Alison Kurke


Who is Alison Kurke and what does she do?

I spend a lot of time in front of the computer, looking at things, reveling in art, craft, architecture, design and political humor. I retired early from the corporate world, and now spend a lot of time cutting things out and rediscovering my collection of paper and ephemera, trying to reconcile my introvert-extrovert nature. My formal training and background is in the history of art (specifically Italian Renaissance painting) which was far too stodgy for me and too interested in the history when I really loved the slides. If I didn’t swear so much, and if I had a diplomatic bone in my body (I don’t), I’d probably be driven to going into politics as a way of channeling my frustrations with the world.

When did you first start playing around with collage as an art form?

I have always loved paper. I started printmaking about fifteen years ago, and that led to classes in bookmaking. Monoprint led to the incorporation of chine colle and then to photocopy lithography. Eventually all of it seemed to run together. I guess pure-sticking-of-things-to-each-other began about ten years ago.

Who and/or what inspires you and your work?

I like looking at everything. I am nostalgic by nature and especially appreciate vintage engravings and bold and striking design of all periods. I have no guilt about cutting up old, damaged books. When I was growing up we’d often go “antiquing” with my mother and when I worked at a major auction house (in “collectibles”, not the big $ stuff) my appreciation for ephemera grew. There is a quality an innocence, purity, and calm to many vintage images that I like. There is inspiration in everything, but I think each person’s nature comes out in his or her approach to collage. I find many contemporary collagists inspiring, and a few very perplexing, but I enjoy looking at all of it anyway.

What's your creative space like?

It is an enormous room and my work-surface is a flat file on wheels. A wardrobe at the other end of the room is filled with bits of books, commercial papers, things that tickle me, old photographs, jewelry making bits, knitting wool, gewgaws and gimcracks. In one corner is a small etching press. Below that is a huge box full of monoprinted tissue paper. Cutting mats are scattered around, as are half-finished compositions waiting for attention. Basically my studio looks like a bomb has gone off in it most of the time. My cat sleeps on a giant pillow nearby, music or the radio is always on (I abhor silence), and the cork board above my table is full of photographs, postcards I love, and bits and pieces that I lose track of on a regular basis. In winter it is very cold in there, in summer it is an oven and dark - not conducive to working in, but it has a great view. Tidying it is a chore I prefer to avoid until it can no longer be denied. Strangely, I consider myself to be a relatively compulsive and organized person.

How would you describe your creative style or theme?

I guess I’d consider myself a maker and appreciator of more traditional images: background, middle-ground, foreground, narrative, figural. Not minimalist. Not random. Not suggestive. Not titillating. Not National Geographic.

What are some key things you consider when creating pieces?

I’d hope to create an image that I like and that rewards more than just a cursory glance. Richness and layers are important for me. Good craft is important to me. Simplicity is not my way. Balance, dynamism, harmony - those are good design concepts I hope I have internalized and that inform my work when it succeeds. Humor too. There are plenty of collagists that can get away with few elements, but I am not really one of them. Someone once commented on several of my collages alluding to them being in “my style”. I was quite pleased that I seemed, at least to someone, to have a recognizable style without resorting to a Miss Mazeppa-like “gimmick”.

Without giving up all your secrets, what is your artistic process when creating a work? 

I think making anything is such a personal process rather than a secretive one. Deciding when something is done or deciding on the right place to put something, are decisions made in the blink of an eye. I stand at my desk for hours and lose track of time. Participating in the Los Dias Contados project this year and is a great exercise in making something every day, and something as simple as I can get away with. I also like to spend a few days making a stack of backgrounds to be used later on, generally in black and white. Basically, it’s snippet, line, color, expression or shadow that sparks a thought. Juxtaposing elements until I like it. I think most collagists work this way, but luckily all of us have different tastes, stashes, and sensibilities, so the results are always different.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be? 

I have only done one collage collaboration so far, this past winter (with Sabine Remy), but would LOVE to do more. It was very energizing. I have a stack of starters ready for anyone interested in them. Ready! Willing!


Aside from creating your artworks, what else keeps you busy? 

Life keeps me busy, living in a second language keeps me busy too. Trying to keep active is also a daily concern. In the summers for the past few years I have facilitated a painting school that comes to my adopted town - acting as local liaison, troubleshooting, organizing and putting out fires. That keeps me very busy in the hottest months of the year. I like to travel and would love to do that more - just walking and looking is very inspiring. Locally, I collaborate with a few friends to bring cultural and artistic tourism to our town and to open the minds of the locals to the wider world. Worrying keeps me busy, as does keeping up with the wider world.

Any recent, current or future projects we should know about?

More collaborations would be fun to do. I am trying to put myself out there a bit more and execute themed collages for publications and exhibitions, but deadlines are not my strong suit. Next year I really would like to organize a meet-up for cutting, pasting, wine-drinking and idea exchange here in my little town. A comfortable, inclusive, non-critical forum to exchange ideas and get to meet people in person we all know mainly online. I can’t imagine anything more engaging. Not taking ourselves too seriously (PLAY!), but a lot of fun and very international, productive, and collaborative. It is tentatively called “Collage Convivium Civita Castellana”.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give someone looking to start making collage art? 

I don’t think there is a more accessible medium for anyone who wants to be creative than collage. I think everyone should do it, and everyone can do it. The calendar project of Los Dias Contados is a fun way to do a bit every day, so that would be a great start for anyone new to collage who enjoys a daily prompt and a ready-made community online. Endless looking is never a bad idea. Making something every day is also a good discipline.