Allison Kunath Art

Playa Maderas


Playa Maderas,


winter residencies 2016


March 10, 2017

When I packed up my mobile studio in September, I was preparing myself for a month long residency. Simple. Twenty eight days in the jungle. Create a small body of work to expand on back home. Do a bit of surfing. Return and resume life as normal. I should know by now that every time I travel, my insides get shifted around so much that there's no such thing as going back to pick up where I left off. (I should also know that I'm not great at going home when I initially plan to, and should probably always buy one way tickets.)


I ended up spending four months in Playa Maderas, a quiet little beach community situated just outside San Juan Del Sur. My first stop was The Maderas Village. It took me my customary seven days to settle into the new environment and shake off the city energy. Even though I move at a pretty relaxed pace by LA standards, I have gotten really comfortable with jam packed days and an obsession with productivity. Living in a place that puts a heavy focus on status and progress really has really narrowed my day to day definition of productivity. If I’m not painting, I don’t feel effective, i.e. if it’s not going to make me money, it’s not productive. Conceptually, I know that my work is made up of wide variety of activities, and most of them don’t actually include putting colored marks on a sellable surface. Slowing things down at The Village helped me practice appreciating all the different elements of my life as necessary facets of my work. Facets that really enhance the quality of my art.


It took a lot of effort to consider leisure activities like yoga, surfing, reading, and napping as part of my new definition of a productive work day. But it’s a redefinition that has massively improved the quality of my life. I’m admittedly not very good at prioritizing those things in my city life, and it was such a privilege to get a chance to examine the choices that I make on a daily basis that end up coloring my entire life. Without room to slow down and remember that I am in charge of the pace of my life, I would easily just continue to move at the dizzying speed of the world around me. Slowing down in general relaxed the pressure I put on myself to create prolifically, and going easier on myself resulted in work that I felt better about, more connected to.


The slowdown of my external life seemed to have a corresponding effect on the speed of my internal life as well. As I moved into my second residency at a hotel called Arte Sano, I had more time alone and more time to focus inward. I love self development work, and I always have something I’m refining. But the slow life of Playa Maderas occupied me so completely with the things that fulfill me that I didn’t have much room left over for the typical anxieties that come with processing life’s big dilemmas. At first - it really concerned me that I didn’t have something monumental that I was actively working on. I never thought that I was one of those people addicted to struggle, but I was really uncomfortable with how comfortable I had become. I had to remind myself that I don’t have to be in pain to be growing. I had to let go of the distraction of looking for a problem to solve. I had to let it sink deep into my bones that I am worthy of a life that feels this good, this free.

The freedom theme was also supported by experimentation necessitated by the specific locations that I was working in. The adaptations that I’m forced to make in a new space often become stylistic shifts that I revisit even when I return to the controlled environment of my home studio. I had to learn to work with the elements of wind and dust and Gekko poop. I also got a chance to design for some unique site-specific installations, including my first ever mural on the bottom of a pool. 


Returning home from a place like Maderas is a hard thing to do - but I feel grateful to have had so much time to practice that style of living so I have a better chance of keeping it with me no matter what my environment is.