Old Masters, New Perspectives

Artist Alison Causer visited SUNY New Paltz to encourage abstract fellow creatives to channel the works of old masters and use their ideas and techniques in contemporary ways. The artist spoke to a small crowd in the Lecture Center on Wednesday, Nov. 11 as part of the New Paltz Student Art Alliance’s Visiting Lecture Series.

Causer grew up in Toledo, Ohio and studied art at the Columbus College of Art and Design. She now resides in New York. The artist combined her Brooklyn apartment with her very own studio space — and as a result, she quite literally lives and breathes her art. It’s not always easy, Causer said. In fact, she often has to turn her paintings-in-progress toward the walls of her studio just to get a break from her work.

A self-proclaimed “big fan of production,” Causer tries to paint every day of the week. Of course, her live-in studio helps, but Causer also has her painting routine down to a science. The artist starts each session with a series of 10 small “studies” on 8-by-8 inch Benjamin Moore paint swatches. She paints with her body instead of her mind, freeing herself from any and all expectations that might inhibit her creativity. To any viewer, these color swatches splattered with paint look meaningless. Causer never titles these studies, using them instead as a warmup practice to jog her creativity and focus on her body’s movements.

With her warm-up out of the way, Causer cracks down on the good stuff: her works-in-progress.

Causer works on anywhere from five to 10 paintings at once to keep her mind stimulated and her process fresh. The sizes of Causer’s paintings run the gamut from 16-by-20 inches to 90-by-60 inches. Her influences come from too many artists and genres to name, but artists like Vincent Van Gogh and the contemporary Charline von Heyl top the list, she said. According to Causer, both Van Gogh and von Heyl use very defined brushstrokes and gestural marks in their works, creating complex works of art.

The artist also finds inspiration from painters like Joan Mitchell, whose works exhibit a certain “controlled chaos” that Causer finds irresistible. It’s a hard thing to master, she said. The technique boils down to one essential question: how can you, the artist, get the viewer to slow down?

“You want the viewer to stop and look,” Causer said, grinning. “[It’s] a lot to ask, but as a maker, if you can keep that in your mind, you can create powerful work.”

Whether she’s channeling post-impressionist painters, Renaissance prodigies or contemporary mixed-media artists, Causer hopes to emulate their techniques in her own compositions. Their familiar styles manifest in new ways, as they are inevitably filtered through Causer’s own modern perspective. Causer believes there is no shame in emulating the works of artists before her. It’s a crucial part of her artistic process, she said.

“Nothing is really new, to a certain extent,” she added. “If you absorb everything and work on the idea of seeing, you can really filter these ideas through your own lenses and create your own visual language.”

Art lovers can find Causer’s portfolio, credentials and contact information on her website, alisoncauser.com.