Alissa Alfonso creates beautiful objects that repurpose the past in order to speak to the future. A talented and curious visual artist, Alfonso is an old soul devoted to preserving the natural world as well as a mother of three, a collector of vintage Asian kitsch, a children’s clothing designer, a self-proclaimed trash-picker, and a master of DIY décor. Her projects often seek to involve other artists and members of her community, reflecting an awareness of social ecosystems that echoes her love for nature. She works from her home studio inside the light-filled,1937 art deco house she and her husband renovated in Hollywood, Florida, dying fabrics for her art in the cottage out back. Her deep love for environment and community is evident in everything she does, from botanical soft sculptures modeled after healing plants and made from upcycled, hand-dyed fabrics to her work developing an entirely green, “alternative” art program in Broward County schools.
Alfonso’s passion to preserve natural environments and to reconnect her community with the surrounding abundance drives her to constantly collect and repurpose discarded materials of all shapes and sizes. She understood at an early age the value of repurposing and borrowing from the past to create a more abundant and interesting future. Still an avid collector of vintage Asian kitsch objects like “shelf sitters” from the 40s and 50s and “TV lamps” from the 50s and 60s, her Florida home is filled with light as well as found treasures, furniture, and art, all of which is either homemade or remade. “I’m not an internet shopper, but I am a collector. I’ll steal the handles off a dresser on the side of the road. I cut and repurposed the macramé curtains from my childhood home…I don’t go out and buy brand new, and I never did.” Alfonso attributes her love of second-hand everything to growing up around classic cars and among the tools of her parents’ art-like trade. “My parents don’t consider themselves artists, but I do.” They started a corvette restoration company in the late 60s, a business that blended imagination, attention to detail, playing with texture and color and material, and appreciation for vintage forms. They traveled to car shows around South Florida displaying their work. “It was amazing and creative. My dad made my mom a corvette station wagon that was pink and covered in butterflies. My mom installed the upholstery.” Growing up, Alfonso and her brother spent hours in their parents’ workshop among the art supplies and restoration equipment. “We didn’t have daycare, we had creative freedom. We ran around with cans of spray paint and made whatever we wanted.”
Alfonso’s life and work are inextricably linked. As a young mother and artist beginning her career, Alfonso was drawn to textiles and soft sculpture by necessity. The clothes she wanted for her kids didn’t exist, so she made them. “I started making my own things, and I think the upcycled fabric designs I made on my kids’ clothes led to the fabric collages I make today.” Alfonso’s art is also deeply engaged with the world in which it exists. Her elegant wall art landscapes, created from recycled, stuffed fabric, present a twist on the classic "trapunto” quilting style as they reflect natural scenery, pastel skies, and lush clouds. Her soft sculpture collection, titled Nature’s Medicine, presents delicately detailed, hand-dyed fabric models of medicinal plants and botanicals traditionally ingested by humans for their nourishing properties. Her pieces are made from, echo, or dissolve into their environments, featuring a unique variety of upcycled materials that include repurposed fabrics, found metal objects, and fused plastics. Much of Alfonso’s work is designed to involve the surrounding community and actively connect community to environment. She transformed her 1973 Shasta Compact Trailer “Squatter” into a pop-up mobile art gallery that showcases the work of other artists. She fosters pugs. In the past, she’s collaborated with the Humane Society to create fun, vibrant portraits for adoptable animals. “For me it’s the same connection – people discard animals, and we work to find them new homes. There’s a connection there to my art. It’s not just philanthropic. I am a firm believer of rehoming.”
2019 marks the 10-year anniversary of “Off the Canvas,” (@off_the_canvas) a unique, volunteer-driven, non-traditional arts program Alfonso created and helps run for Broward County Schools. When invited to teach a “Meet the Masters Class” at her son’s Montessori School, Alfonso was disappointed in the curriculum’s outdated, exclusive approach to teaching art. “I wanted a way for kids to make a connection with the cups they drink from, the shirts on their backs… I wanted to teach that art has roots, that art is everywhere, and everything goes back to it.” The program focuses on exposing children to non-traditional arts, crafts, and mediums using recycled and repurposed materials. Alfonso has also worked to help artists in other school districts develop the program in their own schools. She’s currently planning the tenth “Off the Canvas Live!” event, a fully interactive night of the arts that will feature student artwork on display, art installations, performance art, guest artists from the community, and live, hands-on art workshops.
Forever starting new ventures, Alfonso is currently working on a series of large, fabric wall art murals, sculpting and firing clay lamp bases, welding frames, and making soft sculpture lampshades to create a functional lighting series with forms inspired by mushrooms. "I bounce around a lot. You know – always working on ten things at once, all in different stages of completion.” While some of her work warns of a future in which nature loses the ability to heal itself, Alfonso strives to avoid the “doom and gloom” viewpoint regarding our changing climate. “It's about awareness..." This is more like memory-keeping for me. I want to capture a thing that matters to me in the moment, to keep a version of that beauty, in case it doesn’t exist in the future.” Compelling and often dualistic, her work recognizes lost and disappearing natural elements while celebrating nature’s simple beauty, reminding viewers of the abundance, growth, possibility, and secret wisdom available for those willing to look.