Get to know Allie Kushnir and her work that appears on the cover of Iconic.
“I don’t feel this spiritual connection to my art, it’s just like an instinctual drive that I can’t really resist. Or if I resist it, I feel almost itchy in my own skin. Not exactly, but cabin fever—like I need to get out and make something.”— Allie Kushnir
Allie Kushnir is a Chicago-based artist with a creative passion more second nature than supernatural.
“I don’t feel this spiritual connection to my art, it’s just like an instinctual drive that I can’t really resist,” Kushnir says. “Or if I resist it, I feel almost itchy in my own skin. Not exactly, but cabin fever—like I need to get out and make something.”
After graduating college with a psychology major and an art minor, Kushnir set out to “figure out every possible way I could have a job that was going to be creative.” She interned with artists, galleries, and framers; she created displays for Anthropologie stores; and she learned to sew and started selling textiles.
“The whole time I was like, ‘How is this ever going to take off,’” Kushnir remembers. “It felt really, really impossible, but I wasn’t going to stop.”
Looking for new inspiration along the way, she turned her painting focus from oil portraits to abstract watercolors.
“I felt like playing around with something that felt lower stakes than doing an oil portrait,” Kushnir explains. “When I was painting something representational, I was equally stressed as I was enjoying it. I was really down on myself about whether or not it looked like the exact thing I was trying to make.
“And then I saw these other pieces somewhere online where I was like, ‘That looks fun and loose and creative in a different way where there’s not necessarily an end goal.’
“It feels balanced but at the same time not symmetrical, because I feel generally very bored by that. I want it to feel almost awkward or something, like odd and out of place. I don’t know how to explain that to anyone who’s not in my brain.”
— Allie Kushnir
You just feel it when it’s complete, when it feels balanced in the right way.”
As Kushnir’s abstract work gained traction, she got the opportunity to make some larger pieces and began thinking about how she could make solid artwork that hung without needing to be prepared and framed. She was also drawn to the physical aspect of sculpture, saying it “has always interested me to understand how to construct anything.
“When I got into doing the 3D work, I just felt so much more inspired by it and excited by it,” Kushnir says. “It’s very physical, making the larger pieces, and something about feeling physically immersed in the work and covered in dust— it just makes me feel productive and excited and proud to see it all the way through.”
In the last few years, Kushnir’s work has ranged from sculptures and murals to watercolors based on clients’ personal stories and a documentary series about thoughtful businesses. She seems at peace with the artist she is now.
“I just always wanted to know how to do everything and I still have so many things I want to learn,” Kushnir says. “But today I can make clothing, I can quilt, I can build furniture, I can build sculptures, I can do an oil painting—there’s all these things I can do now that I’m so excited that I know how. And I don’t know if that means that I believe I’m necessarily great at it, I’m just really motivated and inspired by it.”
“Dramatically Overstated” 2020
This piece was among Kushnir’s earliest work in this form, adapted from a watercolor into 3D-cut and painted woodwork.
She approaches her abstract compositions without an end goal or message in mind.
“I thought you were supposed to have this deeper meaning to every single thing you do, but I no longer feel that way,” Kushnir says. “I am genuinely just moving shapes around until it feels right. That’s how I come up with a composition. I’ll almost make a mess of shapes and then I’ll cut away at them until I have the shape that I want. And then build and build on top of that.
“It’s almost harder for me to start with an idea because then I can’t get my brain out of what that specific concept is meant to be and how I’m tying everything back into that rather than just looking at it as if the composition feels right. It almost ends up being a distraction to me.”
While she doesn’t aim for a specific concept, Kushnir explains, “I think for a long time, for a lot of the work I did, I was thinking a lot about the environmental impact of consumption in general. I still think about that all the time; I just don’t talk about it in my work as much as I used to.”
Kushnir remains hyperaware of where all her materials come from: buying secondhand, reusing excess in other pieces, staying away from plastics. She describes an ethos completely steeped in sustainability and positive impact, both in art and life.
“I think a lot about how, not only in consumption but just human interaction, something small that seems so on its face low-impact or trivial, it almost never is because it all accumulates. That’s how I see everything,” she says. “An interaction with someone, whether it’s positive or negative, trickles down onto the next person’s interactions, which then just spreads and spreads. And I feel that way every time I open a package of something; I think, ‘where is this going to go?’ and the answer is usually nowhere. It’s going to just be here forever.
“That is something that weighs on me a lot and therefore when I’m putting together work, that sort of stacking of shapes, I think that’s where that comes from.”