Featuring as the next in a series of interviews with the Rites of Passage artists. We took a closer look at Alison Blickle’s practice and influences, specifically her interest in Greek mythology.
Alison Blickle is a Los Angeles based artist born in 1976. She received her BFA from the California College of Arts before going on to gain an MFA from Hunter College in New York. Blickle primarily creates paintings that depict women involved in mysterious rituals, exploring powerful female archetypes found in mythology. Her works explore connections to nature, ancestry and spirituality.
UL: Your works are certainly reminiscent of classical and religious paintings. Can you talk a bit about your influences?
AB: I love classical painting. They painted scenes from myths a lot, which I do too. Sometimes I like to do my own version of a classical painting, like Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, or Michelangelo’s Creation of Man.
Probably my strongest contemporary influences are Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin. They gave me the courage to do figure painting all through school, when it was extremely unpopular. They made it feel relevant and set a high bar. The body of work I’m in right now I’ve been thinking about David Lynch (surreal, dark, neon) and James Rosenquist (billboard-esque vignetted paintings) a lot.
UL: LA Reflection, the painting featured in Rites of Passage, is inspired by the Maenads from Greek mythology. What draws you to this particular myth?
AB: The Maenads were real women in ancient Greece who were the worshippers of Dionysus. They would go out into the woods and work themselves up into an altered state through ecstatic dance and God knows what else. The myths about them say they had superhuman strength and magical powers when they were banded together in these ceremonies. So, when men in power would come to try to shut them down, the Maenads would protect themselves and tear them limb from limb.
I set my Maenads in modern day Hollywood and connected them to the Time’s Up movement. They use their phones and social media to destroy the toxic masculine.
UL: Maenads literally translates to mean the “raving ones” or the “mad ones”. Do your works seek to change or develop perspectives of women who have been traditionally viewed in this way?
AB: My work points out that versions of the Maenads exist in our culture today- the archetype is still relevant. That wild, uncontrollable women are present and an important part of our culture.
The negative labels that have been given to powerful women for all of time are so stupid, and they’re really humanity shooting itself in the foot. Having more women in charge would help the world get better.
Alison Blickle, LA Reflection, 2021, Oil on canvas, 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm
“The piece is from my body of work about the Maenads from Greek mythology, but set in modern day LA and tied to the Time’s Up movement. The woman in the painting has just finished destroying a toxic man with the other Maenads and is lounging around afterwards. You can see the cityscape of Los Angeles and a swimming pool reflected in the windows and doors around her.” – Alison Blickle
UL: Your work blends mythological elements with contemporary imagery and messaging. How do you think reframing these myths in modern settings affects their narrative?
AB: Setting myths in the modern day lets me reflect what I see currently happening around me and helps me make sense of it a little bit. The world can feel really overwhelming to me, and myths remind me that lots of the things we’re dealing with today have been happening with humans forever. It honestly feels comforting.
Updating the story lets me bring in phones, the internet, selfie culture, narcissism, and young women figuring out who they are amongst these new parts of life. I hope the modern setting shows that women are still strongest when we support each other and have each other’s backs.
UL: Your artworks often represent women in private, intimate and even ceremonial moments. Through these representations, do you intend to engage with the female/male gaze?
AB: I’ve always been annoyed with thinking about the male gaze. I don’t want what I make to be affected by what men may or may not get out of my paintings.
It’s such an interesting time with regard to the gaze, because so many people are putting themselves on the internet to be looked at. There are definitely a lot of us who want to be gazed at. Is it empowering? Is it objectifying? Is it making us feel good or not good?
UL: Previously, you have mentioned that the figures in your works represent your own alter-ego. Is this still the case with your most recent body of work?
AB: I still have an alter ego in my paintings. It’s my way of letting different parts of myself develop. I choose different powerful female characters to paint and working with them lets me imagine being like them. It’s like I bring their essence into me. So over time, I get to make myself into the person I want to be.
UL: What’s next for you after Rites of Passage? Do you see your artistic practice changing?
AB: I’m finishing up the paintings for a solo show with Over the Influence gallery in Los Angeles that opens next month. It’s called Killer, and it’s about the Maenads. I’m going to have an installation piece in the show that I’m excited about. I’ve done installations before but this one goes further. I’d like to keep playing with that, bringing the world of the paintings out into the space of the viewer.
I just did a photoshoot for the beginning of my next body of work. It’s a modern day, reclaimed, feminist version of Medusa.