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Allyson Comstock

Professor in the Department of Art
College of Liberal Arts

Allyson Comstock is an artist, administrator and studio faculty member in her 25th year at Auburn University. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in studio art from Occidental College and a Master of Fine Arts from Arizona State University. Following graduate school, she studied Japanese papermaking at Pyramid Atlantic in Washington, D.C., with Yoichi Fujimori, the proprietor of the Fuji Paper Mill in Japan. Working primarily in handmade paper to create two-dimensional artworks and in mixed media to create sculptural installations, Comstock explores ideas related to the natural world such as the healing properties of nature and ecological issues. She was awarded a National Science Foundation grant through the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program and this fall is spending two months working with researchers at Palmer Station to create a set of 30 total drawings to represent the Antarctic environment.

1. You focus on ecology and nature and incorporate natural materials in your work. Why is this a priority for you?

I have visited some amazing places including Antarctica, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands and Belize. I have whitewater rafted on nine different rivers. I have seen the Grand Canyon, the Redwood Forest and Crater Lake. All of this time in nature has made me understand that the natural world is an important part of my spiritual life. I believe it is no longer enough to see nature; one needs to experience it, appreciate it and hopefully even understand it, while there is still enough left to enjoy. As an artist, I use my art to draw attention to the natural world and remind people about its importance to our lives.

2. What sparked your particular interest in Antarctica and this grant?

In 2009 I went on an expedition cruise to Antarctica. Before I left for the cruise, someone asked me "Why would you want to go to Antarctica?" My answer was simple, "I want to see it while it is still there to see," and I'm glad I did. Seeing Antarctica in person is beyond what one can imagine; photographs and documentary films simply cannot adequately convey this amazing place. It inspires a reverence for nature that is difficult to describe. The National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program will enable me to spend an extended period in Antarctica and to create a series of drawings with the intended goal of creating a similar reverence in my viewing audience for this unique landscape and the natural world in general.

3. What do you hope to accomplish through this project?

I am concerned about the effects of global warming that are so profoundly affecting our world, and important research related to global warming is taking place in Antarctica. Creating artwork as a participant in the NSF Antarctic Artist and Writers Program will enable me to draw attention, through visual means, to some of the research that is taking place in Antarctica. I will collaborate with biologists James McClintock from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Linda Amaral-Zettler from the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole to bring attention to their research.

Although I usually work in the medium of handmade paper, in this project my goal is to create a suite of drawings titled "Antarctica: Micro, Macro and In-between." The drawings will be organized as triptychs and viewers will see a microscopic view of Antarctica, as seen by scientists, a more familiar broad landscape view of Antarctica, and situated between the two drawings a central panel that brings together these two views. The goal is to help viewers understand that what happens at the smallest or microscopic level in the Antarctic environment affects the big landscape view that is so well known and admired. The ultimate goal is to create a new perception and deeper appreciation of the Antarctic environment.

4. How did you get involved in the art of papermaking?

I began making paper in an undergraduate art class at Occidental College. My professor, Linda Lyke, was just beginning to learn about papermaking and asked if I was interested in jumping into the investigation with her. It was a unique learning experience because we learned about papermaking together and taught one another.

5. What have you enjoyed most in your 25 years at Auburn?

I have enjoyed that my job allows me to continue learning. Exploration and experimentation are central to making art and the result is that one learns a lot. Along the same line, I have taught many excellent students at Auburn who, through their creative ideas, have challenged me to learn new art methods, materials and techniques so that I could teach them.

Nov. 4, 2013