Los Angeles based collage artist and film photographer, Mitchell Allison caught our eye with his water series. With distorted bodies coming through glass containers, Mitch has found a way to show the body in a explicitly, non-sexual way. He sat down with us to describe his art style, social media, his water series, and how life in Los Angeles. Check it out below.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a visual artist based out of Los Angeles by way of Austin, Texas. I studied film and political science in school, but I’m not really doing much with that. I do feel like it is flavored with a bit of the visual art that I do right now, although my work isn’t weirdly political. I shoot exclusively on vintage cameras with 35mm film, which is something that I did pick up in school because we had to shoot on film first before we could shoot anything digital. That’s kind of how I got started and from there, I went back and forth from being a filmmaker, to just doing photography, and from there, I got into mixed media collage work. Now, I do a mix of all those things.
Where did you go to school?
I went to UT Austin.
How would you explain your art to someone who’s never seen it before?
I usually tell people that it’s very absurd. I like things to be really fun, mostly because I can’t take myself seriously. I like my work to be kind of funky and eye-catching as a way of drawing you in. From there, I want it to be something that makes you look twice. There’s a photo series that I’m doing right now with these glass containers filled with water to distort the body. A lot of what I want it to be is very non-sexualized, dis-shaping of the anatomical figure. So absurd, fun, and explicitly non-sexual in a way that uses the body as a geometric shape as opposed to a sexual object.
I fucking love that.
[Laughs] Thank you.
You do both photography and collage art, which came first? Did you start out on Windows Paint like the rest of us [laughs]?
I actually started out with photography in middle school and high school. It was very different from what I do now. I did a lot of light painting and exposure photography. Then, when I went to college and studied film, I was doing film work but photography was always a focus. When I moved to LA, I had a moment where I was kind of unsure of what I wanted to work on so I took a lot of material that inspired me, like photography or colors, and I would just stack them on top of each other. So, the collage stuff came from there…taking the things that inspire me and making them into something new. I would just stare at a stack of cutouts and my roommate would ask when I was going to toss this stuff out, but I just knew that I’d use it in some kind of way eventually. So photography was first and collage came from that, then they just decided to come together.
My favorite collage of yours is the one with the paper tear coming from the eye with the caption “Get you a man who goes hard with the scissors and scotch tape”. What inspired that? What inspires you in general?
A lot of it is a process of playing around with things, especially when it’s collage. With film photography, you shoot it and however long it takes to get the film back, that’s the image you created. Whereas with collage, it’s something that I can stick with. I’ll cut out different shapes to see what I like. I really like moving images. A lot of the stuff that I do is animated in some way. I look at it and see if there is a way that I can make this still image move in a playful way. A lot of it is me sitting there with cutouts, moving them around to find something eye-catching, fun, and makes you think.
The “Paper Tear” collage was a result of me going back to the basics with color schemes because I am a visually, color-oriented, person. I had a period where I really wanted to work with primary colors just because it was three things for me to work with, making it less chaotic. That day, I was also feeling very creatively frustrated so I wanted to portray how I was feeling because I had all these ideas in my head but I was unsure on how to execute them.
How long does it usually take?
Each collage is different. Each one is a reflection of my current head space. Once I can get into a flow, the work comes out pretty quickly. It usually comes together within a couple of hours, like a spur of the moment creation.
Has your experience with social media affected your art? For me, social media is so hard because I find myself clicking through hashtags and different publications like Milk and Adolescent…I see these ideas and I want to recreate them but I don’t want to copy them. It’s so difficult.
I think it is really interesting. There is a way of going down the rabbit hole and suddenly, you’re just trying to get follows and likes. Before you can even realize it, you’re just creating things that can get the most attention. I try to avoid that as much as possible because that’s not what I want to create. I’ve had projects that I thought would takeoff, and I’m not really proud of because I did it for the attention. I do use social media as a tool because it has been the way that I’ve collaborated with other artists and it has become a reference of inspiration for me. In the same way that I have stacks of cutouts, I have digital folders of inspiration from other artists on Instagram for color scheme ideas and so on, but it’s never a copying thing.
