Selective Focus: Alison Aune

Alison Aune is an award-winning painter and educator who paints large-scale works that combine intricate Nordic-style patterns, portraits and mixed-media techniques. This week Alison goes in-depth about her style, her inspirations and even her favorite paint brush.

AA: I studied painting as an undergrad and graduate student. In 1984 I received a BFA in painting and a teaching license in art education from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst where I am from, my dad was a professor of philosophy at UMASS and is currently emeritus, and I received a masters degree in painting from UMD (1987) and a PhD in Comparative Arts from Ohio University in Athens (2000). In graduate school I changed from oil paint to acrylics because I needed the paint to dry quickly!

Nordic Amaryllis Mandala, acrylic paint and paper on canvas
72″ x 72″ 2016

I continued painting as fast as I could while I balanced my career in museum education at the Tweed Museum of Art (1991-1999) and in my role as professor of art education (1999-present) while raising three children with my printer-book arts husband Jon Hinkel.

After the passing of my mother, and birth of our children, I became increasingly interested in my Swedish heritage. My mother was a Minnesota Swede. I remember coming to Minneapolis as a child and wondering why my grandmother Iva and great grandmother Hulda were speaking Swedish! My dad is of Norwegian-Scotch-Irish-English decent and his father and grandfather spoke Norwegian. My parents never learned to speak Swedish or Norwegian and I was determined to try. I had lived in Sweden as an undergraduate student and in Norway as a graduate student and these years were incredibly important in my artistic development. I have returned many times and slowly I began researching and documenting historic Nordic textile patterns, designs, and domestic artifacts as source material for my creative research to honor my mother’s memory. In this way, I am working in the framework of a feminist aesthetic to celebrate women’s creative contributions to material culture.

Forest, acrylic paint and paper on canvas and board
46″ x 92″ 2016

Part of my artistic process is to search for, and document, historic Nordic textile patterns that I find in Scandinavia and then I re-interpret and re-contextualize them through a mixed-media approach: I arrange and collage (Xerox) copies, paper napkins, and wrappers of textile patterns onto canvas and wooden panels. Then I paint over them, literally retracing and discovering the forms, and I saturate the paper in acrylic by adding iconic portraits or plants over the paper and then I completely seal the designs into the surface using high quality Golden acrylic paint with my favorite paintbrush: Windsor Newton University Series 000. In addition to painting, I create illustrations, designs, and Nordic crafts for the Swedish Cultural Society, Pepperkakebyen Gingerbread City Duluth, the Nordic Center, Son’s of Norway, the Sami Center, and other Nordic cultural groups and art centers in Minnesota.

Linnea, acrylic paint and paper on canvas and board
40″ x 105″ 2016

While I have painted seriously since I took my first painting class at Amherst College with professor Robert Sweeney (38 years ago!) I have used the mixed media approach for 10 years. My husband has been framing my paintings for 32 years, I am very grateful, and for the past ten years the shape and size of these wooden frames has added a new dimension literally to my work. When my floral and portrait paintings became larger paintings, it seemed to say to many people that yes, indeed, I do: “ mean it!” I am serious about this imagery!

Silver IKEA Amaryllis, acrylic paint and paper on canvas
24″ x 48″2012

It is such a gift, and a privilege, to have time in the studio, my sanctuary. Uninterrupted time is precious and hard to get with the demands of teaching, committees and tasks, serving on the Nordic Center and Duluth Sister City boards, and my work as a community engaged art educator: I always am over-extended! Writing grants to fund research trips, document work, purchase art supplies, paying for the transportation of artworks, and this can be incredibly complex with an international exhibition, is time consuming and on-going. I am extremely grateful for university funding opportunities that supports some of my research and artistic activity. With this support I am able to build a body of work and in turn I actively share my creative research with my UMD students and with the broader community to all ages from pre-school children to senior citizens in art workshops, lectures, exhibitions, and community programming.

Rowan, acrylic paint and paper on canvas and board
24″ x 24″ 2016

My paintings are a visual celebration of life. It is rewarding for me to bring happiness to the world and make people feel uplifted when they see my work. I know it is not in fashion to create art that is calming “like a good arm chair” but I too want to share Matisse’s joie de vivre through artistic means.

