Artist Alicia Hunsicker’s travels bring independence, inspiration
When Leyden artist Alicia Hunsicker set off on an intercontin-ental journey to attend a European artists’ residency this fall, jet lag was just the beginning. First, there was the six-hour flight to Dublin, Ireland, then a two-hour connecting flight put Hunsicker on the ground in Geneva, Switzerland, at 10 a.m. It was time to get some shut-eye.
“It was really 4 a.m. our time,” she said. “Rather than start the journey to my Austrian hotel, I decided to stay the night and start the next morning.”
After a much-needed nap, she headed out for dinner.
“The menus were all in French,” she said. “I just ordered something, it wound up being some sort of pocket. I have no idea what was in it, but I couldn’t eat it.”
Later, she hopped aboard a train, and arrived in Salzburg, Austria, around 6 p.m. Rather than call it a night and find a hotel, she decided to keep her momentum and head straight for her final destination, a hotel in Mallnitz.
She got there at midnight, with a pocketful of Swiss francs, figuring she could exchange them for Euros at the train station.
“Most of their train stations out there are huge; some even have shopping malls and banks,” she said. Such was not the case in little Mallnitz, a ski resort village with 830 residents.
“I got off the train, and I was all alone on the platform,” she said. “It was dark. There was no ATM, no phone, nothing. I could hear cows in the distance. I was standing there trying to figure out which way the village was.”
A passerby happened to have a cell phone, and called Hunsicker a cab.
“I told the driver all I had were Swiss francs, and he said he wouldn’t take them,” she said. After some convincing, she talked him into taking her to her hotel, where she hoped to be able to get some Euros to pay the driver.
The hotel was closed, and the staff wasn’t answering the phone.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I pictured myself having to sleep on the cab driver’s couch.”
Luckily, he was able to take her to another hotel, where the staff paid him and let her settle up in the morning. That leg of her journey complete, she could relax at last.
“I finally laid down and broke out laughing,” she said.
The next day, she checked into the hotel where she’d originally planned to stay. Once she was finally where she was supposed to be, Hunsicker could take a breath and appreciate the scenery.
“It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, with all of the villages built right up to the feet of the mountains,” she said.
“It was just like a storybook,” she continued. “It reminded me of the illustrations in ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ with the stucco walls, big pine boards and balconies full of flowers.”
She was fascinated by the Bavarian-style architecture, set against the snow-covered mountaintops in the distance. And the residents added to the atmosphere.
“One day, there was a family all dressed in lederhosen, leading a herd of cattle through the streets,” she said.
Now that Hunsicker has returned from her 19-day trip in the Alps, she faces a mountain of work. It’s time to start paying for her excursion.
When she first got the news that she’d been accepted to the D. Fleiss East West Artist Residency in Mallnitz, Hunsicker was thrilled, but unsure how she’d pay for October’s intercontinental voyage.
She turned to the fundraising website Kickstarter, where she was able to get 117 backers to give a total of $4,960, a little more than she needed. Now that she’s back, Hunsicker is hard at work on the gifts she’d promised in return for their support. The gifts range from letters and photos from her trip, to hand-carved wooden wands, to painted tree-ring coasters and larger original paintings.
She also sent each contributor a postcard and is working on a newsletter with pictures and stories from her trip, which will soon go out via email.
Though Hunsicker has a lot of work ahead of her, she said the trip was well worth the hours she’ll soon put into thanking those who made it possible.
“It was a great experience artistically,” she said. “But also for personal growth. I’d never traveled alone before.”
She dubbed her trip, and the fundraising before it, “Boundless,” signifying how she sought to tear down boundaries and expand her horizons.
“It was a big deal for me, visiting three countries on the tail-end of recovering from a broken leg,” she said.
Last summer, Hunsicker tripped and fell because of a pothole in Boston, breaking the tibia and fibula in her leg. It took her several months to get on her feet again. She wasn’t sure how her leg would hold up through her travels, especially since she’d be going it alone.
Though she quickly found she could get around well enough on her feet, she encountered other obstacles. Rather than ruin her time, they reaffirmed her independence.
“The language barrier was more difficult than I’d thought,” said Hunsicker, who speaks only English. In Geneva, Switzerland, where her initial flight took her, they speak French. She spent the bulk of her time in German-speaking Austria.
“I had to find simpler words to communicate with,” said Hunsicker. But there was one language all the artists shared. “Sometimes we’d use pictures to communicate.”
Hunsicker was pleasantly surprised when Boston artist Judith Motzkin showed up as a last-minute fill-in. Finally, she had someone who spoke English well enough to have a conversation with.
Hunsicker said she plans to stay in touch with Motzkin and invite the Boston artist to her Leyden studio.
One of the high points of her trip was an excursion to the highest point in Austria. Hunsicker and the rest of the residency went on an outing to the Grossglockner, the mountain home of the Pasterze, the largest of Austria’s 96 glaciers.
“Below the glacier were these beautiful, rich, blue-green pools,” she said.
Those colors stuck with her and she drew on them as she sought inspiration for “Particle Collision Two,” the second and final piece she painted at the residency.
Art at day, disco at night
Hunsicker had expected to encounter different scenery, customs and languages, but was surprised by the residency, which wasn’t exactly what she’d anticipated.
“This one was more about developing an international, multicultural community where exchange can happen while we were there and in the future,” explained Hunsicker. “It was a lot different from the residency I attended at the Vermont Studio Center, which was very structured. That one was more about the art, this one was more about the artists.”
The location was also a bit different, and not just in terms of being in a foreign country.
“Our studio was actually a disco and bar,” she said. “We did our work on the bar tables during the day and, at night, we were dancing under the strobe lights and having drinks.”
