This is the first in another new series I’ve been dreaming about sharing in this space for a long time. As OPG is rooted in my love for global inspirations and non-traditional lifestyles, it feels important to share stories from those who are living life on their own terms.
In thinking about what being “one part gypsy” means to me, I feel drawn to creatives and independent thinkers who spend their life on the road or have otherwise embarked on soul-calling journeys– and the lessons, surprises, joys and life changing realizations that have come as a result. Through sharing these stories, it is my hope to inspire all of us how to think outside the confines of our own box and expand beyond the 9-5 conveyor belt culture.
As the first in the Modern Gypsy series, I’m thrilled to introduce a long time insta-crush of mine Allison Kunath, who happened to be a Venice neighbor and also spent several months in the same beach town in Nicaragua as we did!
For years, I’d been following her for her dreamy pastel color palettes, process shots, and geometric and blind contour illustrations, but really became intrigued when she started posting images during a creative sabbatical in Mexico. From there, I’ve watched her continue to expand and explore, finding canvases in all she sees. From walls to pools, sand to skin (even turning a surf bruise into a starry galaxy!) Allison is the kind of artist who inspires me to soak deep into my surroundings and turn it all into art.
Name: Allison Kunath
Current location: Venice, CA // Coming off 6 months in Central America, capped by a road trip from Nicaragua to LA
For a living I… Make visual art.
What brought you to this point in your life? I began my professional life as a graphic designer when I moved to Los Angeles in 2009. Over the following few years I slowly transitioned from the world of digital art back to my first love of analog art. I went from having an agency 9-5 with an Etsy shop on the side to freelance design and commissioned fine art. Currently, I’m saying no to most commissions to make space for my studio explorations that mainly attempt to illustrate different elements of my personal evolution. I use the work both as a tool to better understand myself, and to share what I learn along the way.
My creative process in three words: I love this question. Had you asked me this a year ago, it would have been quite different, and I’m curious how it might change in the future. At the moment, these feel solid: Breathe, Trust, Play
When I get stuck I… Mix it up. I work in all sorts of styles and mediums, and part of the reason is that it helps me to stay energized and inspired. When something isn’t feeling right, the best thing for me to do is experiment with something completely fresh. A 180 usually helps clear the blockage and teach me something I needed to learn.
Themes I keep coming back to are… I could explore connection and communication for the rest of my life. Generally speaking – I think these are ‘save-the-world’ kinda words. Add more healthy connection or clear communication to any situation and it’s likely to improve. But on a personal level, my fascination with connection starts with the connection I have with myself. A lot of my work is in response to meditation, and reflections on who I am being in this life – all with the aim of greater self awareness. This foundational connection with myself impacts every other relationship in my life and leads to work that also explores love, sex, community, and cosmology. The work itself is a form of non-verbal communication, but I’m also really interested in spoken language, and all the other ways that we express ourselves. Anytime someone wants to share an understanding of themselves that doesn’t quite meet the eye (or is curious about the me below the surface) I’m all in. That type of understanding makes me feel super alive.
I’m so inspired by your creative sabbaticals. Can you tell us about some of them and how it all began?
It started this time last year when I went to the Yucatán for a residency. I had been internally brewing a shift in my work for nearly a year, but at that point I only had the first hints of where I wanted to take it and hadn’t found a way to break through. During my time in Akumal (30 minutes north of Tulum) I was surprised by how easily new explorations came through. It’s similar to the allure of social anonymity while traveling – in the same way that you can introduce yourself to a stranger in any way that you see fit, I got the opportunity to approach my process from a brand new angle.
How have these sabbaticals changed you or affected your life? Your art?
Depending on the environment, the work changes by sheer necessity. Being forced to work in different ways naturally brings about fresh results. Additionally, in the past I thought that in order to make good work I needed to be hunkered down in my studio in LA. I think as I was growing up, I never actually believed that I could be a professional artist, with my own proper studio. My career accelerated when I moved my work into my first studio that was separate from my home – and I started to associate success with the studio. The sabbaticals have reminded me how silly it is to slap generalized conditions on anything. I expected that it would be distracting, and hard to motivate in such idyllic places. Turns out, my inspiration lights up and the work really thrives. I’ve got a better understanding of how much of productivity is a simple choice, which means I may never have to vacation again – so long as I continue to choose to make it work on the road.
It’s very cool how you’re able to beautify and leave your mark on the places you’ve spent time. How do these commissions come about? Does the work bring you to a location or does the work come once you’re already in a place? Any favorite pieces?
It’s a mix of both. Often times, I travel with a project in mind. My recent trip to Nicaragua was initially meant to be a month long, but thanks to connections made in the first couple weeks of my stay, I ended up sticking around for four months. I had a great time working on all the pieces I left behind in Nicaragua – but I’ve got a particular soft spot for the pool mural I painted in San Juan Del Sur.
Any advice for others wanting to work and travel like you do?
For me, what used to stand in the way of travel was the thought of putting my creative work on hold. If you work independently, or your job can be done remotely – make it a priority to test out working from a place that’s been calling you lately. Prove to yourself (and if necessary your employer) that you’re able to keep work flowing on the road. Once the ‘I can’t take time away’ excuse is no longer valid, the world is your oyster. If you’ve got a job that can’t be done remotely, and isn’t generous with the vacation days – just remember that there’s always someone who’s found a way to explore with less money and less time than you have. Travel was something that felt out of reach for me until quite recently, but like anything, it’s just a choice of how you want to prioritize it.
What parts of your life are traditional? Which parts are not?
I suppose most of my operational life is traditional. The taxes, the utilities, the groceries, the car, the apartment. (Noticing a money theme here…) But I think it’s safe to say that the rest of my life is based on challenging convention. Not with rebellious or contrarian motives, just so I can try to catch it when tradition attempts to make a choice for me that I’d prefer to make myself.
What sacrifices have you had to make to live this kind of life?
Seems that most of my life is based around the pursuit of greater freedom these days. That means that sometimes I go without some of the things that used to represent ‘stability’ for me. Things like the fact that my paychecks don’t come at regular intervals, I don’t keep all of my belongings at any one address, and sometimes I go a long time without seeing people that I love. I’m getting better at maintaining a solid sense of stability from the inside out – but some days can feel rocky and lonely.
I remember seeing that you celebrated your birthday one year by asking for creative feedback from friends and just loved the concept. Can you tell us more about this? What inspired it and what was the experience like?
I think feedback is a really effective and important tool for growth, but if it comes at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or doesn’t come at all – the opportunity can be totally missed. So a couple of friends and I sat down and came up with a list of questions designed to draw out some pretty raw feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of whoever’s in the hotseat. Responses to the questions are written on paper and shuffled before they’re read aloud to keep the answers anonymous and encourage the real stuff to come out. I was in the hotseat for my 29th birthday party, and the experience was pretty beautiful. I learned a lot about the ways my closest friends view me, which was pretty darn warm n’ fuzzy. But there were a few answers that really surprised me and made me reflect in a new way, which is 100% the goal.
What does freedom mean to you?
I feel the most free when I know how I feel, I’m able to express it honestly, and I accept whatever’s coming out.
What does abundance mean to you?
Trusting there’s always enough. Knowing I’m always taken care of.