Artist Spotlight: Alicia Piller

What does a day in your art practice look like?

Each day varies, depending on what needs to be completed, worked on, explored. But I am a night owl of most of the magic in the making happens in the evening and early morning hours!…Usually waking up at 11am, my day begins with emails and errands. I love to work at my local Inglewood coffee shops (Hilltop and Sip and Sonder), being around the hustle and bustle of other people working helps me focus and get my writing, research, or applications done! Next I am off to the gym; I have to stay fit to handle/lift/move all of my large scale sculptural work; I still am a one woman show (no steady assistants just yet). Then! A bit of nap time to get ready for the 2nd part of my day! From about 6 or 7pm till 2 or 3am I am hyper focused on creation!

What would life be like without art?

MISERABLE! Art is life for me! Even when I am not working on sculptural works, I am making crafts of all kinds: jewelry, altering clothing, creating greeting cards, etc. I am definitely a workaholic! But the truth is, art, design, and photography defines my world; as I walk/hike in urban settings and in nature, I am constantly photographing and documenting objects and my surroundings; later incorporating these images strategically within a sculptural work.

What is the hardest part of creating your art?

Space! Sometimes my vision is TOO big for the studio space that I have. Even with 1200 square feet I have to plan for objects to get out of my door!

Along the Wavy Edge of this Penumbra. Emerging from the depths.Transformation trajectories. Craft Contemporary, ‘Within’ Curated by Jill Moniz
86″H x 77″W x 83″D

What inspires you?

There are so many layers of inspiration: nature, history/anthropology, scientific processes, politics, the esoteric, and materiality. All of these layers are woven together within each and every work.

Since childhood I have had a desire to learn about cultures from all over the world, sparked by my own multi-cultural background, as well as many trips to the Field Museum in Chicago, my hometown. In undergrad I studied Fine art and anthropology, which almost lead me to museum studies as a career. For me, the fascination lies in the functionality of objects made by hand, objects used for spiritual purposes, as well as everyday practices. …Just a few of my LOVESSSS: Papua New Guinea’s elaborate costumes and raw material combinations, Chinese Buddhist’s sculptures that literally took my breath away from their sheer awe-inspiring scale, Dravidian style Hindu architecture that equally uses scale, but adds extreme narrative relief detail, and Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime paintings that depict spiritual and physical planes simultaneously.

My basic structural forms are derived from nature and earth processes. I reconfigure the vinyl wrapped objects and images into endless sequences of patterns and shapes; mimicking the intricate, systematic, and sometimes grotesque; growing the sculpture like a unwieldy terrain.

Interest in the esoteric led me to Vera Stanley Alder, a portrait artist and spiritualist from the early 20th century. Seeking to find a greater understanding of humanity’s existence though out of body experiences, her vivid descriptions of dimensional layers of energy and time that connect us all to the planet and the universe, have become one of the major influences of my work. Each sculpture attempts to represent that connectivity between the physical and metaphysical; literal moments from the physical realm: imagery and objects merge together into original structural forms; generating a feeling and energy of other worldliness.

What advice would you give your younger self?

To have patience. In my 20s (I am now 40), I was ready to jump into success without fully having the life experience needed to get me where I needed to go. I would say to my younger self to enjoy the process, enjoy the journey. I wish that I had found more joy in my past which would have helped me mentally through those times of fear and depression about the future.

Along the Wavy Edge of this Penumbra. Emerging from the depths.Transformation trajectories. Craft Contemporary, ‘Within’ Curated by Jill Moniz
86″H x 77″W x 83″D

Who would you most like to collaborate with? Why?

Wow, that is a very hard question to answer because there are just so many people doing amazing work right now! Instead of saying a specific name, I will say that I am interested in working with individuals who have an interest in activism! With that said, I am really interested in working with individuals who have skills that I do not have, working with technologies and processes that include lighting, projection, and augmented realities.

What is the best advice youve been given?

An uncle of mine, who escaped the holocaust, once told me, after graduating from undergrad at Rutgers in 2004; he told me to focus on my art! At that time, I was really scared to become an adult, harboring some fears stemming from my own parents’ worries about me choosing art as a career. At that same time, I also had a painting teacher, Carrie Moyer tell me to rethink going to graduate school for Museum studies, I will never forget her saying to me, “…but you’re a painter! And Artist!”

If you could change anything about the art world, what would it be?

Great question! I think there needs to be a change in the way art history is taught, there needs to be an expansion of what art is all over the world not just from a European perspective.

Greater support for artists making work that is not thought of as a commodity; more emphasis on experimentation, not commerciality.

