Alyssa Monks (born 1977) is an American painter currently based out of Brooklyn. She specialized in large oil paintings and is recognized both in the United States and Europe for her pieces including figures obscured by water, steam, and vinyl. Her most notable series of works is centered around figures in bathrooms, tubs, and showers.
A native of New Jersey, Monks was born in 1977 as the youngest of eight children (six older brothers and one sister). Her mother, being a potter and artist herself, was supportive and found ways to help Monks cultivate her love for the arts. By eight years old, Monks was taking general art and painting classes. She is based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Monks went on to attend The New School in New York and Montclair State University before earning her B.A at Boston College in 1999. After receiving her degree, Monks went on to study painting at Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence, Italy and then returned to the United States to earn her M.F.A from the New York Academy of Art, in their Graduate School of Figurative Art in 2001. In 2006, Monks completed an artist in residency at Fullerton College in California.
Monks’ earliest works are meticulous figure studies where her use of merging back and foreground layers is only beginning to emerge. Instead, these pieces are much more open but are still make use of framing the composition within itself by use of extraordinary angles, lighting, or the construction of the room. These figures are more complete than their portrait counterparts, as Monks felt that she needed to be “…as realistic as possible; It had to be specific and believable” as “this was the place where (she) was isolated and in total control.”
Monks then preferred to alter the audience’s sense of space and immersion in her artworks. While her representation of the figure is often almost perfectly photographic in its depiction, she blurs and fuses layers of space to create immersive abstraction that feels uniquely intimate and provocative; she often includes the use of glass, clear vinyl, water, steam, and shallow spaces to distinguish a nearly invisible line between the foreground and backgrounds of her pieces. Monks’ most famous pieces come from her decade long water series, where the aforementioned elements are the most prevalent and recognizable.
However, this specificity and photorealistic detail would not last. On October 8th, 2011, Monks’ mother was diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread throughout the rest of her body, succumbing to it a year and three weeks after her diagnosis on October 26th, 2012. When she returned to painting, Smear was one of her first pieces. “It’s like a release of everything that was unravelling in me,” she stated. “That safe, very, very carefully rendered safe place that I created in all of my other paintings was a myth; it didn’t work.” This tragic loss caused Monks to re-evaluate her process entirely, moving from the enclosed space of the bathroom to outside in the woods and integrating a chaotic, abstraction of nature into her work instead of the pristine and controlled layering of space. She even left paintings outside, exposed to the woods over night, just to see what kind of affect it would have -anything to inspire her to paint again and rekindle her love for art.
Monks has had numerous exhibitions, including her latest one Resolution from March to April 2016 at the Forum Gallery in New York City. Other notable shows and collections that include her work are the Kunst Museum in Ahlen, Germany, the National Academy Museum of Fine Arts’ show Reconfiguring the Body in American Art, 1820–2009, as well as the private collections of Eric Fischl, Howard Tullman, Gerrity Lansing, Danielle Steele, Alec Baldwin, and Luciano Benetton.