Spotlight: Student painter mixes media in art


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Lily Allen-Duenas always seems to get paint in her hair. But that doesn’t stop the artist from storing brushes in her brown locks while working.

“Whenever I paint, I have to wear my hair in a bun, and then I stick my paintbrushes in it,” she said. “But sometimes I forget which direction I stick the brushes because I get so into my painting. So paint always ends up in my hair.”

The University of Iowa sophomore has taken art classes since she was 6. But it wasn’t until last year when she took her first painting class at the university that she was exposed to a new medium.

“[Painting] was a more tangible form of self expression,” Allen-Duenas said. “It’s more compatible with my energy.”

But being a self-taught painter, it isn’t just the acrylic paint Allen-Duenas uses that makes her art unique — it’s the 2D objects she incorporates. Whether its playing cards, puzzle pieces, maps, or objects from nature, she likes to explore the use of mixed media.

“I like to challenge the ‘fundamentality’ of 2D objects and incorporate that with my paint to create the tension between the artist’s hand and the functionality of the objects themselves,” she said.

The art and English major uses this technique in one of her favorite and largest pieces — a reaching hand with a tree of lighting floating above it.

“When I’m lying in bed, I like to think of different things and different objects I can use,” Allen-Duenas said. “Sometimes they fly at me in a dream. It’s actually very Alice In Wonderland like.”

She had her first solo art show in November 2010 in the Blank Honors Center. At the end of the show, she was told her exhibit was one of the most successful the center has had.

She was nervous about showing her work because it is unique and personal. But she received positive reactions.

McKenzie Malone, a friend of hers, attended the exhibition and loved all of her pieces because she used different objects, such as keys, a deck of cards, and maps, to enhance her work.

“[Allen-Duenas’] passion is definitely art and the reason she excels at it is because she never gives up. She sets her mind to her goals and achieves them,” Malone said. “Her artwork definitely sets her apart from the other students because you can see the passion she draws through her pieces.”

Allen-Duenas is also passionate about the English language. She likes to call herself a painter and a poet.

“English is also an act of creative expression for me,” she said. “Words for me transcend the letter themselves, just like the paint transcends the canvas.”

Linda Bolton, a UI associate professor of English who had Allen-Duenas as a student, had her us her skills as a painter to fulfill some of the course requirements of the class.

“She brings vitality, insight, creativity, and joy to her work, and I look forward to working with her as she continues to pursue her academic and artistic journey,” Bolton said.

For Allen-Duenas, art is always something that has been a passion for her, and she plans on never letting it slip out of her life.

“It’s a process of self-actualization,” she said. “And I really want to expand my artistic knowledge and experience other forms of art to incorporate them in my own.”

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