An interview with Rick Allred, visual artist and TedX speaker, about how the award ignited his creativity and gave him the self-confidence to continue conceiving ideas.
What do you see as the strengths of your winning project and what does this award mean to you personally?
This is the first award I’ve received since graduating from my Masters in Fine Art program at Maine Media College in November 2020. It let’s me know that I’m heading in a good direction as I create the next adventure in my journey. I think the strengths of the project is that all of the parts are connected through the same theme of how a person’s voice can have impact beyond what they know… and that it encourages people to shine a little of their own light out into the world.
What impact has winning this had for you?
The impact of the award has been to stoke the fire for my creativity… and give my confidence a little boost to keep me moving forward with my creativity.
What was most important for you when planning the project and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
The most important part of the planning for me was that the project would somehow honor Sadako Sasaki and the impact her voice/story has had in the world for 75 years. The biggest challenge was to make all the elements of the project be connected and support each other (Sadako’s story, the paper crane installation, the handmade dolls, and the video projection all played a part in the whole of the expression).
What is your guiding principle in the work you do?
My guiding principle is to shine a little of my own light into the world and encourage others to do the same. I love to empower the generosity of the human spirit.
Where do you get motivation and inspiration from for your work?
My motivation and inspiration starts in my heart. I’m committed to being a source of positive content in the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t react or get impacted by negative things going on in the world… I just believe there are more than enough people mirroring that back out into the world… I choose to shine some of humanity’s light back out there. My inspiration comes from seeing the empowering side of human nature… and as I respond to that, ideas pop into my brain… The creative side of my brain comes up with the idea(s) and the engineering/puzzle-solving side of my brain gets all excited about figuring out how to put it together. I like when both sides of my brain are playing well together.
How/when did you discover your passion for art?
I’ve always been passionate about art. For most of my life I was discouraged from pursuing it, being told things like: “Keep it as a hobby.” “Save that for when you retire.” Save it for when your chores are done.” (… and the chores are NEVER done). I discovered I had a gift for creativity in elementary school – finger painting with flare. After graduating high school I was being encouraged to study Electrical Engineering because I was “good at math”. I had carried a camera around with me throughout my senior year in high school and into college. After 2.5 years of studying E.E., I changed my major to photojournalism because it was the most “accepted” form of a career that allowed me to express myself creatively. I can trace my life flowing back to that difficult choice. Ever since, I have been guiding my life to be more and more flexible so I could learn about other art forms like painting and sculpture. Although I’ve always loved photography, I have discovered that it is only one of the creative tools in my belt.
How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision?
Luckily, I knew I was gay from a very early age. Even more luckily, I never thought it was wrong or that I was wrong. But, I noticed that everyone else seemed to think that way. Early on I had thoughts that at some point everyone was going to disown me. Because of those thoughts, I kind of felt I did not have any “script” to follow for how my life was supposed to look. That made it easier to make most of the choices I made through the years – career changes, moving to a new places when I was pulled to, traveling to learn and experience new cultures, always trying out new ways of expressing my creativity, etc. By not having that unwritten script of how life was supposed to be lived, I was free to kind of write my own story as I went along. As I learned new tools and techniques, I would always be curious about how I could use them differently than they were intended. Painting with flash became an early photographic passion of mine.
Tell us about a project which has been your greatest achievement?
Hmmm… I have three to choose from – a body of photography titled “Sensual Zen”, a paper crane installation titled “Let It Be Heard”… But, when I read it as “my greatest achievement” it has to be the overseeing and documenting of my Mom’s caregiving for the last 6 years of her life as her dementia progressed. The title for the blog and the project is “13 Hours in the Car with Mom”. It wasn’t the smoothest ride, but it was the most growth-filled time of my life. The project is not yet complete. My plan is to create a book of stories and photos from the experience; and, create a talk to share stories of finding joy in the experience of dementia with my Mom. That experience and project was priceless.
Who in your field do you most admire and why?
