In November of 2005, Kristen Abraham, an artist, and Alfonso Llamas, a musician, set out from their home in Florida with the goal of visiting every state in the Union in a conceptual art adventure called The Nomadic Project. Their hope was to get to know more “about their own backyard” and, through the creation of art, attempt a symbolic healing of a divided country. They returned thirteen months later with fifty paintings, scores of musical compositions and “a lifetime of inspiration.”
The couple converted their Honda Element into both a home and a studio, spent at least a week in each state and lived on a limited budget that gave them only ten dollars a day for food. They say this forced them to be creative and resourceful just to survive. The close quarters also forced them to be resourceful in their relationship. Looking back at the experience, the couple figures if they could make it though a year together in a car, they’ll be able to make through anything. “It forced us to work through our problems” Llamas says.
The close quarters also allowed for creative collaboration. Because Llamas had gone through the same experiences and knew where Abraham was coming from in her paintings, he would title many of her pieces. On the trip and after, they began to talk in terms of “we” created this or that. “Our creations bled into each other,” Llamas says. Abraham’s goal was to make a painting inspired by every state. Alfonso, in his own words, was not as ambitious. His musical compositions became a diary of the experience rather than a representation of each state.
Stylistically, Abaraham’s images, with their juxtaposition of realistically rendered landscapes and iconographic objects, call to mind the surrealists. The moods and tones are as varied as the states they depict. Some, like the North Carolina painting depicting the Wright Brothers’ airplane, are easily deciphered icons of the state. Abraham’s wit reveals itself in others, like Georgia’s “The Secret Within,” which depicts a coke bottle beneath the skeleton of a Southern Belle’s hoop skirt. Others reflect the couples’ direct personal experience. “Deus Ex Machina,” which portrays a supine Abraham as the spine of a book on fire, reflects the poor reception the couple received in Missouri.
When they started their journey the couple says they imagined they would find a favorite spot, a place that would call to them as their home. But the more they saw, the more they wanted to see; and rather than a “been there done that” checklist, they now have a huge list of places they want to explore more. The couple, who now have a young baby, are busy this year taking their multimedia exhibit across the country. They use Nashville, where they have family, as a home base.
The Nomadic Project is on exhibit at UTah Artist Handsthrough the month of June. Abraham and Llamas will be in Utah for the month of June and are available for Art Talks. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.