My current Nordic inspired pattern paintings are very rewarding to me because as I said I am connecting with, and learning about, my cultural heritage. My work is heavily patterned, dense with color and repetition and borders. I am particularly inspired by Nordic designs from the 16th-19thc century and I was stunned when I learned about the significance of traditional textile patterning that was originally used as protection. According to Norwegian textile artist and scholar Annemor Sundbø : “By using repetitions, mirror imaging and patterns repeating in width and depth, symbols became ornaments. In folk beliefs, reverse imaging and repetition are ways to imbue symbols with increased strength and divine power ” (Norwegian Mitten and Gloves. North Trafalgar Square, 2011). I felt intuitively connected to this practice. In this way, I am visually celebrating my Minnesota-Swedish-Norwegian forbearers and other artists in aprons by honoring women’s contributions to folk art by reviving and reinterpreting traditional designs into a contemporary context.

In my mandala and portrait paintings, I use Siljan’s rye crisp bread wrappers as the universal form to symbolize harmony and balance. The floral patterns within and surrounding the portraits and plants are inspired from Swedish and Norwegian women’s traditional material culture: textile patterns such as dukagång, 18th century rölakan weavings from Skåne, Dalarna kattun, folkdräkter and bunader (folk dresses from Sweden and Norway), traditional Sámi Gákti, Norwegian sweaters, and various embroideries, and Nordic sølje (silver) all designs infused with ancient symbolic meaning for protection, fertility, healing, and cultural pride.

Norway House exhibition

If you go to Italy I have a painting in Imago Mundi: The Art of Humanity Contemporary Sami exhibition at the Fondazione Beneetton Studi Richerche in Venice. This exhibhition was curated by Marlene Wisuri from the Sami Cultural Center of North America in Duluth and it will be permanently housed in the Imago Mundi collection. If you go to the University of Raparin in Rania, Iraqi Kurdistan, my Daffodil Altar is on permanent display as a gift from the Duluth Sister Cities and Echoes of Peace Choir in their library. If you are in Duluth perhaps you saw my himmeli (kinetic sculpture) in the Finland 100 Exhibition curated by Marlene Wisuri and Angel Sauer at the Duluth Art Institute; I have two paintings at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth on display organized by Linda Powless, a painting at Pizza Luce as part of an art teacher exhibition organized by Kelly Dupre through February. Upcoming group exhibitions include the Duluth Art Institute Member’s Show that runs Jan. 25 to Feb. 23 and the UMD art faculty exhibition Fine. (Re) Fine. (De) Fine at the Tweed Museum of Art that opens Feb. 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. I have work in Joellyn Rock’s Fishnetstockings to be shown at the Frozen Film Festival at the Minnesota Museum of Marine Arts in Winona opening Feb. 8 also and I will have work in Sweep-contemporary painting at the Joseph Nease Gallery Feb. 10 to March 31.

I will be exhibiting at the Nordic Center in April in a group exhibition about Nordic-Ojibwe Flowers, Vines and Leaves for an Earth Day celebration. In August my sister Kirsten Aune and I will have an exhibition in Happsula, Estonia and in September we will exhibit together in the Connecting Globally, Engaging Locally Exhibition Program at the American Swedish Institute in conjunction with the Gudrun Sjödén A Colorful Universe exhibition.

Selected URLS
Website (PW: aaune)
Ambassadors of Peace
Duluth News Tribune Story
Imago Mundi
UMD: Art Education
North Shore Art Scene
Interview with Ed Newman
UMD’s Electronic Extravaganza
Smalandsposten article

Alison Aune is a painter and professor of art education at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Her Nordic inspired paintings have been exhibited at Norway House and the Groveland Gallery in Minneapolis, the Tweed Museum of Art and Duluth Art Institute in Duluth, the Scandinavian Cultural Center in Tacoma WA, Vesterheim Museum, Decorah Iowa, and in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. She was a Fulbright scholar to Sweden and American Scandinavian Foundation doctoral Fellow; she has numerous awards including a Minnesota Initiative Grant, Art Educator of Minnesota awards, and Jerome Foundation Travel Grant. Her work is in the collection of the Växjö City Hall, the Tweed Museum of Art, the Walker, and in many private collections in the USA and abroad.

1 Comment


about 6 years ago

Wonderful, powerful work!

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