Kathmandu Street Style by Samuel Allison

At the foothills of the Himalayas, Kathmandu is a global crossroads of fashion trends. Styles from New York to Bombay to Lhasa debut on a stage that’s been bustling for centuries. Breakdancers, biker gangs & hipsters intermingle with monks, wandering mendicants & dreadlocked yogis. The backdrop couldn’t be more spectacular – a panoply of pagodas, monasteries, prayer flags & palaces. Above it all, the gods & guardian demons stand in naked stone. They oversee the pageantry of samsara as they always have, unmoved by anything but the eternal.

I photographed this series during a visit to Kathmandu in 2012. It was a homecoming of sorts, as I’d lived there as a teenager to learn thangka painting & do my first photo reportage work with a busted up Canon AE1. The series took on a new poignancy after the earthquake this past year that leveled some of the temples & statues you see in these shots.  

The making of a yogi superstar's book cover by Samuel Allison

This is a shoot I did for the Danish yoga teacher extraordinaire, Simon Krohn. It wound up leading to the cover of his first book, Facing Reality, on Indian philosophy, the everyday practice of yoga & his own hero’s journey. 

The location was an old concrete pavilion on the beach in Varkala, South India. We waited for a sunset sky with roiling clouds over the Arabian Sea – the perfect compliment to his serenity in these extreme postures.

Check out Simon’s work here:

www.MindYourself.dk

Impressions of a winter residency at Arts, Letters & Numbers by Samuel Allison

What are the essential elements that lead to producing art instead of dreaming about getting around to it one fine day? Creation isn’t a solitary endeavor that can happen just anywhere. It takes the right space, the right stretch of time & the right community to support & cajole you into making good on your inspiration. Arts Letters & Numbers has it all. 

 

Juliet Martin at her loom.

Juliet Martin at her loom.

Juliet's Threads

Juliet's Threads

Imagine a stretch of lake country in upstate New York, just far enough away from the bustling world. There’s a white, weather-beaten, hilltop mansion that’s lived former incarnations as a brothel & old folks’ home, now repurposed as an international creative factory. You have arrived.

 

The writing desk beckons

The writing desk beckons

In the common rooms are two pianos, one ready for Carnegie Hall, the other about to disintegrate. Coffee is brewing at all hours of the day & night in the restaurant-scale kitchen. A huge evergreen shades the front porch, where tobacco debris overflows rusty old cans. Squirrels, chipmunks & wild turkeys have the run of a yard that fades into surrounding forest.

 

 

 

Just down the hill, by a river where you might spot a beaver or muskrat, stands The Mill – two massive floors of former industrial glory. The ground level is still packed with machinery, power tools, lumber & gutted engines. The upper level is a vast hall of light, meticulously converted to exhibition space in the front & studio space at the back. The concrete walls & timber roof have a thousand years of life left in them. Breathe in the stillness for a moment & you’ll feel a crackle of all the genius that’s come here before you.

 

 

Now find yourself the right patch of sun streaming through the cathedral windows. Set up your desk, loom, easel or typewriter, & get to work. All the elements have coalesced for your vision to bear its fruit. From here on out, it’s up to you & whatever muses you can entice. This is where the magic happens. This is where projects get done.

 

 

Much gratitude to David Gersten, Che, Frida & the whole ALN community who made my residency possible. Much love to my fellow artists from Denmark, Nigeria, England & around the States for inspiring me along the way.

 

Thoughts on the death of old work, forging ahead & no looking back by Samuel Allison

There’s a hackneyed joke among artists that what they really want is to make a bonfire-sized heap of their past work & light it all up. I don’t have stats to support this, but the feeling seems coincident with a higher than average rate of artists’ studios burning down. It’s not that creative people are prone to pyromania, but rather that something in their discontent attracts the flames of fate. 

It happened to my high school photography teacher, whose life’s work was accidentally incinerated one night. Without the weight of a thousand prints & ten thousand rolls of film, she was left with the coveted fresh start. She could lean into the future & become whatever sort of artist she chose to be. It made her a great teacher.

When they’re honest, even the most accomplished visionaries are rarely content with what they’ve made in the past. Just listen to Annie Dillard’s response on the New Yorker Radio Hour when asked how she feels about Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: “Oh, I have to admit that I wrote that… I never thought it was any great shakes… But if it was the most conventional, of course it would have the most readers, and I will not resent the poor thing for that.”

Artists, if they choose to stay in the game, have no choice but to believe in their potential to transcend & keep doing better. They live in a perpetual myth that the next project will eclipse all the past disasters, near misses & fractional achievements.  

On a practical level, creative obsessions exponentially gather mass & volume that can hold an artist back. Old work just keeps piling up. Anyone who’s ever cleaned out the barn of a painter or sculptor knows that it can end up accumulating enough to warp the space-time continuum. This is one of the reasons people need to buy art – to extract its gravity from the artist’s orbit.

The best book I’ve read on these aspects of the creative life is The Inspired Heart by Jerry Wennstrom. He writes of the spiritual crisis that led him to massacre his entire body of paintings in a single night around his 30th birthday. The work had gained acclaim & skyrocketing value, but he could no longer abide its existence. He describes that night as a one-shot choice between heaven & hell. For several years following, he lived as an exile from all exterior realms of creativity. He made nothing. He pared his existence down to the point that he was flat broke, gave away all his possessions & ate only when people offered him food. At some point, skinny & exuberant, knowing in his bones that art & life are inseparable, he started creating again. If you check out his work, I think you’ll agree that his subsequent paintings & sculptures veritably pulse with a strange holy light.

Well, nothing so dramatic led to scrapping my ramshackle old website & designing this new one. But it made for a cathartic barn burning of sorts. I lost track of how many dusty prints & drawings I’ve given away or consigned to the flames recently. I considered not migrating any of the old work into the new galleries, but in the end selected what felt like it still has life to live. The rest was sent off to oblivion, along with several obsolete versions of myself that made it. Free of all that weight, I feel a tremendous forward momentum.   

Skull tryptic, 2015