Alli Gerrish: Transforming Personal Grief to Collective Empathy With Visual Storytelling

“I believe in the power of art to help people tap into a universal consciousness of the common joys and fears we all share. Putting paint onto the canvas is a peaceful way to make order out of chaos, joy out of struggle, and to share the beautiful that is always found next to the challenging.”
–Alli Gerrish

By Gabriella Mazza

Alli Gerrish is a prolific painter and digital artist from Boulder, Colorado, with a warm smile and vivacious spirit. A former advertising broadcast producer and current voiceover artist, she has found her vision through a unique blend of traditional and virtual supports, creating whimsical abstractions that navigate the human struggle out of pain.

Gerrish’s latest body of work, Diary of a Lockdown, is a heartfelt, yet humorous account of the artist’s feelings and impressions during the pandemic. Encompassing 100 pieces between acrylic and digital paintings, the series chronicles Gerrish’s emotional journey, as she left her home in Boulder, to care for her mother upon her father’s passing. From the intimacy of her domestic walls, the artist taps into a universal consciousness, traveling beyond the confines of her personal experience. Transcending specificity, the soft contours, delicate palettes, soothing patterns, and simple geometric forms of her paintings bring peace and hope to all eyes and hearts. 

In our conversation with Gerrish, we explore how her practice expanded in recent years,  unraveling her newly developed vocabulary, and gaining insights into her future aspirations. 

Alli Gerrish
Agora Gallery artist Alli Gerrish in her studio

Alli, there’s been a recent shift in your practice, which led to the creation of your first digitally produced series, Diary of a Lockdown. Can you tell us how your transition from painting to digital and video art came about?

During the lockdown I found myself taking care of family out of state. With galleries shut down and my usual studio space unavailable, I began experimenting with drawing apps and digital creation on my phone. The resulting paintings and videos quickly began to take on meaning as a visual journal, chronicling my raw response to the events unfolding around me. Through the work I was able to give voice to the common emotions and events in daily life we were all experiencing during that time of global upheaval and change. 

Working in this new medium which captured both my mood and every stroke of color in my method allowed this new artistic process to emerge. By combining the paintings with my writings, voice work, and music, I could translate my visual language into these abstract compositions of “artimation.”

Switching to a video format must have come naturally to you, given your background as a voice-over artist. Could you tell me more about it and how this complements your work as a painter?

Alli Gerrish
Gerrish at the Blue Tile Gallery in Denver, Colorado, during an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS

My first career was in television production at an advertising agency called Hal Riney & Partners in San Francisco. I was part of the team that created work for the Saturn Car Company and along the way became the “real people” voiceover for the campaign. This led to a second career of being a voice talent for other ads, videos, and audiobooks. 

For me, art is a tradition of visual storytelling. As my videos in Diary of a Lockdown began to take shape and the stories started to emerge, I thought 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.

And as your stories came to life, a new symbolic language emerged. How does this help you connect with your audience?

Communication through symbolism invites us to tap into a universal consciousness of the joys and fears we all share. This body of work leans into a Fauvism-esque vibe in that the flat shapes and emotional colors express my reality in the paintings. I was drawn to this marriage of form and feeling to explore the manifestations of my personal experiences of everything from grief, the energy of threat, kindness of strangers, the myth of autonomy, trauma, illness, and social inequity.

Symbolism creates an easy access point for the viewer, allowing for interpretation and flexibility in the narrative and making space for the expression of light into the dark.

You mentioned wanting to share collective wisdom that comes from adversity. How do you navigate the balance between personal expression and creating art that resonates with a broader viewership? 

I’m not sure it is something that I actually need to navigate. By seeking to represent absolute or universal truths, art can actually take care of this all by itself. We are all connected, all living beings, and nothing and everything about me is unique. By sharing my story onto the canvas it automatically goes from the personal to the universal.

We all will suffer from the fragility and the beauty in this world at different times in our lives so hopefully, art can speak to the part of us that has no words and make people feel less alone.

My favorite part of any show is to bear witness when someone comes up to tell me the narrative they see in the work. I love watching the story then go from universal back to personal and witnessing that transformational wisdom.

You describe your painting practice as a peaceful way to make order out of chaos and joy out of struggle. How does this translate into your work?

Despite the challenges we face as a society today, the overarching theme in this body of work is hope. Hope that even during the lockdown as the world was sort of resting on pause, even as injustices and inequities were being exposed and traumas coming to light, people were rising up, taking care of each other, and continuing to fight. 

Creating art, in whatever form, allows for a peaceful way to share the beautiful that is always found next to the challenging. I believe that by helping myself and others explore the energy of our circumstances, we can use that written word or visual language to heal our hearts and minds and hopefully create a source of inspiration for how we would like to move forward in years to come.

Alli Gerrish
Protection, 2023, Acrylic on board, 60″ x 48″
Alli Gerrish
Connection, 2023, Acrylic on board, 60″ x 48″

Viewing art has been proven to help people process that the challenges we get through in our lives create strength and beauty on the other side. It can shine a light on our darkest corners and allow people the opportunity to challenge their own thinking, which right now feels like it is needed more than ever.

How do you see your practice evolving in the future? 

Painting is a reflection of our lives and the society in which we live. I would like to continue to explore the creative intersection between vulnerability and strength through these narrative abstractions, working in multiple genres and expanding on the visual language I have discovered with this latest body of work. 

The digital works printed on metal have such depth and an ability to see beneath each layer and the one that came before giving them a sense of time expanded. It feels transparent and solid at the same time. The videos have so many places that they could call home in commercial, public, or installation spaces and the opportunity is rich for social justice collaboration with other poets and musicians. Original works will of course always be part of my practice as well with the unique truth-seeking fingerprint they create.

Gerrish’s work at Agora Gallery

Gerrish’s paintings are currently displayed at Agora Gallery, as part of Outside the Box, a group exhibition of paintings and sculptures that explore the notion of physical and psychological confinement. The show will be on view until September 27, 2023. For inquiries about acquiring any of Gerrish’s works, please contact us here.


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