Alli Gerrish, Box of Strength, 2023. Metal print. (Courtesy: Agora Gallery).

Words may fail us in the end, but art can speak to the part of us that has no words.

-Alli Gerrish

Alli Gerrish is a Colorado-based visual artist who creates paintings that straddle the space between abstract and symbolic representation. Her work draws upon narratives of human feelings, emotions, and energy, all of which she channels toward the transformative process of self-healing. Employing a diverse array of mediums, including acrylics, prints, mixed media, and voiceovers, Gerrish skillfully conveys her experiences within the context of society and culture, providing a glimpse into the collective wisdom that emerges when facing adversity. 

Until recently, Gerrish primarily identified as a narrative abstract painter who masterfully blended abstraction and figuration to convey compelling stories. Her first career was in television production at an advertising agency, where she created voiceovers for automobile campaigns. This led to a second career as a voice talent for other ads, videos, and audiobooks. Her creative journey took an exciting turn when she introduced digital tools into her practice, enabling her to seamlessly integrate mark-making, writing, and voiceover work. Gerrish enthuses, “Working in this new medium–which captured both my mood and every stroke of color–allowed this new artistic process to emerge.”

WHAT: Alli Gerrish at Outside the Box

WHEN: Sept 5—Sept 27

WHERE: Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th, New York

Gerrish’s latest series, Diary of a Lockdown, emerged during the pandemic, serving as a platform to articulate the emotions, events, and societal shifts that caused global upheaval and profound change. During mandatory lockdowns nationwide, the artist found herself taking care of family out of state. Faced with the closure of her gallery and studio, Gerrish turned to a more portable canvas through digital creation on her smartphone. Her videos and still images explored a wide range of themes, from grief, vulnerability, and acts of kindness from strangers to the illusion of autonomy, trauma, illness, and social inequality. Comprising over a hundred experiential artworks, the series is a visual meditation on shared experiences and collective healing during a time when democracy, public health, and even the planet felt threatened.

Alli Gerrish, Seeing Red, 2023. Digital print on fine art paper. (Courtesy: Agora Gallery).

“For me, art is a tradition of visual storytelling. As my videos in Diary of a Lockdownbegan to take shape and the stories emerged, I thought to myself, ‘What if I could allow the viewer to not only see but to hear?’ so I decided to add my voice and prose to expand the story through language and the experiential videos were born,” explains Gerrish. The overarching theme in Diary of a Lockdown is one of hope. The series seamlessly melds Gerrish’s visual painting process with narrative voiceovers and music, culminating in a living journal that transforms energy and iconography into abstract “artimation” compositions. Gerrish explains, “I chose to examine the theme of hope because even as the world paused, even as injustices and inequalities were being exposed, even with death tolls rising and trauma coming to light, people continued to rise, support one another, and persevere.”

Alli Gerrish, Scar Tactics, 2023. Metal print. (Courtesy: Agora Gallery).

As her stories came to life, Gerrish cultivated a new artistic vocabulary. By heightening communication through symbolism, the artist invites the viewer to tap into a universal consciousness of collective joys and fears. Symbolism also created an easy entry point for the viewer, allowing for flexibility in the narrative. In addition, through borrowing formal aspects from Fauvism, Gerrish’s art combines explorations of color, shape, surface, and line with figure and ground. Working in a square format, she creates a process that involves constructing and deconstructing painted space through layers of transformation, action, and motion. Geometric forms and organic shapes converge on the canvas, creating a dynamic interplay of positive and negative space. Transparent acrylics enhance the sense of depth, with bold strokes thrusting forward while luminous configurations recede into the background.

Art has been proven to aid in processing and healing from universal trauma, a message Gerrish believes is not simply relevant but essential in the present moment. Her work conveys the powerful idea that negative energy from any emotion or experience can be transmuted into something beautiful. Gerrish posits, “Your scars are really your badges of honor that can serve as instruments for healing your heart, mind, and society. Art serves as a transcript of our experiences and can be a poignant reminder of life’s vulnerability and a source of inspiration for charting a path forward.”

The inclusion of Gerrish in Agora’s current group exhibition, Outside the Box, is no accident. Their fall showcase surveys paintings and sculptures that challenge the physical and psychological boundaries of thought, environment, and form. Based on the narrative that we have all experienced or feel trapped in one way or another, facing external or internal obstacles that hinder progress, we may perceive ourselves as confined within a metaphorical box. The displayed artworks respond to this theme, oscillating between depictions of captivity and visions of escape, much like the dreams of open natural spaces. Similarly to Gerrish’s Diary of a Lockdown series, these works delve into the complexities of the human condition, capturing the struggles we encounter and our yearning for liberation.