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Alison Cooley | A New Series & Studio Visit

We're excited to launch a new series of gorgeous paintings by artist Alison Cooley.

We got some insight into Alison's practice, what influences her and a little context into the intriguing title behind the new series "chirographs." Read our interview with Alison and explore her new paintings. 


We're excited about this new series of paintings! Tell us a little bit about these new works you’ve been creating, what's the story? 

I’ve always been attracted to drawing and marking in painting. In my latest work, I’m creating a kind of written visual language that’s my own but is open to interpretation by the viewer. It’s like a “secret language” that I create in line, form and tone that I want people to read in their own way.

I’ve been looking at artists who use molten glass on paper (pyrography) and at the same time realized I was making my own “ancient language.” I love the sound of the word “chirograph” which refers to the study of writing by hand (chiro-) and also to medieval contracts. My own chirographs are language markings that are a two-way contract with the viewer.


Last gallery show you went to?

“Unfinished” at the Met Breuer.


Tell us about the best studio visit you’ve had.

In London an art history professor came to my studio and said “You don’t know what you’re painting now but you will in the future.” I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, but I have a better idea now. It’s the esoteric idea that you know your future self now. Painting is my way of arriving at a place where I already am.


Have the cities you’ve lived in influenced your practice? If so, tell us a bit about that, and what elements in particular steered you in certain directions.

I think my painting is a mirror to a lot of issues that I experience navigating the world. I’m very tactile, and also am hyper-sensitive to texture and smell. Living in London, I had this explosion of awareness of what you might call “personal climate” - the aura and weather of people’s skin and how everyone has an original atmosphere around them, like a fingerprint. I grew up in Washington, DC and have indelible memories of the dragging, almost New Orleans-like murk of summer weather. On Nantucket, I was like a bird in the wild, more expansive but equally tuned in to shifting air, light, and sea. Now I think I’m merging all of these experiences into my own language, and being much more ok with letting it be my own, not “translated.”


Best gift you’ve ever received?

My child.


What is your favorite quote?

“All my smooth body” - the ghost in Hamlet.


What country do you wish to visit?



What makes you laugh no matter what? 

Keyboard Cat


Whats the first thing you do when you begin formulating an idea for a painting?

Build a new playlist to create a gateway. Since I often work in a series, I edit and change the playlist as I move from one piece to the next.  In a way I am developing a soundtrack to my process, an audible experience that echoes and inspires the work. 


What work took you the longest to complete?

In this series, Chirograph 6.

Tell us about some of your favorite artists.

Recently I saw Cecily Brown speak at the National Gallery of Art and I loved hearing about how referencing the past informs her paintings.  Her sources included a wide reaching range of artists including Goya, Hogarth, Bruegel, among others.  Continuity is a such a big theme for me and “quoting” from the past is an intriguing and rich part of process.  I draw from so many different places — Nathan Oliveira, John Singer Sargent, Bernini, Miro.


What’s one habit you wish you could break.

Meandering through Pinterest before I go to sleep.


Who was your favorite teacher in art school?

Eve Aschheim at Sarah Lawrence.


What does creativity mean to you? 

Being radically open to your senses and experiences.


What's something you can't do? 

It’s weird, but I am awful at opening small packages so I have dozens of pairs of scissors around my studio and kitchen to snip open bags, boxes and cases. I’ll even cut an avocado with scissors.


What's the most adventurous thing you've done? 

Pack up my family and move overseas.



What's one thing you've always wanted to try but you've been too scared to do?

Take flying lessons.


What else are you working on right now?

A series of work on handmade Turner grey paper and some large drawings on lacquered board.


When do you make your best work? 

In the morning after a long walk outside.


Regarding your method of making, is it a case of the material or method dictating the idea of the other way around?

Method…I cycle through materials — pens, ink, oil sticks — I love, devour, and learn from my materials and move on to the next.


Is art making therapeutic for you?

Yes, It’s essential for me and a key part of how I experience the world.


What are you most proud of?

Always finding the discipline and space to paint….even in really, really, really small apartments.


What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

Painting gigantic, expansive paintings that allow my language to tell multiple tales.


If you could travel anywhere to create for a while, where would you go?

St. Petersburg, Russia.


Did you grow up around other creative people?

Yes, I grew up in Washington DC and we spent a lot of time in museums as kids.  Maybe more importantly, I am from a family of voracious readers, so I was introduced to the transformative experience of losing yourself in a book — someone else’s world and language — at an early age.  My family joke about book hangovers — the feeling that once you finish a truly moving book, you can’t shake it for a few days.


What are your other hobbies?

Yoga, reading, music.


What motivates you?

The fact that as an artist you can live in a magical reality for the hours you are working and creating.


What’s your studio philosophy?

Just show up and work.


How many hours do you try and work in the studio per week?

30-40 hrs.


Silence or sound while creating? If sound, what?

Music is intertwined with my work, when I’m not painting, I am engaged in making playlists and discovering music that might take me on a new voyage.  Back in the day, I made some masterpiece mix tapes which I still have even though I don’t have a tape player.


Tools or mediums you’re dying to experiment with?

Heat or wax.

Any advice to aspiring artists?

You are your best self and worst enemy in the studio…find the space right on the edge and go with it.


What’s next?

We’ll see!


Explore Alison's new series of paintings