Thom Bennett PHOTOGRAPHAllison Stewart’s paintings are sometimes described as abstract landscapes, but her inspiration comes less from natural scenes and more from the cumulative landscape of her diverse interests and life experiences.
Working with mixed media on large canvases, Stewart has long been interested in what she describes as the “restless balance between man and nature,” and especially the vanishing Louisiana coastal wetlands. The result is a painting style focused on organic abstractions that speak of beauty, loss, time and transformation.
A Chicago native, Stewart first came to the South for college and never left, landing
in New Orleans not long after graduating from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. Along the way to earning a biology degree, she became enthralled with the drawings of animals and plants in her course work, which she credits as an early inspiration for her work today.
“There was a visual component that really appealed to me,” she says.
PHOTOGRAPH courtesy of arthur roger gallery
Later, the experience of earning her pilot’s license also proved a source of artistic inspiration, she says, from her early, realistic paintings of airplane components to her lasting fascination with maps of all kinds.
Stewart has studios in Mid-City and in the mountain town of Snowmass Village, Colo. She was working at the later when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and she says following the ensuing crisis from a distance, on television and in newspapers, has had an impact on her work since. Themes of fluidity and of “seeing through many layers,” are prominent in her work now, she says.
“That upheaval brought a real sense of dislocation,” Stewart says.
The storm also brought literal dislocation to one of Stewart’s biggest artistic pursuits outside her studio. In 1998, she and her husband and fellow artist Campbell Hutchinson helped establish KIDsmART, a nonprofit that provides in-school,
after-school and weekend arts programs for students in New Orleans public schools where such courses were long ago slashed from the curriculum. In the wake of Katrina, KIDsmART temporarily relocated to Houston to offer healing-oriented arts programs to New Orleans students displaced there. The organization resumed services in New Orleans once public schools began reopening in 2006 and now operates in 10 of the city’s schools.
“Working with KIDsmART has been a wonderful experience, even through the storm, and there’s the chance for national funding with more attention on New Orleans now,” Stewart says. Stewart’s work is shown at Arthur Roger Gallery in the Warehouse District.