By Carolyn Twersky
Alexis Bullock cannot be disturbed. Hunched over a little wooden desk, nose just a few inches from the surface, she grips an x-acto knife and places its blade onto a piece of paper as she carves up the map in front of her.
The 20-year-old Northwestern Art Theory and Practice major is working on her newest exploration. Her room on the first floor of the Kappa Delta sorority house is her temporary studio, as well as a makeshift storage facility for her old work. Every crevice of the room is in use. Maps are scattered on the floor, some still whole and others having suffered the harrowing effects of the artist’s blade. On her desk, Bullock fights against art supplies and yet-to-be discarded garbage for enough space to do her work. Rubbed-down sandpaper sits next to an empty cup and a price tag she hasn’t gotten around to throwing out. Despite the music playing in her ears and the frequent pop-ins of her sorority sisters, Bullock remains focused. She maintains a state of flow, moving her blade in a rhythmic motion, carving up the map and creating a new geographic landscape.
Bullock started painting at a very young age and continued to hone her skills throughout her schooling. Upon entering college last year, the current events along with her personal identity as a queer woman in Trump’s America pushed her to take a more political stand with her work.
“A lot of art classes at Northwestern are focused on politics and bringing meaning into the work beyond making something aesthetically pleasing,” Bullock said. As part of a project for class last fall, she sent out a survey to women across the country, asking them for quotes they’ve heard from men. She printed some of the results on everyday objects, including t-shirts. One of them reads: “Women were made by God to be submissive to men.” She also placed multiple quotes on a mirror, a common enemy of many women. “You could try harder to be more appealing,” reads one mirror. The reflective surface peeks through the words and stares back at the viewer.
Bullock speaks about her work with a practiced eloquence. She can divide up her aesthetic quite easily, placing her work in the category of either form or concept. Some pieces boast a political charge, referencing heteronormativity and domestic abuse. Others are simply beautiful, inspired by Bullock’s everyday sights. Years of artmaking have trained her eye to constantly be on the lookout for hidden design elements, to find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. The way the light hits the ceiling of a parking lot becomes the two-toned palette of a wooden sculpture. A wall inspires the carved pattern of that same piece.
As Bullock describes past work, she looks off in the distance, like she can see the piece she’s talking about hanging on the wall in front of her, or sitting in her hands. When there is nothing to show–the artwork she’s discussing isn’t in her room at the moment or simply hasn’t been created yet–she uses her hands to make up for the lack of visual representation. Mimicking the form of a flower she hopes to recreate with magnets, she moves her hand through the air almost like a wave.
Bullock discusses her political work proudly, showing off the incorporation of her queer theory classes and personal identity in many of her pieces. For now, though, she has decided to take a break from creating more radical work, which often deals with a more violent, dark side of society. “I'm constantly dealing with aggression towards women,” she said. “Spending so much time with this discourse can be emotionally detrimental.”
Bullock made the decision not to take any art classes this quarter, in an attempt to learn more about herself as an artist. “I want to kind of explore where my art takes me without formal guidance,” Bullock said. This freedom led her to the maps, to her bedroom, to half-inch sized pieces of paper removed from their origins and scattered around the workspace. With her restless hands at work, the rest of her body remains still, in complete concentration on the task in front of her, in a moment of creative flow.