You talked a little bit about Los Angeles and that creative scene. What has that been like for you?
I know [laughs]. I lived in LA for a while but I could never really focus on my art because…rent.
Absolutely. That’s something that I’m still figuring out.
How long have you been there?
I’ve been here for just over a year now.
Do you love it or hate it?
It’s definitely an interesting city because everyone is out here doing some kind of hustle. When I first came here, I was like oh that’s so inspiring, but a year into it, I just want my coffee and not your art pitch. LA is definitely a great hub for creative collaborations, but at the same time, there is some politics involved and it’s hard to advance. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I do think that I’m in a good spot to create in a pool of inspiring individuals, but I also know that once you get drowned by this city, you’re a goner.
That’s true. You seem to have found your place in LA, though. You mentioned your water shots earlier, which is apart of a series, correct?
Yes. It’s an on-going series. What I’ve posted so far has been from two shoots with two different models. It was exploring how I could distort the shape using these glass containers and water with a specific set of filters because I want it to be this glamorous, sparkly look. I kind of joked with this one I posted recently where the model is holding the glass in front of her face and you just see her eye and I called it, “My Cyclops Beauty Queen”. I just love this absurd, weird, but gorgeous kind of aesthetic. So these photos are from the beginning of the series and I’ll be working on it for awhile, expanding more on human shapes and locations. I want to branch out from my home studio, and go to these different areas that insinuate the shapes that I want to create.
Where did this beautiful idea come from?
A few different places, actually. I had a couple of models that I really wanted to work with and we were trying to figure out exactly what we wanted to do. It was a bit of figuring out who I wanted to work with first, what I wanted to execute next, and what the creative outcome would be. I have a couple of different part time jobs and one of them is at a thrift store on the Westside and they have all these containers upon containers. So one day, we had a sale and they had me moving these giant glass containers and placing them in the front. I was working behind the cash register and whenever customers would walk by, they would look freaky and distorted through the glass. I just grabbed all of them because I was so inspired by that. I had of course seen other artists do something similar with water and distorting shapes, so I wanted to try my spin at that. These first two shoots were definitely testers, to see how much I could actually do with this idea.
Would you say that this has been your favorite project?
I’m such a loser [laughs]. You can ask me next week and my favorite project would be whatever I’m working on at that moment. Right now, I can say that this is my favorite project. I’m just happy with the way that they’ve turned out and I’m happy with the response that they have been getting. If you asked me a week ago, I probably would have said the collage with the paper tear that we talked about. In a month, we’ll see.
When you’re creating, are you listening to music? If so, who?
Always. My friends make fun of me because if I’m not actively talking to somebody, I’m always listening to music. I paused my music when you called me and I’ll probably start playing it again when we hang up [laughs]. My music usually depends on the shoot. I’ll create playlists of new music that I’m into or playlists that fit the vibe of that shoot. When we were doing the water shoot, especially because it was something that I haven’t shot a lot with nude and semi-nude models, so I wanted them to feel comfortable, but also have the music fit a fun and absurd atmosphere. There’s this band called Superbody that I’m really into. I’m really into the 80s too. Whenever I’m doing something more sensual, Frank Ocean is always playing in my apartment. I’ve been really interested in Sophie, who’s a trans PC music star, and she just released this new album that just melted my brain.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Whew. Dude, I wish I knew. I always joke with my friends that I have creative ADHD because I had done photography, went to film school, focused on film, did collage stuff…I do want to be considered a jack of all trades and I have so many things that interest me. I came out to LA initially wanting to do filmmaking and to be an actor, and these are still things that I’m interested in but I can’t really focus on that because I have all these visual art ideas that I want to work on. I get distracted by one medium and tend to focus on that for awhile. I would love to say where I’d be in five years, but honestly, who knows?
You can keep up with Mitchell on Instagram @mitch.craft