Studio Visit with Alyssa Dennis by Matthew Kern

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There are few people I know that draw and paint realistically. I had the opportunity to meet Alan Magee at one point in New York. I also had the pleasure of meeting Shannon Cannings and her family at a wedding. I first saw Alyssa Dennis’ work in a group show when we were gallery mates at Gallery Imperato some years ago. What ties these three together for me is not only the highly developed drawing skills, but their choice of unusual subject matter: Magee with his simple, lovely, and seemingly bizarre, Cannings with her playful yet serious, and Dennis with what could, will, be made.

The first works I saw by Dennis were depictions of movement, so loose and light they seemed out of a sketchbook. Some might even mistake them for erased mistakes. Whether they were intentional or not, the artist fully committed herself to this way of depicting, applying the techniques to create fully realized works of art on canvas. In Dennis’s early images, human figures in various forms of dress are composed in a form of dance in nebulous and hazy destinations. Urban pioneers in beautiful places.

Moving into organic surroundings and buildings, the artist began to focus on architectural structures, buildings, and what could be homes. Her light hand creates subtleties within subtleties. With this I mean simple perspectives that waver between what could be and what is. Dennis’s buildings are something to be lived in, physically and visually. The mixed media works clearly show her love of natural light, so even the strangest compositions appear solid. Combined with fantasy elements like the Zebras in a piece titled “Integration Attempt,” the images function like precursors to dreams.

When talking about the piece “True Fox,” Dennis says, “I was thinking about color and texture and how they went together.” Then, a bit later, “The fox came to me in a dream.” The combination of a keen awareness of environment, a playfulness that compliments a zoo or circus and the skills in the ability to transfer all of these into something to share, simply, ideas of what is possible, into what IS possible.

Her sculptures are direct reactions to her own work. “Stripped Opacity Construction Playground” is translucent with those highlights from her drawings. Using Plexiglass boxes with thread, clay, sand, and sawdust gives the work a sense of fragility while maintaining its strength and adding a familiar urban feeling. Placed in different surroundings, this sculpture reflects and absorbs color while allowing the absence of or adding highlights.

Using all the light aspects of graphite, pastel, colored pencil and gouache, Dennis is the only artist I know that can successfully render glass.

After spending time in Mali, Alyssa Dennis earned her BFA with accolades from MICA, and after three residencies, she earned her MFA from Tulane University. She has shown in MD, LA, FLA and NY including a solo exhibition at the Christina Ray Gallery. Alyssa’s Website:

Author Matthew Kern is a Baltimore-based artist and photographer. View more if his work at

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