I can’t quite pinpoint my specific field other than to say it’s “artistic expression”. That said, I do admire Yayoi Kusama, KAWS, and Michael Murphy to share a few. Yayoi and KAWS both use a variety of media to express themselves that is so liberating to see. It reassures me that I can create my message and then choose the media that fits best to express myself… They reinforce that I’m not limited. And, the installation artist Michael Murphy just makes my brain happy… both halves of it! His installations are such a wonderful infusion of creativity and the engineering to put it all together. All three artists light up my brain and my heart.
How do you feel art / design / photography has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Art, Design, and Photography have evolved to be more in the digital realm. I’ve enjoyed that evolution especially in the photography area. Things always seem to surge forward into the newest thing… but, my favorite part of the evolution is when it slows down and artists marry the new with the old of any technology/field. For example, I love that we can now make digital negatives and do all the “darkroom work” on the computer and then use that digital negative to make photographic prints the way they did more than hundred years ago (cyanotypes, palladium prints, albumen prints, etc.). We call it “alternative processes” now, but it’s a great combination of the new with the old. Doing that in any medium makes it richer, I think. Wherever it all evolves to in the future, I’ll be looking at how I can combine best parts of the new with the best parts of the past.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career/industry now?
Basically the biggest challenge for me is to keep stepping forward. My opportunity for my career/industry is to keep an eye on the authenticity of my voice. If I can keep that on track, wherever it goes will be perfect.
How do you decide to take on certain projects?
As stated above, I look at how the project will be an authentic expression of my voice. Most of the time it shows up as a serendipitous event that gives me goosebumps … that makes me pay attention. That kind of event was how I ended up doing a TEDx talk in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a random discussion where I was told the talks were going to be on a specific day… my birthday (that had me sit up and pay attention, and then apply.).
What would be your dream project?
My dream project would be to create a large installation that was a collaboration with community to generate the parts that would be put together to be displayed in a museum or airport… I mean really big… and have it be empowering, inspiring, and visually awesome!
What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use?
My creative process starts with being hyper observant of my surroundings, being open, and meditating… that is where ideas tend to show up. I used to use predominantly Lightroom and Photoshop… Since a photographer friend talked me into getting on Instagram many years ago, I use that platform as a practice for capturing and expressing what I see in the world. When I started on IG, I chose to give myself parameters… anything I post on IG will be square and shot with my iPhone… So, let’s see what I can capture with those parameters. That turned into a visual practice that has led me to trying out a multitude of apps, but I ended up primarily using PhotoshopExpress and Snapseed, with a sprinkling of a couple other apps on occasion.
What kind of questions do you ask before beginning a project?
What am I responding to today? How could I express that? What materials would be cool to use for the idea? Does this idea make me smile or giggle? How the heck am I going to do that??? 🙂
What advice would you give to someone starting out as an artist ?
It’s YOUR voice. Take in any input that others want to give; but remember, you get to choose where to go from there. Keep checking in with your heart and make sure you are authentically expressing yourself. … and for Pete’s sake enjoy the journey, even the challenging parts.
What kind of culture or structure needs to exist to foster successful team collaboration?
The culture would be one of empowering the gifts that each person brings (even if they haven’t discovered them yet) and one that embraces our humanity. The culture would include nurturing growth, respect, self-reflection, and empowerment across the board.
What are you working on now, what is in the pipeline for you?
I’m currently brainstorming an idea for an installation at Flushing Town Hall in Queens, New York. I’m also working with an awesome group of people to start a nonprofit to teach youth storytelling through the visual arts. This project is stretching my comfort zone a bit, but we are taking it step by step. Within the next month, there are two other things that I am waiting to hear about: 1) Being certified to facilitate “Happy for No Reason” workshops, and 2) Being selected for my first artist in residency for the Dry Tortugas National Park. Receiving either, or both, of those would be a welcomed growth experience and expression of what I’m committed to in the world… and that is a World of Creativity, Joy, and Generosity.
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