An Artist's Magic Act
Inside Alyson Khan’s powerful process of crafting abstract art with meaning
In her home studio on a shady street in Lowry, Colorado-born artist Alyson Khan sits in a canvas director’s chair, surrounded by her 6-foot-tall magic tricks. “I believe in magic, in whatever weird way that is,” she says.
Photo by Be Boulder Photography
She’s not referring to rabbits in top hats or disappearing acts, of course. She’s talking about the healing power and maddening process—one that she refers to as “total hell” and “the coolest thing ever” in one breath—of creating art.
“Painting is magic,” she says. “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I go through this process and come out with this thing that communicates a story and makes me feel well.”
Khan, a mother of two and the daughter of two generations of quilters and sewers, first discovered the mystical qualities of painting in the ’90s, when she began working with acrylics, spray paint and watercolors on salvaged windows, shards of glass and other found objects. In 2000, she showed her work on a whim at a now-defunct Capitol Hill café.
“It was my first show ever, and I sold every piece,” she recalls. “It resonated with people, and that surprised me. I started to realize, ‘Wow, I can actually sell this.’”
Reconstruction with Golden Joinery
It took awhile—and the help of Saatchi Art, which exposed her work globally—before she could leave her marketing day job. Now, four years into her career as a full-time artist, Khan’s medium of choice is life-size canvas, but the composition echoes the pieces she was making decades ago. It’s a style that has fascinated her since she was a child: stark colors in abstract shapes, placed side-by-side to produce clean lines and visual contrast. Through quilting, collaging and painting, her creations have always been an experimental exploration of color, and a way to find a narrative within abstract forms.
In fact, each of Khan’s paintings begins and ends with a story. To ease the pressure of a towering blank canvas, she starts by scrawling a quote or phrase found in a book or her own journal over and over again—something as simple as “all is well.” She then goes through multiple drafts, adding layer by layer of pigment until the painting finally begins to gel and take on meaning. Once complete, the paintings are visual representations of moments in her life, personal relationships, snapshots from a dream, grief and, of course, healing.
“You don’t have to be in the right state of mind to paint or create,” she says. “It’s what puts you in the right state of mind. It fixes you. It’s like the magic elixir.”