Let’s talk about art. Art is subjective. Art is a personal journey. It is movement, pressure, hesitation, and release. Art is the cartilage surrounding our joints, giving nuance to the rigid and allowing flexibility within our perceptive reality. No one I know personally knows this better than Allison Bamcat, one of the most spellbinding muralists of Los Angeles. A pop surrealist, Allison is pushing the boundaries of reality and testing the waters of the whimsical. Her pieces are fantasies of pastels and double-takes. If I could step into one of her murals, I just know I would be standing under the warmth of an enormous sun.
There was an immediacy in Allison’s pursuit, from the very beginning. Like many of the women I am privileged to meet and talk to, she’s always known what she was meant to do. “I have been an artist basically since I was a little kid, ever since I was probably five or six…My earliest memories are coloring and eating construction paper.” As a fellow supporter of the 6th food group, parchment, this resonated with me. I ate a lot of paper.
Allison had an itch for art, but she couldn’t scratch it at school. There was no art curriculum within Allison’s elementary school. They had an art day once a month, something she was always looking forward to. “If they ever skipped it I remember just like, sobbing. I was so disappointed because all I wanted to do was art.” Thankfully, where the curriculum fell short, her teachers stepped up. Like a four leaf clover, she was plucked from the crowd and ushered into her dream world. “When I was…in third grade, my teacher actually told my mom that she should consider putting me in art classes. And she did, and I ended up doing those on Saturdays for a few years.”
Those Saturdays were all she needed. “I decided during that time that I really wanted to go to art school, and I really couldn’t picture myself doing anything other than professional art.” Her parents were supportive of her choice, which, to me, is just so important and so delightful. Pursuing art as a career is fiercely competitive and demanding. The majority of those who chase paint find themselves in a cubicle working data entry, quietly scribbling their true love within the allotted margins.
Allison was and is different. I like to think her parents were not afraid, but excited. I imagine them enthusiastically telling her, yes! not just because of Allison’s innate skill, but because they knew she would put her feet to the proverbial pavement. And, with the blessing of her parents, she was immediately agitating gravel. “I actually skipped my senior year of high school and went to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I just met all my credits in advance and was just so determined to make this my life path.” Seriously – that is what she did. My time in high school was spent trying to squeeze into skinny jeans and crying about skinny jeans. How many teenagers are that determined, that focused, that clear minded? The answer is one, and the answer is Allison. (Well, it was Allison. She’s grown up now).
Allison’s education was more than vanishing points, still life, and color theory. The pursuit of her illustration degree led to a deeper understanding of herself and, congruently, her work.
PUT ON A HAPPY FACE
“I think the catalyst for me wanting to talk about my life story and my life journey [through art] was my college thesis.”
Allison’s take on clowns and clowning in her thesis, “Put on a Happy Face,” was simply bewitching. I sit firmly in the fear camp when it comes to clowns, but even my view has softened upon hearing her personal exploration of that famous corner in Uncanny Valley. “I actually always like clown imagery and clown stuff. I liked the dichotomy of someone painted to look happy who was just a regular person but they’re an entertainer.” Allison peers behind the mask and uncovers the human. “These people are like, maybe struggling with a divorce, or trying to reconnect with their young children…and then working all night as a chef and then working the weekends too. That kind of complexity…you’re painted up to look happy but you’re really struggling on your own to be an artist, and an entertainer, and a performer.” Having fought her own battles with depression, you can see how it’s easy to relate to.
Looking at her work, you wouldn’t guess she’s had her own personal struggles with depression. Her prints inspire delight; looking at her art makes me smile. “Why do I want to paint with bright colors? Is that a distraction from what I’m going through, or is it an interpretation of that? I’m still kind of exploring that in my work.” Through the lens of a certain strangeness, somehow both jarring and comforting, I find intrigue in her color palettes; her wide open window into surrealism provokes exploration in us all.
a splash of color
If you haven’t already noticed, Allison has a style. Her unusual creatures are always brightly colored, against bright backgrounds. “I’ve always just found this magnetism to wanting to use bright paint and things like that…like, colored pencils my favorites were always the neons.” Eliciting joy from just about everyone in her audience, the bright pastels bring her otherworldly animals to life.
Allison is happy to tell me about the joy she finds in her creative process. “Being able to use paint- I’ve used acrylic wash and I also use spray paint the majority of the time. I also airbrush a little bit. But learning how to show different surfaces on a flat painting and make things really recede and protrude in space, being able to figure that out is a really fun challenge for me.
“As well as, like, making something metallic. How does that look by using only a 2D medium? How do you make that apparent? Or fuzzy, or feeling the texture of a leaf…I really strive to be able to portray that to people who view my work and I love the challenge of just using flat paint to do that.”
Allison’s work takes her around L.A., working on commissioned murals while also doing artwork in the fine art gallery circuit. “I [also] do some custom illustration things like that, and sell my own paintings.” She told me about mural festivals, which I had never heard of before but now desperately want to attend.
A mural festival, she tells me, is a celebration where a bunch of different artists’ murals go up at the same time. I want to go to one of those so badly, it sounds amazing! “Everybody’s sweaty and tired by the end of the day but we all get to watch each other build up our pieces and get tips and tricks from each other…it’s a great way to build relationships and comradery, and also develop new relationships with other communities.” So, that sounds incredible. But you don’t have to be at a festival to catch Allison putting up a mural. She’s more than happy to share her joy with anyone who stumbles upon her mid-project.
One of her favorite parts of working outside on murals is getting to meet different people she wouldn’t otherwise run into – especially when it’s someone who doesn’t expect to see a woman out doing street art. “It’s like the first time somebody saw a girl using spray paint,” she says, and the reaction is overwhelmingly positive. “Maybe it’s a woman in her forties who’s like, ‘oh that’s so cool that you spray paint,’ I’m like, cool, do you wanna help me fill in this part?” The idea of bringing women together through street art is the most heartwarming thought I will have in my head today.
Actually, nevermind. This is the most heartwarming thought I will have in my head today: This is the gas mask Allison uses when she is out spray painting.
Now imagine again, a woman in her forties seeing a female street artist for the first time, wearing this incredible gas mask, and being so excited to be a part of it. That is the community I want to be a part of.
coming into focus
Allison has plans. “We’re developing a mural festival called Spracy C LA which is in accordance with SPRAY C MO.” she tells me, in regards to her neighborhood council’s ad hoc committee, of which she is a member. When it comes to her professional work, she stays true to herself. “I try to really keep it to my style… The more pieces that I create that are in my style and authentic to the work that I do, the more examples I have of what I’m able to do if you kind of let me run with it…I have a pretty beefy portfolio when it comes to that.” Through her social media marketing, Allison has set herself up for success through myriad avenues in the art world.
Allison always knew what she was doing, ever since she was young. She trusted her instincts and chased her dream. She got her education in illustration and from there blossomed into a creator of warmly bizarre, unusual, gorgeous and unapologetic Lisa Frank inspired pieces. Now, living in L.A and creating full time, she is in her happy place. Her painted creatures are inviting, her surrealism is haunting, and through all of her creations, she is still exploring. Allison describes her art succinctly. “The purest reflection of me.”