December 18, 2018 Artist to Watch: John Alleyne
From Barbados to New York to The Red Stick
John Alleyne’s art isn’t influenced by any one subject, rather he comes at his practice from an eclectic array of academic study, religious iconography, music, & street art. He’s thoughtful in his approach and free in his execution. His mixed media works are large, gestural, and powerful works that pull the viewer into his mind. We were able to catch up with him, just after his recent exhibition at Southern University, titled “Kindred Spirits in Conversation,” to see just where he has been looking lately for the content behind his impressive body of work and to find out what’s up next.
What brought you to Baton Rouge and when did you arrive?
I arrived in Baton Rouge in the summer of 2015, initially for graduate school at Louisiana State University. My former college professor and LSU alum recommended that I apply to the painting program after I expressed an interest in pursuing a Master’s degree with a focus in painting and drawing.
What are your thoughts on the arts opportunities in Baton Rouge?
Being in Baton Rouge gives me the time and space to focus on my art practice without the hustle and bustle of larger cities like New York or Los Angeles. Yes, opportunities are a lot more limited here in comparison to larger cities, but there is growing community of young artists who are creating their own opportunities by opening their own galleries and art spaces. Kristen Downing and her KAWD gallery space immediately comes to mind. I was grateful to be apart of her inaugural group “Art Lives Forever,” held this pat summer. She’s an inspiration for taking matters into her own hands.
Were you always interested in painting?
Not at all! I’ve always been an admirer of painting from a classical sense. Being the son of an Anglican priest, I’ve spent most of my early childhood gazing at religious paintings and texts from the various churches where my father would preach. That’s where my appreciation for Classical and Renaissance painting began.
I studied graphic and digital design in college. It wasn’t until my senior year at SUNY Potsdam that I became intrigued by abstract expressionism. I recall being particularly excited about a Drawing III assignment in Prof. Michael Yeoman’s class, where students were asked to generate marks without using their physical hand. For my project, I explored using a drill, a grinder attachment and house paint as a method used for producing a mark. I would pour paint on the grinder attachment while holding the drill trigger. The centrifugal force from the drill would create various circular forms depending on the angle at which the drill was being held. This project then led me to research abstract expressionism, and the works of Jackson Pollock and Japanese Gutai artists.
After graduating college, my love for abstract art grew I was hired as a membership assistant at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and to assist with the opening of their new Henri Matisse exhibition. While at MoMA, I spent most of my time studying Matisse and his “cut-out” pieces.
Who are you influenced by?
I’ve always been captivated by Renaissance paintings, particularly the works of Mannerist painters such as El Greco, Pontormo and Agnolo Bronzino.
Bronzino’s “Allegory: Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time” is one of my favorite paintings for its use of space, and color. After researching this painting in college at SUNY Potsdam, it was the first time I consciously realized that a painting or a work of art could be more than just a beautiful object, but it can also be thought provoking; depicting a deeper meaning. This is an essential part of my artistic manifesto.
I am also incredibly influenced by Rap/ Hip-Hop, and Jazz music, in addition to urban streets and environments. My art heroes are Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence. After migrating to Brooklyn, N.Y from Barbados at the age of sixteen, I got my first glimpse of street art and graffiti on local trains and buildings. In Baton Rouge, I love that it’s easy to spot street art and graffiti. I often find myself walking around neighborhoods just to stumble upon graffiti and tags. I love the expressive, gestural quality of spray painted tags. It’s basically the signature of the artist, done in a matter of seconds.
My mother will forever be my greatest influence. As a child she would always encourage me to apply to competitions and would enroll me in portfolio prep courses. She always expected excellence.
What do you like about the culture of Baton Rouge?
There is a warm sense of acceptance within the art community that I am really grateful for. Whether the medium is visual, performance, or musical art forms, Baton Rouge artists never seem to be fighting each other for the spotlight; rather a willingness to collaborate and to lift each other up in the process.
Last year I was invited by the Arts Council to take part in a two-person show with my friend and fellow artist Eliseo Casiano. The exhibition was titled “ Autonomous Collective,” and it was the first time I had a deeper conversation with local artist Randell Henry. Mr. Henry was really impressed with my work, and soon thereafter we became good friends. This past October, he invited me to have my first solo exhibition, which was held at Frank Hayden Hall Gallery, located on Southern University’s campus. In short, I am grateful to the Arts Council and Mr. Henry for showcasing my work.
Do you have any upcoming events?
Yes! Solo exhibitions and a publication.
More details to come in 2019.
Where can folks go to see your work online, and in person?
Anyone interested in viewing my work can check out my website. Feel free to follow me on Instagram as I tend to post images of new paintings and collages, as well as videos on my process, and my inspiration. My latest solo show “Kindred Spirits in Conversation” at Southern University has just come to a close. Therefore, persons interested in viewing my work in person may contact me via email for studio visits.