper leave subtle textures for her images to pop off of. She works to hypnotize her audience through her dizzying use of color and detail in her current body of acryla gouache paintings.
Our interview with Bamcat shares what a typical day is like for her at the studio, what show/music she watches/listens to while painting, her most/least favorite part of her creative process, and where she gets her inspirations from.
What themes were you exploring in this body of work? Did you have a piece that was particularly challenging?
For ‘FISH FINGERS,’ I wanted to continue my exploration of objects as creatures, creatures as ghosts, and other hybridized forms. I have a fascination with biology, especially the failed branches of evolution: the creatures that are extinct (not by human hands but by time). I learned a lot about how many generations it takes an animal to create specialized characteristics in the wild, such as camouflage, developing poison glands, or adaptive features like long tongues for slurping up termites.
Probably once per day, I get hit with the realization that even contemplating existence, or my existence, or the existence of these themes at all is something very unique to my experience as a human living in 2023. Existing at all, long enough to contemplate, is amazing and kind of unlikely given the age of the earth and humans and living things.
The most challenging piece among the group of nine was probably the main piece, ‘Delicious.’ My work is very colorful typically, but I wanted to invite some rich, velvety black stripes and claws to make this painting stand out. Working with acryla gouache, a matte paint, black tends to look very chalky and scratches easily, so I developed an even darker color using several highly-pigmented colors to create what I lovingly refer to as “mud.” Adding a satin varnish to this piece is also something I’ve been slowly experimenting with, as a matte finish does no justice to the richness of the darks versus lights in the piece. It was a fantastic challenge and I’m very proud of how spooky and creepy my character came out (especially his little ring with the fish crawling out of the ocean on it).
What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days?
My days in my home studio are varied: some days the house is a wreck or I need to focus on my diet, so art takes a backseat. Having my brain wrapped around chores and errands puts my creativity into hiding, so I tend to wait for full days of drawing to open up, or full days of painting without distraction.
My working days consist of waking up between 7-10am, grabbing coffee from the kitchen, and I wait until lunch in the afternoon or evening to take a real break. I throw on some music or a horror movie I’ve seen before and clean off my work desk, a big beautiful metal drafting table I got off of craigslist a decade ago. I get up a few times to change out water, but I’m good at staying on task for hours at a time. In the evening, if I want to work late, I’ll crack a beer and keep working until I’m satisfied with my efforts for the day, which could be anywhere from 10pm-2am. But late nights mean late starts, so unless I’m REALLY in the groove, I grab some leftovers and stare at my phone for a bit before bed.
Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?
Spending a lot of time spacing out is essential for my creativity. I find it difficult to be “creative on-demand,” so oftentimes I get small ideas and write them down, such as a texture or an animal I’d like to paint. I have physical lists and inspiration boards with post-its as well as notes in my phone.
Going on walks and looking at the plants and flowers in my neighborhood is always good for clearing the air in my noisy brain so I can get the ideas flowing.
What is your most favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?
My favorite part of the creative process is watching the last 10% of a painting come together. Bells go off in my head when I feel like I’ve completed something better than what I’ve made in the past. The feeling of leveling up and improving is addicting.
My least favorite part of the creative process is documenting it. While I’m working, I make so many alterations and go over lines many times to get them as crispy clean as possible. I rarely feel like I get the “money shot” of pulling a good line, and honestly I’m not very video-minded when it comes to assembling a video. If I could erase this expectation of social media for artists to also entertain, I’d live with a lot less anxiety, haha.
Who are some of your creative influences? Why do they inspire you?
I’m inspired by so many artists it’s dizzying. Working at an art store in college, I remember flipping through Juxtapoz and Hi Fructose while things were slow, becoming obsessed with pop surrealism and avant garde forms of art. My mind was especially blown by mural art. When I later got opportunities to see Tristan Eaton, Audrey Kawasaki, Ron English and Marka 27 painting walls, something in me changed at the sight of artists taking on such gigantic (literally) undertakings.
I’m really grateful to have so many friends in Los Angeles who are artists who are working through the same issues and struggles in their careers as I am, so I really look up to my local crew including The Obanoth, Mister Toledo, Andrea Guzzetta, Sean Keeton, and so many more.
