Artist Alison LaMons: Storytelling in Neon
An Editorial by Kris Conroy
Lakeland artist Alison Lamons, known for her “vintage neon” art, draws upon her colorful life for creative inspirations.
As the saying goes, to everything there is a season, and for award-winning artist Alison LaMons, this is a time of quiet contemplation following years of frenzied success, which includes her largest commission yet—a 30’x13’ mixed media neon mural in the Art Deco District of South Beach, Miami.
But taking a bit of time to “relax” from a nearly year-long commission project doesn’t mean she isn’t creating. Her creative process, however, is varied these days. Her three daughters – ranging from 16 to 21 years old – no longer require as much time for homeschooling. As she finishes five busy years of “saying yes” to invitations and whittles down the last of three years’ worth of commissioned pieces, the Lakeland resident is entering a “regrouping” phase of life.
While she continues to paint, both in her Lakeland studio and her cozy home, she now devotes more time to writing a current narrative an in an attempt to define what she wants her art – and her life – to be.
“It seems good and necessary, approaching 60 years, to consider how and what body of work to contribute to the most meaningful statements about life, mind and the world in general, since there is only so much time and soul to spend,” she says. “The limitation makes art all the more inherently valuable, to the artist as well as the culture, I believe.”
Known for Neon
LaMons, 58, is a striking woman with a long, silver-laced chestnut mane, eyes that light up her face when she talks, and with hands in constant motion whether she’s conversing or painting. This same intense, colorful animation in storytelling is alive in her artwork – whether it’s an illuminated palm tree and parrot on a neon sign or a stately gentleman grasping a cane in a current oil portrait series she is working on.
The signature work LaMons is known for are large watercolors of vintage neon signs she calls, “neon nostalgia.” Though they are watercolor paintings, few artist use watercolor the way LaMons does by using twilight and neon the painting’s light source, so they are often so color-saturated as to be mistaken for photographs. Although LaMons neon paintings are largely done in watercolor, she loves oil as well as other mixed medium. LaMons plans are soon to expand far beyond exclusively watercolor on paper.
Executive Director Emerita of Polk Museum of Art, Claire Orologas, describes LaMons’ paintings as luminous.
“Her work is simultaneously current and nostalgic, and her images vibrant,” Orologas says. “Like any talented artist, Alison’s way of seeing and interpreting the world is unique.”
Mike Furr, Lakeland resident, business owner, and patron of LaMons’s work, agrees with Orologas. A fan for several years, Furr says he was drawn to her ‘neon nostalgia sign portraits.’
“The paintings were vivid, lively, and fun,” Furr says.
At Lakeland’s Mayfaire, Furr purchased LaMons’ “Reef Fish” because it reminded him of a trip to Belize that he and his wife had taken in 2018. The second painting he purchased is called “MacArthur Park Fashions,” a painting of a clothing neon store sign set in a 1940’s rainy urban elevated train scene. And he actually purchased it for the Polk Museum of Art.
“It was a new piece she had just painted,” Furr says. “It was a clear departure from “the fun art signs,” towards serious museum quality work that made a strong statement.”
Not All Painted Neon
Once upon a time Lamons worked for 15 years as an architectural designer and draftsman. So when the shoe company, Skechers USA, came looking for a neon artist, they found the perfect match in LaMons. They commissioned her to make a giant mixed media neon mural installation piece for their Miami South Beach store, which is one of their three flagship stores in the country.
LaMons was the designer, artist, and project manager. She vetted and worked with neon fabricators, ultimately choosing to work with a sign company in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area.
The sketches for the Skechers sign were all hand drafted by LaMons. She included many local references and except for Pier 5, all were invented. It is a huge neon sign assemblage with 24 signs in various levels and depths from the mural wall with actual animated neon.
“It was great fun and it took me into uncharted territory which I am eager to expand into now.” LaMons says.
As a young woman LaMons spent some time working and studying in Europe, specifically Paris and Venice, which colorfully painted her life thereafter.
LaMons has many fun stories about her time in Europe. Her eyes light up as she speaks of her literary connections, such as that of Ernest Hemingway, who wrote about her friend’s aunt with whom he had an affair. LaMons even named her own daughter Mariel after Hemingway’s granddaughter.
But literary connections from her time in Europe and the people she met are not the only treasured stories LaMons carries with her; she was also influenced by the art history she studied—as well as real life experiences.
Having attended Venice’s organic “carnevale” back in the 80s (now highly commercialized) accounts for LaMons’ living room wall featuring homemade Venetian masks, many of which were created over the years by her own children and others during her years of teaching homeschool art.
“I was reliving my days in Venice,” she says. “It was a creative outlet for me before I started working full-time as an artist.” Having created an entire curriculum on The Art of the Venetian Mask, she hopes to incorporate the Venetian masks into her paintings someday.
Another memory she cherishes from her time in Europe was a glimpse of the famous sculpture, The Dying Gaul, an experience that seems even more poignant to her now.
LaMons first saw the sculpture during the 1980s while studying at Parsons Paris, the European branch campus of NYC’s Parsons School of Design. As her class marched through the Sorbonne to look at a particular exhibit, they passed though the sculpture room.
“There were clear windows and these beams of light with all of these dust particles floating in the air and it was just magical,” she says. “I turn around and take in the scene and there was a life size copy of The Dying Gaul.”
Because she walked through the room so quickly, she didn’t have time to see the name of the sculpture. A decade later, she found the image and the sculpture’s name in a book.
The sculpture depicts a wounded warrior sitting with one leg bent at the knee in front of him and the other extended to the side. LaMons used this same pose of The Dying Gaul when composing her painting, “McArthur Park Fashions,” the piece bought by Furr for the Polk Museum of Art, in which a dress-clad young woman stretches across a neon sign advertising clothing.
“I had never seen anything like it,” LaMons reflects. “Most sculptures are of victorious tall proud heroes. This one beautifully shows a frail honest humanity in its weakness, and yet its strength.” To this icon, LaMons pairs the subtlety of a pop song of lost love from the mid-century 1960’s, MacArthur Park. She says the moody ethereal painting begs the question—was something lost along the way, either personally or culturally?
“The artist’s job is almost to feel, question and create on behalf of the culture,” Lamons states. “That is perhaps why I am in a season of more reflection now. I think it’s sometimes a good thing to stop and get your bearings. That way you can focus in on what is truly important and how you can use your art, and your life, more purposefully and meaningfully.”
“Sometimes it feels risky to ‘sit one out’… as if we lose momentum. I think the opposite is true,” LaMons says. “R&R it is for rest and re-creation—I love that word. I am looking forward to the next stage of creation.”
For more info visit AlisonStudios.com.