Message and Vision: The Art of Alison Moritsugu

In Design: A Beginner’s Handbook we advise readers to work towards mastery of design and craft skills but to remember that those things should always be subservient to your vision as an artist and the message or concepts you want to convey. In today’s blog post we feature an artist who does precisely that.

Alison Moritsugu is originally from Hawaii but currently lives in upstate New York. Her paintings and installations are beautifully designed objects as well as complex statements that explore many facets of her subject matter.

Art installation by Alison Moritsugu

In her installation about Hawaii titled Invasive Repeat, Moritsugu created an interior wall reminiscent of something you might find in one of the islands’ colonial era mansions. It includes meticulously handcrafted faux wallpaper – complete with elaborate floral motifs. On first glance the wallpaper seems totally decorative but on further examination the floral motifs describe the ongoing clash between Hawaii’s invasive plants and the endangered local plants struggling to survive. The invasive plants are rendered in detail while the endangered plants – and a few native birds – appear as blank negative spaces emerging from the midst of each design unit.

Two paintings in ornate frames are mounted in front of the wallpaper. They show the depleted current state of the pineapple and sugar cane plantations that once dominated the Hawaiian landscape. The frames mimic motifs found on thrones and crowns of ancient Hawaiian royalty.

In this piece Moritsugu displays a sophisticated use of multiple design elements including dots, color, pattern, positive/negative space and emphasis/focal point. It is a handsome installation that is pleasing to the eye. Equally important, however, is the complicated story she tells about the ever changing natural, economic and political environment of her home state.

Outdoor art installation by Alison Moritsugu

In another installation – a site specific piece in the hills of the San Fransisco Bay Area – Moritsugu juxtaposes implied texture, space and time against their real counterparts in nature. Here she paints a highly detailed realistic landscape on the cut end of a downed redwood tree. The painting was done on site and depicts the scene directly in front of the fallen log.

As the seasons change the natural environment around the log will change while the painted version remains the same. In the meantime, the redwood log will slowly deteriorate and eventually crumble while the landscape around it constantly renews itself.

This installation draws our attention to the essential differences between real and recorded time as well as the impermanence of everything around us. It also illustrates how items in a dynamic world can change even though they are staying still.

Again, Moritsugu uses design elements to create a visually satisfying image that could stand on its own as a charming and decorative statement. But she goes one step further and asks those same elements to help her tell a poignant story about the nature of time and change and our human perception of both those things.

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