Artist captures ‘chaos’ of communication

My wife and I strolled from gallery to gallery, visiting some and peering through the sealed, glass doors of others.  Near the end of our visit to the local art hub, we came upon a closed gallery.  If not for the QR code on the door, I may have never seen it.

Finish Line – 2011, Monotype, pen, colored pencil on paper 10″ x 10″

Communication is chaos. It ignores. It cuts.  It bolsters relationships, and just as quickly, it destroys them.  It makes great leaders. It disintegrates teams.  It brings couples closer together. It directly contributes to divorces.  All and all, communication is the wildest of wild animals.  There is no magic lasso to wrangle it with, and no amount of training will ever teach us to fully tame and control it.

Communication doesn’t exist in a tangible, easy-to-understand form we can identify and then avoid or employ.  Rather, it is ghostly.  Despite that, we have become so good at creating and controlling it just well enough to perform the not so small tasks of building cities, growing companies, curing diseases and what seems to be all the rage these days, mounting revolutions to overthrow governments.  However, at the same time, a grade-school spawned friendship ends because of a communication breakdown.  A wife leaves her husband because they just couldn’t “get each other,” and she got tired of trying.  And a co-worker’s feelings were hurt because of the way he interpreted an email from a peer.

So what am I getting at here?  Well, before recently, I’d never seen a visual representation I felt really captured this thing called communication, this thing I study and manage every day and to which I’ve devoted my professional life.  I’ve seen plenty of communication planning models and have read countless books about communication as it applies to various scenarios.  But until a few weekends ago, I’d never laid my eyes on a depiction I felt truly captured communication in the rawest of forms.

That changed June 18th when my wife and I visited the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va.  Near the end of our visit, we came to a closed gallery but on the door was a tiny QR code.  Even though I live in a very tech-savvy town, I hardly ever come across them.  So, eager to learn what awaited me, I quickly scanned it and was taken to Allison Long Hardy’s Web site.

I was immediately struck at the beautiful image of what was clearly one of her pieces. But my interest peaked after reading the following.

“I am interested in how people communicate: effectively and ineffectively. Communication is the one thing that binds us all together, the one common thread that must continue. Without communication what else do we have? When making work I am interested in the certain moments that communication or lack of communication occur and interpreting those moments through mark. What interests me most is when the marks that emerge on the page overlap and meld with the marks below or on top and create their own type of mark, something that I had not planned. My work is a mix of intuitive and deliberate mark making paired with the spontaneity that occurs when these marks overlap.”

I was immediately filled with excitement and inspiration.

Daydream - 2011, pen, graphite, colored pencil, India ink on paper 38" x 26"

While I wish I could say that upon seeing her art I was moved at how well she’d captured communication, I can’t.  I had to read about her inspiration first before making the connection.  But looking back on it, it seems fitting it was unclear to me.  After all, as depicted in so many pieces of Allison’s work, communication is chaos.

Following our visit to the Torpedo Gallery and meeting Allison, I asked her some questions about her work.  Although she is not a PR or Marketing pro, I found it totally fitting to feature her on my blog and showcase her art and what’s behind it, as she’s truly a professional communicator.

1. What about communication inspires you so much as to dedicate your work to it?

Communication is a large part of every human’s life and existence.  Without communication, we cannot develop relationships which are essential to our existence.  Very recently, I’ve been very fascinated with how crowds move and develop, and how communication is a large part of a crowd.  Generally crowds occur because of an event or happening.  Somehow all of these people know that this event or happening is going to happen, and this occurs by mass communication.  However, crowds generally have a very unordered way of moving and changing.  Crowds constantly border on the edge of being order and chaos.  I find a lot of times, that my work appears to border on the edge of chaos, this is something that I tend to explore frequently in my art.

2. How do you begin each individual piece of art and when do you know a piece is done?

In the past two years I’ve been starting works with a specific idea in mind. The idea is usually based on a conversation that I have had. I then make marks that might help to convey the emotions or expressions that were developed in that conversation. Conversations happen in a moment, but also have a spiraling effect. Conversations can lead to other conversations, feelings, or actions; they never really end. I develop marks on the page that represent other effects of the conversation. A lot of times I get comments that my art seems chaotic and I think communication, in itself, is pretty chaotic. An idea isn’t just a singular thought or happening, there are other factors associated with the idea, elements that you cannot control.

3. Do you find your art and the development process helps you be a better communicator?

I don’t know about a better communicator (that is something that I am constantly working on), but I am certainly more aware of my communication habits.

4. How do determine what to call each piece? Does the title come before, during or after it’s complete? 

Off Course - 2011, Monotype, colored pencil, collage on paper 30" x 22"

Currently, since my work is based on a specific event/conversation, my work is titled before I start a piece. I actually think that titles are very important to a piece, especially abstract works, in that they help to define what the artist is exploring.

5. You used less color in your more recent pieces especially in comparison to your 2010 pieces. Why is that?

You know, I have no idea! I think sometimes I get in a rut, and find that eliminating materials helps me to get out of the rut. My work is generally created with the use of a printing press and at my studio at the Torpedo Factory I do not have a press. Eliminating the use of this tool has forced me to create work that explores mark more, since I cannot rely on the use of the press. I find that after a period of eliminating a tool or process, when I go back to that process I view it in a new way. I am hoping that when I move back to my home studio after my Torpedo Factory residency ends, I view the press in a different way.

6. What do you hope to achieve with your art?

I just hope to be able to make art for the rest of my life. It would be nice to be able to support myself and my family through my art, doing what I love all day long and getting paid for it sounds like a great idea! I love having exhibitions and talking with people about my art, so I hope that I can always do that. Speaking with people about my art influences how I think and make my work, and in turn, keeps me thinking about the creative process.

Allison Long Hardy is a monotype and mixed media artist from Woodbridge, Va.  She also teaches at the University of Mary Washington.  Hardy will be at the Torpedo Factory until August in Studio 32.