It was quite the laid-back atmosphere.
“It felt more like a celebration of artists than just a place to work,” she said.
“Being around other artists is always an inspiration,” she added. “Seeing and sharing in the creative process is a wonderful thing, especially when your studio time is typically secluded, like mine.”
Working under tighter time constraints than at home, Hunsicker found herself in the studio more often than not.
“I was in the studio a lot, painting, but some of the other artists had a different way of working,” said Hunsicker. “A lot of them were into abstract art. They’d come in, throw some paint at a canvas, and go off to drink Jagermeister.” Some even called the black-licorice-flavored liquor “medicine.”
Perhaps their free-wheeling spirit rubbed off on Hunsicker. At the end of the residency, she scrapped her plans to spend a few nights in Geneva, Switzerland, and took off for France on a whim.
“I met a French artist, Laurette Wittner, who invited me to stay at her home in Lyon, France,” said Hunsicker. “She was very giving, and thoughtful. I got the royal treatment.”
Rather than spend three nights in Geneva, finding her own way around, she got her own personal tour guide in Lyon. Though Wittner wasn’t exactly fluent in English, she spoke it well enough to communicate with Hunsicker.
In Lyon, she was again struck by the architecture, which dates back as far as 15 B.C. The ancient city featured a hilltop castle and the ruins of the Theatre of Fourvière, built by the Romans and still used for productions today. There were also elaborate stairways and passages, called traboules, carved into fossil-ridden rock and delicate hand carvings adorning cathedrals. Seen from above, the red roofs on most of the city’s buildings gave it a warm, welcoming feel, said Hunsicker.
After her excursion to France, Hunsicker spent her final night in Geneva, where she visited the Large Hadron Collider, the supercollider built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). “They have a modest tour and a couple exhibits,” she said. “It’s become a destination over the last five years. That’s something they weren’t expecting, so they’re trying to build up some more visitor programs.”
When Hunsicker visited, the supercollider itself was down for recalibration. The huge piece of equipment is 17 miles in circumference and sits nearly 600 feet below the ground, in soft limestone.
“It’s like an air bubble; it wants to rise to the top,” she said. “They have to recalibrate it because of those small movements.”
Much like Hunsicker and the rest of the artists in residence who were participating in an international arts community, scientists from all over the world come together at CERN to study particle physics.
Patterns found in nature and science are recurring themes in Hunsicker’s work and she was intrigued by CERN’s study of subatomic particle collisions. The collisions figure prominently into the two paintings she produced at the residency.
In the first, “Particle Collision One,” patterns man-made, microscopic and natural come together. In the background, a honeycomb-like array of large, subdued circles was inspired by the image of a flatbed truck loaded with plastic piping. The middle layer shows the seemingly random arcs created by the post-collision paths of subatomic particles. And in the foreground, Hunsicker painted a close-up view of individual pieces of dandelion fluff and water droplets.
She said she will continue to use the Alps’ lush scenery, as well as the patterns of particle collisions, in her new works. Instead of starting with a pencil sketch, Hunsicker works from Xerox transfers, which are formed using copied images that are placed face-down on archival paper and soaked with a solution, which transfers the image. She then uses them to guide her painting. Her source material ranges from her own photographs, to medical illustrations, to interesting images she finds online.
She plans to use pictures of the Alps scenery, as well as pictures of particle collision animations, in transfers for her upcoming work.
Hunsicker said her new art is becoming more abstract. In the past, Hunsicker’s works were made up of two layers. She would start with a Xerox transfer, paint over it, apply another transfer, and cover that with paint as well. While in Austria, though, she began working in three layers.
“It’s all about the way things meet, interact, and come together,” she said. “Working in three layers is more of a challenge, but I like that.”
Though she expanded her paintings to three layers, she cut down how long it took her to create them. During her residency, she produced two 35-by-38-inch paintings in a mere 10 days. “That was a record for me,” she said.
Normally, said Hunskicker, it would take her a month to paint just one of the large-format works. Though she’s proud of the speed with which she painted the two pieces, she’d like to give one of them another try. “I’d like to explore the first painting again, and take my time with it.”
So, she’ll make a Xerox transfer of the piece and take her time building it up, layer by layer.
“It will surely come out very different, as I don’t enjoy painting the same thing twice,” she explained.
At the end of the residency, Hunsicker was asked to join the D. Fleiss Foundation as a member, something she said she’ll consider next year. It plugs the artists into the foundation’s network, opening up a world of European venues and galleries in which to show their art. The foundation also helps its artists market their work. Member dues also allow each artist to attend a residency every few years, something she’d like to take advantage of.
“I’ve officially fallen in love with Austria, and I look forward to going back,” she said. Though she had to return, her work stayed in Europe. After an exhibit at the BIOS museum in Mallnitz, it was sent to Brussels, Belgium, to be shown in the ARTour Gallery.
“The works I created there will continue to be exhibited through Europe and I am filled with a sense of accomplishment knowing that I did some of my best work there, to leave with the foundation and the ‘Art’ Hotel Kartnerhof in Mallnitz,” she said.
Hunsicker said she’s been invited to the foundation’s March residency in Romania, but would likely decline, since she will be busy working on paintings for a solo art show in Providence, R.I. She looks forward to pursuing another residency in 2014.
It was a whirlwind of a journey, but now that the dust has settled, Hunsicker has had some time to reflect on it.
“It wasn’t an easy trip, but I feel a sense of accomplishment for having done it on my own,” she said. “I came away feeling that anything is possible.”
Staff reporter David Rainville has worked at The Recorder since 2011. He covers Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield and Warwick. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.