Art - Alyssa Monks - photorealism gone painterly

a few years back, I did an art feature on then-photorealist painter Alyssa Monks. Above are a couple of examples of the kind of painting from her pre-2011 period. And it was an idle thought. I just wondered, "What has Alyssa Monks been up to recently?"

Born 1977 in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Alyssa Monks began oil painting as a child. She studied at The New School in New York and Montclair State University and earned her B.A. from Boston College in 1999. During this time she studied painting at Lorenzo de’Medici in Florence. [source Alyssa Monks]

I visited her site for a quick visual update and it's evident that, since those lovely large-scale works of her 2006-2011 period, her technique has slackened, the paint thickened, the palette enlivened. This image in particular from 2011 reminds one of an enhanced frame from Richard Linklater's cartoony adaptation of Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly, and there's nothing wrong with that.
The more recent works, however, smaller scale, painterly application of the paint, take the techniques into even more abstracted forms of the brush's expressionist residue. And I'm not sure I like them as much. So, I asked her, "What's happened to one of my favourite photo-realists?" 
I never did think my work was photo-realist, but I understand it has been compartmentalized that way because of the limits of viewing work online. The large paintings from 2011, as most all my work since somewhere around 2009 are very "painterly" and employ thick paint strokes and only implied detail.

I think of photorealists such as Richard Estees as using the photograph as the subject of their work, rather than the reference for their work. They slave to rid the canvas of all brushstroke and chase after so much detail that the painting becomes illustrative and, at best, a mimetic copy of the photograph itself. 

That being said, my strokes have gotten thicker and looser over the years as I relax and savor the qualities of paint I always loved as a student, but got very self-conscious of during graduate school.
Alyssa Monks shares, in the latter part of her mail, this touching reference to a major influence on her more recent paintings.

Possibly the greatest change in my life and work has been the loss of my mother. I learned a great deal from her in losing her over the course of a year together. All the things she taught me through example profoundly resonated in watching her gracefully accept her own death. She taught me to be present, to accept what is, to let go of control and all the “shoulds” I’d carried.

I could see how little we really know or control or even possess that we think we do. There was just space. I felt held by the earth and by the love around me. There was no struggle or tension or push. It was a new way of life for me. These lessons affected my work profoundly over the last few years. I began to loosen the grip on an idea of “success” in a conventional way and experiment more like I had as a student.

I searched for more honesty, trying to distill down all the excess to the essence and simplicity of something real and true. I challenged my technique outside my comfort zone and into the unknown curiosity that used to excite me so much in school. But lately I’m more interested in taking away the filters and digging deeper into my subjects with clarity to find that empathic response that makes love out of paint.

As Alyssa says at the end of her charitably-long email, she is painting landscapes and portraits now. Simple subject, no tricks or gimmicks, and just trying to stretch the possibilities of her material further.
Art is about change and artists change. We all have to accept that, myself included.


Ben Newman said…
Those are beautiful paintings, cheers for posting Mike! I prefer her newer looser stuff personally, but then I've never been a big fan of photorealism.

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