This is a preview of our feature on Alake in Issue 17, out May 11.
Imagine if Lisa Frank illustrated with candid empathy. Unicorns might have bad-hair days, puppies would look up with long, sad faces, and fierce desire would gleam from the eyes of those orcas as they tore through adorable, terrified puffins. Fortunately, we have Alake Shilling, whose colorful artwork transcends idealism to give us all the feels.
Why do you make art?
I guess because I have become accustomed to it throughout my life, and it’s something that I always felt that I was good at as opposed to other things—school was a real struggle. Also, I have a lot of ideas that I have to get out!
What is currently inspiring you?
I like disco—disco is inspiring me. I like jazz. I don’t actually listen to that much music other than disco music, though. I know this sounds weird, but I think music is distracting. I wish I could, though, because sometimes it feels very still, like time isn’t passing. But it distracts me, so I don’t really listen to it much, but I do like the aesthetics—I like to look at album covers and the glitter and so many wild things. I just found an album cover of a group called Slave with a very strong man holding a shiny bubble—it’s just so bizarre, I love it!
I like nature, too—that’s always inspiring. I like to look at pictures of flowers online. I just found out about a flower called a Checkered Lily. I had never heard of it before, but they have a checkered pattern on them, and I want to paint something like that. Flowers and disco are what I’m into right now.
Do you dream? Remember them? Jot them down?
I never, ever remember my dreams, and it really bothers me. I feel so out of touch with that part of myself, and I wish I could be more in touch with it.
What is most special to you about LA?
Everybody says the weather is great, and I have to agree. There’s also the art scene—there’s this thing in LA called LA Funk, and I think that really speaks to who I am as an artist, and I think it’s informed my work and really aligns with who I am. I love that I could grow up around the funk; I love the funk!
But I also don’t like LA. A lot of people come to LA to become somebody, and you miss out on the true friendliness and neighborly qualities that some other cities have.
You’re fairly new to the arts community—tell us what it’s like, for you, as a woman in the visual arts scene?
I feel like it’s a good time to be a woman in visual arts. I feel lucky at some points because I feel like a lot of people are looking for women and people of color to shine light on and give an opportunity to. I don’t feel like it’s always been that way, but since the social climate is changing a bit, people are more willing to spread the love. I actually feel lucky—I don’t feel so much stress or pressure, but, also, I’ve only been showing my work for about a year. My introduction to art hasn’t been so bad—I’ve had a lot of encouragement and support, which I was surprised about, because I am a woman, and not only that, I’m a woman of color. I was expecting it to be a real fight, but I’ve been really welcomed with open arms by many people.
For more from Alake Shilling, follow her on Instagram.
Portrait by Sasha Douglas-Nares.