This Artist Visualizes Our Universe's Most Abstract Mysteries
"I’m really interested in astronomy, quantum physics, psychology, and philosophy. They’re different approaches in search of the same answers." WNW Member Allison Filice is doing her part to add illustration to the list with her latest project. Titled "Strange Universe", Allison's undertaking involves visualizing the most mysterious concepts of how our universe operates. Each illustration captures both the incredible balancing act of these concepts and the hallucinatory depth required to even wrap our minds around them.
In our conversation below, Allison tells us how this project came to life in the face of losing someone close. She also shares how drawing inherently mysterious and abstract concepts has helped her evolve as an illustrator. "It’s a bit like trying to recreate a dream. It may seem complete in your mind at the time, but there are so many holes you didn’t know were there until you try to reconstruct it. It’s challenging and alluring."
What perhaps is most alluring about "Strange Universe" is that the curiosity within the artist is so clearly visible in the resulting works. Allison acknowledges as much and advises you to do the same. "I believe that when you are tapping into that innate creative desire within you, people will be drawn to what you’re putting out into the world and everything will begin to take shape."
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Allison and how did she get here?
I was lucky to have grown up in a creative environment. My mom paints and is super crafty, and that was always present in my childhood. I studied graphic design and industrial design in college, and most of my work experience has been in graphic design and user experience design. I’ve always had a passion for illustration, and last year decided to focus on it. I also really enjoy painting; it’s meditative for me and is a nice escape from the digital world.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects, or do you try to approach each project as its own entity?
I see my work as a mirror of myself. I know a piece is complete when it looks like me. My work is quite friendly and accessible on the surface, with a deeper meaning to it. It’s all pretty simple and colorful, often with bold linework.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
Being my own self-promoter. I’m quite shy and terrible at networking, so it’s been a challenge to market myself and put my work and ideas out into the world. You need a lot of touch points out there so the right people can cross your path at the right time, and that’s something I’m working on. Getting consistent work is a challenge.
What lead you to start your latest personal project “Strange Universe”?
A lot of the symbols and ideas of this series had been floating around my mind for forever. The catalyst for starting this series was losing my grandfather this summer. I was really close with him, and I was trying to come to terms with it all. After visiting him for the last time and knowing he wasn’t going to be on earth much longer, I began to see an image in my mind. It’s the image in the “Window to the infinite” illustration. I guess maybe it was my way of creating a friendly passageway for him. He passed away the day after I made it. My mind was quite open at that point, and the other illustrations in the series started coming to me.
Have you found that your skills have evolved as an illustrator trying to visualize concepts that are so inherently mysterious and abstract?
Definitely. It can be really difficult to attempt to put visuals to something that is so elusive. It’s a bit like trying to recreate a dream. It may seem complete in your mind at the time, but there are so many holes you didn’t know were there until you try to reconstruct it. It’s challenging and alluring. I just want to create something meaningful from it all.
Are there certain references or influences behind the palette and aesthetic of your “Strange Universe” illustrations?
It’s all very much inspired by science fiction and psychedelic art. I find a lot of inspiration in ligne claire artists like Moebius, Hergé and Joost Swarte, and in the psychedelic work of Milton Glaser.
Where do you learn about the universe? Have its mysteries always interested you?
I’m really interested in astronomy, quantum physics, psychology, and philosophy. They’re different approaches in search of the same answers. I’ve really only scratched the surface on any of these topics though - I have a stack of books I’m working through.
Carl Sagan is my hero. The sheer vastness of the universe can fill us with dread and make us feel so insignificant, but Carl always had an adventurous and poetic way about him that put us at ease. I’m also drawn to the ideas of Carl Jung - synchronicity, the collective unconscious, the personality types, our relationship with archetypes and symbols. He was tapping into something that’s still out of our grasp. My husband studied philosophy, and he has this beautiful wealth of knowledge that has opened a door for me into that area of interest. I’m so intrigued by metaphysics and the search for the invisible thread that connects everything.
I’ve always had a deep curiosity about the universe and the bigger picture. I’ve felt a connection to something invisible since I was little. I remember thinking about infinity as a child and getting really scared when I realized things would never ever end. I guess I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that ever since.
Do you find that there’s a direct correlation between your creativity and your scientific curiosity?
They’re one in the same. The weirder things get in science, the more interested and inspired I get. I love when we discover things that throw our perception of reality for a loop. In my work, I like to imagine what could exist out there, whether it’s physical or created in our minds. I’m drawn to the unknown. I love the ambiguity of the final room at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Where is it? When is it? Why is it? How is it? That scene launched a thousand ships in my imagination.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
My dream would be to create an environment that people could visit and be fully immersed in my world. I want to create emotions, not just images.
I would also love to work with music in some visual capacity. I’m not musically talented myself, but it fascinates me how deeply music touches us, and I would love to lend my visuals to that.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
There are so many! Like I mentioned before: Moebius, Hergé, Milton Glaser, and Stanley Kubrick. I’m also so inspired by Kilian Eng, Jim Stoten, Mike Perry, Merijn Hos, Tomi Um, and the amazing tapestries by Kustaa Saksi.
One book, one album, one movie, one show. Go.
Contact by Carl Sagan
Currents by Tame Impala
2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I used to draw greeting cards, menus, and magazines (advertisements and all) as a kid. I had an interest in design before I knew what it was called. I’ve also always wanted to help people. There was a time I wanted to be a nurse until I realized blood and body parts were involved. I’m still trying to find a way to help people through my creative journey.
What do you do when Not Working?
I love foggy walks in the park (I live in San Francisco), reading, learning, imagining, drinking coffee/tea, painting on occasion, intuitive conversation, spending lots of time with my husband and cat. Introvert things mostly.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
Make what you love and what inspires you, even if it’s only possible to do in your free time. I believe that when you are tapping into that innate creative desire within you, people will be drawn to what you’re putting out into the world and everything will begin to take shape. It’s also so necessary for your own personal growth as well. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, but I’m grateful to be practicing it now.
Who are some other WNW members whose work you admire and why?
I love the candy-colored world Leena Kisonen creates, everything Damien Correll makes is amazing, Josh Cochran has a wonderful style of drawing and use of color - so imaginative, Lotta Nieminen has impeccable style, Leon Edler, Jean Jullien, Scott Balmer, and the list goes on…
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m not totally sure what’s next. I’m working on some editorial pieces and collaborations right now. Follow me on Instagram to find out what lies ahead.