Alison Owen is a Greenpoint-based artist and art teacher whose work is committed to no set medium, but rather to the notion of “responsible consumption.” Her multimedia pieces are highly interactive with their environments, using the neglected materials of an art gallery space to demonstrate how what is no longer valued can be transformed into something beautiful. Alison scavenges for defunct installation tools, old hardware, scraps of forgotten artworks—and even collected dust—to create her innovative and conceptual exhibitions.
In recent years, Alison has masterfully picked up ceramics, which unlike her installations requires a more defined use of media and more prescriptive processes. In addition to her residency at the Wave Hill Estate in the Bronx, she will also be having a spring exhibition at Greenpoint Hill (100 Freeman St.) right in our neighborhood that kicks off on March 30. In the meantime, preview Alison’s diverse works on her website.
GP: How will your upcoming show at Greenpoint Hill be different than past shows you’ve had, and how will it be similar?
Alison: I tend to work site-specifically, responding to the architecture, the history, or the current use of the spaces where I show. I gather up materials from the site or from people connected to the site, and use those in the space. At this point, I have a large collection of materials that have been donated or scavenged from other artists over the years, and I have been using these materials to make collages and paintings and small sculptures that I’ll show at Greenpoint Hill. This will be less of a site-specific installation and more a show of individual works, which is kind of new for me.
GP: How long have you been in Greenpoint? What’s your favorite thing about living here, and how does the neighborhood inspire you?
Alison: I’ve been in Greenpoint since 2010. I teach art at the elementary school down the street, and have been working in a communal clay studio in Greenpoint. I love that so much of my life and livelihood are tied to this one small neighborhood. I go to the store and run into my students; it feels like a small town. I think I am inspired by the same things in Greenpoint that I am throughout the rest of New York—the layering of building materials, the signs of history and use, and the juxtaposition of colors, textures, and shapes that make up the random compositions of city life.
GP: You work in a variety of different mediums—is any one your favorite? Do you find you express certain emotions or ideas better through certain mediums?
Alison: I don’t really have a favorite medium. I never quite know what I’m going to get when I ask for donations from artists, and the element of surprise is way more fun to me than starting a project with a clearly defined list of materials that I need. I like being open to the challenge of other people’s materials, other people’s ideas. Lately I have been really happy working with a bunch of postcards and collage scraps an artist was getting rid of, and these pieces of turquoise and indigo linen someone gave me. I just started a residency at Wave Hill in the Bronx, and the previous residents left their studio scraps for me, so I’m sorting through those right now. It’s really fun.
GP: How long have you been doing ceramics?
Alison: I’ve been making ceramics for two years. I decided to learn because I wanted to make objects that had a practical use and that would last, since most of my artwork otherwise has been pretty ephemeral and site-specific. I like having the two art practices; they seem to complement each other nicely.
GP: What do you hope people will take away from viewing your Greenpoint Hill show?
Alison: I like it when an artwork feels inevitable, like it couldn’t really be any other way. So I hope people come away with that sense, that these materials and found objects are being used in ways that are harmonious, fitting, and natural. I also want my work to be a conversation, between myself and the person who shared the material with me. So I want the work to feel generous and open, like I’m picking up the thread of a conversation and moving it forward, instead of giving a monologue—if that makes sense.