More opportunities for communities of all backgrounds to feel OK to go to an art museum without having to spend a lot of money just to get in.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?

There is no shortage of motivation for me, I truly love to work; and because my practice is a mix of research/exploration, creation/preparation, there is always something for me to do.

If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose? and why?

Honestly, I would not choose a different era. I say this is because when I think about being a woman of color at any other time in history, I would have never been able to do ALL that I am doing today, or at least it would have been much more difficult. I am fiercely independent as well as physically and mentally strong, traits that would have probably landed me in a mental facility or worse.

This is why I always emphasize the fact that we should all be doing more here now. Especially living in the US, even with all the ever-present forms of oppression, we still have more opportunities to be who choose.

Along the Wavy Edge of this Penumbra. Emerging from the depths.Transformation trajectories. Craft Contemporary, ‘Within’ Curated by Jill Moniz
86″H x 77″W x 83″D

How has personal experience influenced your creativity?

Personal experience has definitely been a major influence on my creativity!… in SO many ways… First! I thought I was going to be a painter! I never had any idea that sculpture would be such an important part of my life and practice.

I have always had an inherent and obsessive need to express myself creatively, specifically working with my hands. Experimenting since childhood with sewing (with my Mother and Great-grandmother), painting, latex balloons (working at a professional clown on the weekends for 7 years with my Mom, for extra money while my Dad went back to medical school), object assemblage and collection, and so many other functional crafts.

After undergrad, to support myself in New York, I worked within the fashion world. First selling my hand-painted clothing and sculptural jewelry as a street vendor in Manhattan and Brooklyn, then later landing a lead design position with a jewelry company. The techniques developed while working within this world moved to the forefront of my interests. Fashion called to me allowing me a chance to explore my creative abilities with objects and functionality, BUT never quite gave me the intellectual conversation and social critique that I was craving. At this time, experimentation became key, quickly leading me to my signature technique of using flat fibers to incase a range of objects, including photographs. This technique not only helped inform my understanding of three-dimensional shape but became a solution to my desire to bring forms to life. Painting gradually became a skill to pull from and include within a dimensional work when needed. While my inclusion of photography became less about looking at singular moments in my personal life and more about capturing the history of the planet through the lens of humanity. Playing with how to capture a sense of time within a sculptural form, I began to employ a repetitive use of photographs as objects; highlighting news headlines, political cartoons, and images of nature. Sculpture naturally has become the foundation of my art practice, feeding all of my creative needs, allowing the freedom to mix in any type of medium I want into one structure. Moving to Santa Fe, NM really allowed my work to grow, physically, having more space to begin experimenting with scale.

Additionally, surviving a freak bicycle accident in 2013, was a huge catalyst for change. This moment of trauma was a reminder of how short our time here is on earth. Severely severing my right bicep, with one twist of the body I could have lost my entire arm or my life. This incident became a defining moment, the recovery time allowing a chance for reflection. This marked a time for me to release the limitations of the fashion world, elevating those skills into sculptural work.

What do you wish to accomplish with your art?

The goal for my practice is to attempt to speak to the world at large; for the greater purpose of awareness and change. In each and every work, I am responding to the times, highlighting the present, but really looking back to the past to understand. My practice dissects history, questioning the world around us; elevating and magnifying stories suppressed.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?

Think about the work first and the sales later, do not be ruled by money as your source of inspiration.

 Make sure you are filling your life with things that have nothing to do necessarily with your practice directly. Living a full life with hobbies and other interests will only make the work stronger.

 Do not go into graduate school right away after undergrad take some time for life! Travel! Seeing the world will open your eyes, and ultimately make your practice richer.

How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the action you produce?

The development of works happens in different ways. Sometimes I get an idea and need to sketch it out immediately. Sometimes those sketches are just a form that I see, not necessarily anything to do with content. Sometimes a topic or a period of history calls to me, and to start the work, I have to do research first, taking notes, saving images that seem relevant, learning about the topic itself.

I tend to work cellularly, building from the tiniest shape, growing an object to scale. This can begin with an obsession over a particular image or object; like a palm leaf, or a mold of someone’s teeth, even. I have learned to trust my own intuition and not give myself rigid rules of guidance. If it feels right, I do it.

A Mother’s Voice. Rages. Global Warnings. Orange County Biennial, 2022-23
Mixed media 116”H X 84”W X 96”D

One comment

  1. Thank you so much Alicia for sharing so much of yourself. Your words are a guide for all of us. You show us how the layers of experience add to your artwork. I was especially moved by your story of how you worked with your mother as a clown to help support your father through medical school; such a beautiful example of creating opportunity for others and how community can grow through selfless acts of love.

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