At Fountain House Gallery, an Emerging Artist Finds Creative Energy in Recovery
“Nothing is absolute,” Frida Kahlo wrote. “Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.” That idea neatly encapsulates the blossoming career of Alyson Vega—an artist, like Kahlo, who found her creative calling after a devastating injury.
In the case of the Mexican painter, it was a bus accident, broken bones, and the consequent three months spent in a body cast, which motivated the then-18-year-old to paint a self-portrait at her bedside easel. In Vega’s case, the injury was more invasive: a stroke caused by a benign brain tumor. After surgery, she experienced memory loss and communication impairments. But she also experienced a surge of artistic energy. Her 22-year career as a math teacher was over; her artistic practice was just beginning.
Which isn’t to ignore Vega’s natural ability as an artist. Though she initially pursued a career in education, she was always creative. At a young age, she taught herself to sew and quilt, and she later earned a degree in Japanese folklore and mythology at Harvard College. But it was during recovery from surgery that she started looking at the world differently and recognizing the creative potential in everyday objects. She started collecting material and creating art in a variety of mediums, from painting to sewing to printmaking.
The resulting works have grabbed the attention of art critics and collectors alike, not only at Fountain House Gallery—including in the New York gallery’s current show—but also at the 2016 Outsider Art Fair. Likewise, her recent solo show at White Columns caught the eye of Roberta Smith from the New York Times. In her review, Smith drew particular attention to a quiltlike patchwork of fabric pieces strung to a wire frame. “What holds them together is unclear,” she said, “which has a magical effect.”
Those words relate to Vega’s practice as a whole. She’s not an emerging artist fresh out of art school; her creative impulses spring from somewhere deeper, from the recesses of mind and spirit, from the jumble of personal memories and daily inspirations. Like Kahlo’s vibrant paintings, they communicate both grief and joy, and like Kahlo’s self-portraits, Vega’s work might not exist without a seemingly catastrophic event. They produce a magical effect, indeed, one bound in the mysterious workings of the brain and the complexity of human experience.