In Conversation With Alli Conrad

Alli Conrad (b.1995) is a self-taught, Chinese American cosmopolitan artist and muralist currently residing in Los Angeles. She is a visual philosopher, specializing in contemporary modern art. Conrad has taken inspiration from several global cultures and countries such as Israel, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Los Angeles. Her work is best described as a confluence of eastern and western aesthetic traditions. A selection of her paintings are currently on display at Arushi Arts Gallery and Alma Lledo, as well as in several private collections globally.

Conrad’s works manifest in varied forms, including: paintings, drawings, and large scale murals. Through each medium, Conrad’s art is her own; a linear, whimsical world that she has created from her mind and experiences. She has always painted from self-experience, using men, family, and her cultured childhood as the inspiration. The typically painful and personal subjects in life. The painter’s work reveals an inhabited freedom, rightly unsymmetrical forms, chaotic streaks, vibrant hues and intentional imperfections in her compositions that allow Conrad to express her reality of the imperfect beautiful world. As Conrad’s dad always told her growing up, “to thine own self be true”. If you look closely, you’ll see it…dot dot dot. Each piece is her identity, using her fingerprint on each dot that covers across a majority of her works.

Emerald Arguelles: Can you discuss your earliest memory of painting?

Alli Conrad: I began painting for the first time in 2017, but it was only till 2018 to which I started painting my original paintings. It was August 2018 when I painted my first original painting that set off an example of the rest of my works. I titled the piece “Leo” based on the month of the zodiac calendar, August,

EA: Why do you choose painting to convey your ideas?

AC: I choose painting to convey my ideas and my soul because I love the mystery of a painting. There is a story to each painting to which each holds a myriad of symbols through color, patterns, shapes, words, or objects. It is just enough to leave the viewer’s perspective open and enough not to reveal too much. Art is about having the viewer take in their perspective and trigger their emotions. Perhaps we may align and understand one another, as I believe that each of us on this given earth is all but reaching for the exact needs. We are not strangers. Each of us has experienced adversity on different levels, but we are all but humans, sharing emotions and life through different lenses. Underneath, we are all the same.

EA: Can you discuss the freedom that is portrayed in your work?

AC: It is a state of mind. The way it provokes such emotion, reflection, vulnerability, and discovery is precisely why I am obsessed with painting. There is so much life and wisdom that is within the act of painting. There is always a life lesson waiting to be discovered if you choose to see it as so. I feel that I am learning more about myself for every piece I paint, which brings me a great deal of fulfillment. And that, to me, is freedom.

EA: Your inspirations range from South Africa to Hong Kong; what have you found to be most exciting?

AC: My travels and ex-pat upbringing have had a vast and subconscious influence on my works, yet the most exciting would be Singapore and Tzfat. For Singapore, I owe it to a time and place where I have the most “home-like” memories is where I was lucky enough to develop my teenage years there through exposure to cultures, religions, and unforgettable travels due to easy traveling access. For Tzfat, I owe it to a summer spent in Israel that genuinely broke the straw on the camel’s back. That triggered and unveiled this inner painter in me. It was a summer trip that recentered rooted and grounded me more than any other trip, but perhaps it was also the perfect timing in my life. That is the beauty of traveling, as you may end up stumbling upon something or someone unexpected.

EA: You discuss “masks” in your artist statement; can you share the origin of that and how it is conveyed in your work?

AC: As a mixed child from a Chinese mother and an American father, my childhood was a melting pot of culture. Moving around several different cities, I was exposed to various cultures and traditions that have subconsciously influenced my works – a confluence of both eastern and western traditions. I always find myself drawn towards rich and dense cultures, specifically Middle Eastern and African, as I firmly believe it is due to my parents’ passionate love of collecting masks.

Growing up, my parents collected masks from all around the world. They decorated the house with their collection and placed countless amounts of them in the dining room. Every time I sat down at the table, masks surrounded me. From every corner of my vision, masks were there. Their collection served as a token or souvenir to remember the country or city. Each mask held its own identity, meaning, and culture. A unique identity to each their own.

Very few of us are in touch with who we indeed are at our core. We wear masks every day to move through our external surroundings, protecting us like armor. Sometimes, we wear more than one mask. We have the right not to expose ourselves entirely to the world. But we better know who we are so we aren’t playing hide and seek with ourselves. At that point, we have just lost. Keep your mystery. Wear your mask, dress it up, dress it down, play it however you want. But embrace it. Get comfortable with it. Be true to yourself. Before you put on your mask, remember who you are underneath. By grasping this concept, we can remove our mask, and we are left with thought and perception. With my artwork, I ask you: what mask are you wearing? Can you see your mask?

EA: What do you want viewers to know about your work?

AC: I spill out my soul to each piece, as each piece is based on actual personal experiences from my life. Sometimes they are imaginative but always stemmed from my intake of the imperfect, beautiful world. Each piece holds these “polka dot” like decorative features, but if you look closely, they are my fingerprints, as I am leaving an imprint of my identity with each piece. Art is subjective, but my identity and fingerprint are not. On the back of each piece lies an envelope with a short story. Please take it as you may, but the story reveals my voice, soul, presence, experience, and imagination.

EA: What has been the happiest memory of your artistic journey?

AC: The happiest memory of my artist journey was when I was painting my first mural in the Arts District. I was standing on a scaffold painting to some groovy music, and I just started smiling and laughing as I thought to myself, “Holy shit, I’m getting paid to paint!” I’ll never forget that moment. It was such a pure and joyful memory for me as I continued dancing and grooving out on the scaffold.

EA: Can you share the process and inspirations of Stronger Together?

AC: This mural was painted on Saturday, June 6. An incredibly moving experience and community effort were put together in less than a week by an organization called Paint the City Peaceful. They asked local Los Angeles artists to paint murals on the 157+ boards of looted businesses to bring positivity to the community. Having talked to several bystanders, they had all said the same thing, “thank you,” and that it brought such joy to their hearts. One woman walked by and told me she had been depressed for the past couple of months, and seeing the colorful murals all around her neighborhood already lifted her. It is truly amazing to see how the light always shines through in dark times and brings the community together because we, as global citizens, are stronger together.

The design was inspired by the fact that I have never seen others differently. My parents raised me in treating all with the same respect and kindness. Art encourages and brings a sense of unity, connecting all from different cultures, backgrounds, and viewpoints.

To view more of Alli Conrad’s work please visit their website.