by Vivian Morellon

What came first the chicken or the egg? The art or the artist? For Alli Conrad, it was the art.

Previously used as a manner of expressing her stifled creativity, painting allowed a channel of release that wasn’t natural to the static nature of her corporate jobs. Having studied business while in college, she knew she would end up in a somewhat creative role but her identity as an artist wasn’t something that was always at the forefront of her mind.

After toying with the title of artist for a few months, Alli Conrad is ready to take on a new role and begin her new chapter.

Sitting in her apartment-turned-studio, I look around at the carefully stacked canvases that once started as hobby. Some pieces are hard to miss due to the unsymmetrical forms, chaotic streaks, and bright contrasting colors – allowing my mind to assimilate Conrad’s technique with Abstractionism. The bright streaks, the uneven texture, the collage inspired work, all representational of Conrad herself; now sitting comfortably on her couch, playing with her hair and talking at 100 miles an hour. Bright and loud, yet poised and intentional – exactly like the completed canvases before us.

 Conrad in her Los Angeles apartment (2019).
Conrad in her Los Angeles apartment (2019).

My experience as an artist is sitting in front of a canvas and just running with it. It’s a ‘fuck it feeling’. It’s freedom to express myself”

Sounds abstract – for sure. In fact, the movement is based around a philosophy that encouragers separation from a preconceived idea. Detached emotion. Deconstructed feelings. Nonrepresentational and non-literal. But it goes beyond a mis-representation of reality (what is even real?). This movement doesn’t attempt to replicate reality as the artist perceives it, but to create a visual language of form, shape, color, and texture that represents external reality.

“I actually have zero education in art, art history or anything that is taught at fancy art schools,” Conrad hovers over her paintings proudly, like a mother who’s nurtured color and form onto canvas. “I think it’s freeing. I also think of it as an advantage because I have no preconceived notions of what’s correct or what is right or wrong.

Self-taught and self-aware, each canvas materializes a distorted and somewhat forgotten memory, a piece of her past. Memories of Singapore, sitting in the bathtub with her mom. Reflections and fragmented pieces of her past. Her identity – emotionally embedded with each streak and literally plastered on each canvas.

Those dots you see? Her actual fingerprint.

NTCH sits down with the artist to chat more about abstractions, being self-taught, and creating online community spaces.

 Alli Conrad with “Leo” and “Louis.”  Acrylic on canvas .
Alli Conrad with “Leo” and “Louis.” Acrylic on canvas .

What came first, the art or the artist?

The art and then I tapped into it. Growing up I was surrounded by music which I believe has a profound impact on the way my mind understands and interprets things. I’ve always been “creative” growing up: I always drew, read books, played music, and even started my own clothing line in high school called AC Jeans by Alli Conrad. Drawing and designing clothes always took me into a whole new world. I was so present when I worked, feeling like I was escaping reality. I was not running from anything, but it was my own personal time, where nothing in the world mattered but that.

I met you while you were working a corporate fashion job – I knew you embraced the arts and enjoyed museums but I didn’t know that you were an artist until I finally saw you in action. Was this always part of your identity?

Art is a very powerful outlet for me. Painting and drawing is liberating, as it allows me to be free. In my opinion, being creative is not something you can learn, it is something you just feel and have to express. I have a great deal of respect for those in the creative industry because it takes a lot of solitude and a great deal of self-awareness. In fact, the best paintings that I’ve done have required minimal effort and a full release of control on my thoughts and body. When I just let go and trust, I create work that I don’t even remember how I did it.

However, when I go into a painting with a plan, it feels forced and you can feel that energy through the strokes and lines within the painting. Painting brings me a great deal of freedom. I discovered though that freedom lies within limits. Rules, regulations, restrictions, boundaries, laws, limits, or guidelines in our own lives help us accomplish tasks and fulfill our responsibilities. If you deeply think about it, limitations and restrictions only provide us freedom.

 “Poking Series” 1 & 2.  Acrylic on canvas.
“Poking Series” 1 & 2. Acrylic on canvas.

Your work makes me think of abstract art and its sub-movements. Where would you say you draw inspiration from?

Most of my paintings are inspired by my favorite artists, personal experiences, and my emotions that I am feeling in the moment when painting. My favorite artists consist of Cy Twombly, Gustav Klimt, Yayoi Kusama, Pablo Picasso, and Cecily Brown. I am very drawn to abstract, sexual, and grotesque art work. 

Much of work was greatly inspired by an Isreali artist, Iliana Gal. After returning from an amazing trip in Isreal, I was deeply inspired by a magical city in Isreal called Tzfat. Tzfat also known as Safed is the highest city in Israel, but also the spiritual center of the Jewish world. Safed is the balance where the spiritual meets the physical, where the East meets the West, where Hashem guides you along the path but your efforts allow you to merit the reward. As I roamed the streets alone in the spiritual and artistic city, I found myself drawn to several galleries and unknown artists but also the modesty, humility and sense of purpose that makes Safed mystical. 

You opened an instagram profile called Conrad Collective. It looks like a platform for getting to know you. There’s your own work, visual inspiration, and even information on artists and pieces that speak to you. Is CC a separate entity from yourself as an artist or are you allowing us a glimpse into your mind?

Well it definitely started as a separate thing… it was my initial source of artist channeling – I would mostly showcase doodles and the art that I was painting for myself and my apartment.

So it started as a mood-board for yourself?

In the beginning, yes. It was meant to inspire me to try, to learn by copying recognized works, to test my artistic capabilities. Apart from that its purpose was for curating and displaying the works of emerging artist. Artists and creatives (similar to myself) that needed the platform ad the push to create.

Right now Conrad Collective exists solety via instagram – but as you forge your way through the saturated world of social media whilst developing your own artistic style, do you feel the need to tweak your work in order to make it more ‘marketable’ and ‘instagrammable?’ 

No and yes… personalization is key. Consumers buy into the product as a whole, this means the artist behind the artwork. People buy tesla because people believe in Elon Musk. I’m trying to embrace that and posting more pictures of myself so people can see the face, the story, behind the painting and hopefully… feel the emotion and the piece of myself that I embed in each canvas. That’s why Conrad Collective is still very focused on my work, my inspiration. I need to establish CC as a viable resource for people in my current position. First myself, then I can use Conrad Collective to build a community and inspire others.

Although abstractionism can be ambiguous the point is to see something and reflect your own story on to it. The narrative might change depending on your current state and your own relation to a concept but Conrad’s work is not trying to keep you from trying.

After all, “it’s freedom to feel.”

 “Leo” and “Louis”.  Acrylic on canvas .
“Leo” and “Louis”. Acrylic on canvas .

Alli has recently quit her job at a digital marketing firm – proudly wearing the title of a full-time artist. To find more of her work, follow her @ConradCollective