Artists I admire for their strong career, their mastery of their medium, and their trailblazing in contemporary art include my heroes Jeff Soto, Scott Listfield, Kayla Mahaffey, Joseph Gordon, Yoko d’Holbachie, Charlie Immer, Christian Rex Van Minnen, and Baghead. Watching someone foster what they are amazing at is a beacon of light as an emerging artist. Seeing the quality of work these artists produce is electrifying in person and so exciting to see online. They keep me hungry for the next ten and twenty years of my career.
Artists whose work really speaks to me personally are artists like Yoko Kuno (a Japanese painter of sad stuffed animals), Paolo Puck (needle-felting genius), Kaley Flowers (experimental ceramics artist out of Toronto, and Graham Yarrington (Brooklyn painter).
If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be able to do / be an expert at?
One thing I’d love to be an expert in is figure drawing. Figures and humans haven’t been a focal point of my work for years because I’ve been fostering my menagerie of creatures, but I’d love to work more figures into my work eventually. It seems as if many of my favorite artists have their signature style of drawing and painting people, but I know it took them a while to get there. Maybe I’m ready to try anyways?
What do you hope viewers take away or experience while viewing your work?
It’s my hope that when folks see my art in person, they see something new. While pop surrealism isn’t a new type of art, I love how varied and strange it can be. Have you ever seen a cauldron walking on all fours? Or a monster made of ice cream scoops hanging out in Joshua Tree? Now you have!
But ultimately, I hope that the audience who views my work sees that a human made it, a soft and sad but vibrant and crazy person. I hope they can find ways to relate to the creatures and scenes I’ve birthed in a way that they can interpret through their own experiences. The overall mood or vibe of my individual paintings is the most important thing I try to communicate, but I love hearing others’ interpretations more than my own backstory, typically. It’s beautiful to see someone get excited about something you made and relate to it in their own way.
How do you like to enjoy your time outside of the studio? Do you celebrate the completion of a body of work?
Time outside my studio or my house is rare, as I feel like I’m always trying to keep up with my commitments and what the rest of the world is doing on social media. I don’t really celebrate my work unless there’s a gallery opening, as I’m hungry to keep improving and looking back and digesting is difficult for me. It’s probably not healthy, but if no one’s throwing the party for me, it probably won’t happen. Haha.
If you could collaborate with any artists in any sort of medium (i.e. movies, music, painting) who would you collaborate with, and what would you be making?
Honestly, I’d love a chance to design some props or background elements for animation and video games. Conceptual art is so amazing to me, and I’d love to dip my toes in someday, but I’m not sure if that’s something you can just do casually or on a freelance basis.
When I worked in footwear design, it was always exciting to see my designs come to fruition, so being able to work on fashion or product design more often would be great! There are a lot of indie brands I’d love to work with, but it’s thrilling to see your art in a big-box store too.
It would be amazing to see my work in 3D too, as a vinyl toy or a statue or even as a parade float! Or jewelry!
Who would be on the guest list if you could throw a dinner party for five people, dead or alive? What would be on the menu? What would be the icebreaker question?
If I could pick five guests for my dinner party, it would be comedian Chris Fleming, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, another comedian Duncan Trussell, my best friend since middle school Stephanie D’Angelo-Early, and the late and great biologist Steve Irwin. We would laugh and drink wine and Steve would pass around cool animals for us to admire and hold maybe.
What was in your musical rotation during the development of this body of work?
My musical taste is a bit all over the place, but some of the musicians I listened to the most while creating these pieces are Supertramp (specifically Breakfast in America), The Mars Volta, Alice in Chains, A Perfect Circle (of which I got the title “Delicious” for one of my pieces from), Ghost, Queens of the Stone Age, and Nine Inch Nails. If I didn’t have music on, I put on marathons of horror movies, old and new, to pass the time and keep me awake. I made a point to rewatch “Silence of the Lambs” (a classic banger) and finally watch Ari Aster’s “Beau Is Afraid”, which was a beautiful but anxiety-inducing three hours.
But, typically, I have reruns of the show Hoarders running at all hours when I’m working. I’ve seen every episode about five times.