In Dialogue with Alyssa Fanning
A Thousand Moons and Suns at Platform Project Space in Dumbo, Brooklyn, features Alyssa Fanning’s elaborate and richly layered graphite and colored pencil drawings on paper, focusing on the duality of strength and fragility of the natural world. The work includes drawings from two related series, created through a process of combining projection, stencil and improvisation. The pieces range in size from 2.75 by 4.75 inches to 16 by 20 inches and within these intimate boundaries, Alyssa Fanning creates intricate worlds which invite you to plunge in. The exhibition opens June 5th with an opening reception June 4th, and runs through July 3rd, 2021.
Tell me a bit yourself and what brought you to focus on drawing.
My background is in drawing, painting and printmaking, but my focus for the past ten years has been exclusively on drawing. In the fall of 2011 following Hurricane Irene, I began a series of paintings depicting the aftermath of the storm on Van Buskirk Island, a site near my home in northern New Jersey. I’d been making paintings and linoleum prints of the location for several years prior. I was drawn to the area and its surrounding wetlands of the Hackensack River as it represented to me a microcosm of larger global issues. The site was one of the few remaining undeveloped areas in a densely populated part of the country. Despite being a home to an abundance of plant species and wildlife, these wetlands were highly contested and regularly threatened with development. The site was home to the Hackensack Water Works, one of the oldest water purification plants in the country. Abandoned in 1990 it was eventually granted historic landmark status, which has prevented further development of the surrounding landscape.
When Hurricane Irene swept across the Northeast it radically altered the landscape, causing major flooding, uprooted trees, and the accumulation of debris lining the suburban streets of the area. In response, the paintings I was working on, which had been illusionistic and perceptual, became fragmented and abstract. I was in the middle of this series when another storm hit, this time a nor’easter whose destructive winds wiped out the electrical grid. I should note here that I’d been documenting the devastation of the hurricane for use as reference in my painting practice through digital photography. I’d print these images and use them as the basis for cut paper stencils and collages that I’d hang around my studio. When the blackout hit, I’d been working on a painting on my kitchen table that was strewn with the paper maquettes and stencils. I lit candles in order to keep working, but found color mixing too difficult. I can vividly remember picking up one of the paper maquettes made from a photo of piles of garbage and holding it up to the light of the candle. The resulting cast shadows from the silhouettes and interplay of positive/negative space was revelatory and would inform my practice to this day. During the blackout I began the first drawing in what would become a series of drawings entitled Polymorphic Disasters of the Mind. I was able to manipulate the graphite on paper through a process of layering and mark-making that spoke directly to my subject matter and allowed for an expanding vocabulary in my practice. The immediacy of the medium allowed me to generate ideas at a pace that matched the urgency I felt.
The title for the exhibition is from William Kentridge’s Six Drawing Lessons, in which he refers to the solar eclipse creating a “a thousand spots of light, a thousand moons, and suns” between the shadows of leaves on the ground. In what ways has that resonated with you and how is does it relate to your drawings?
I found Kentridge’s descriptions of witnessing a solar eclipse so beautiful and evocative of my own experience when my grandfather showed me the “suns and moons” when I was a child. How does the shadow of the moon cover the sun during an eclipse and produce an infinite number of moons and suns in between every shadow? To see the moon and sun, forms that are so vast in space, repeated on such a small scale brings to mind questions of perception and our place within the universe. The mystery and optical components of shadows have driven my drawings for the past decade and continue to be a source of fascination. Kentridge’s quote spoke to my exploration in a simple but poetic way. I think it’s the element of mystery, something visible, but immaterial that really appealed to me.
A Thousand Moons and Suns includes select drawings from two related series created from a practice that combines projection, stencil and improvisation. Can you elaborate on the process of making these drawings?
A shadow is produced when an object is placed between a light source and some kind of ground plane. I’m fascinated with the relationship of shadows and objects— shadows make me think about the space in between an object and the ground, or the space we might otherwise think of as empty. I first used projection on cut paper maquettes onto a piece of paper on my kitchen table. I saw a distorted shadow image of a pile of trash (one of my cut-paper maquettes) on the surface. When I moved the paper or the candle, the form on the page was distorted, shrunken or enlarged. There were endless possibilities for manipulation. I could trace a maquette directly onto my paper or could project from a shadow form. Working with a range of drafting pencils from very hard pencils to much softer graphite allowed me to layer shadows and forms, creating more and more fragmentation, complexity and manipulation of shape and space on the page. I often worked with a predetermined base structure in these drawings, by laying down a geometric grid, concentric circles, or some kind of invented architecture. From there the rest of the compositions were improvisational. Imagery morphed, developed and broke down throughout the course of creating a drawing. The mutations that occurred in one drawing led to the foundation for the next drawing, much like I imagine the evolutionary process.
Polymorphic Disasters of the Mind evolved into After the Disaster, an ongoing series that imagines worlds born out of the rubble. After the Disaster takes on a nonhuman perspective and considers a time after our own. You say, “this isn’t a dark or pessimistic place, it just is.” Can you elaborate on that and how do you think that notion is reflected in the drawings?
When I make these drawings, worlds develop. These worlds are filled with tiny marks, which can develop into discernable imagery. The imagery is so small I imagine it being viewed by an insect in the grass. In pieces that feature an aerial view I imagine the viewer as a bird looking down at hilly mound of foliage. At times the space within a work is vast and the textures within a composition distant; in these works I envision the viewer as some kind of deity or maybe a lost satellite. I don’t imagine people inhabiting these spaces. I imagine them as existing in a time after people. In some of the drawings I work in non-perspectival spaces, which aren’t earthly spaces, but are rather cosmic realms that exist beyond human experience. Of course, that there is a human in this equation, me, the maker, but I’m interested in the way the human mind can conceive of these incalculable notions of space. My view of the natural world and ecology is one that considers humans as just one part of a vast universe, as a part of what writer and ecological thinker Timothy Morton might refer to as an interconnected mesh. I believe that if we were to embrace our place within the ecosystem from a more holistic viewpoint rather than a hierarchical framework that places us at the top, we might last a little longer, and do a lot less damage to the nonhuman animals with whom we share this spinning orb. By giving credence to the small as much as to notions of the grand I hope to pay homage to this position.
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ALYSSA FANNING: A Thousand Moons and Suns at Platform Project Space 20 Jay Street, #319, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Opening: Friday, June 4, from 6 to 8pm
The show runs from June 5 – July 3, 2021. Open Saturdays 12pm to 6pm.