Allison Schulnik, a native of Southern California, was born into a family of artists. She too is an artist who, in addition to painting, earned her degree in animation from Cal Arts, works in clay, has a dance background, and is also a musician. Her work is often noted for its recurring figures such as cats or hobo clowns that run through her thickly textured paintings and clay-based animation.
What's striking about the critical texts written of Shulnik's Salty Air is the emphasis on linear narrative and ragtag characters paired with a complete avoidance of the words vulva or vagina. One reviewer opted for a brief mention of the more subtle “genitals.” While the show also includes some of Schulnik’s signature hobo clowns (in the form of sailors), and some cats, it is her crabs and porcelain shell sculptures -- vaginal forms which are occasionally glazed with menstrual blood -- that are by far the most arresting works in Salty Air. Schulnik intuitively taps into the castration anxiety present in the Hans Christian Andersen coming of age story that inspires the show (The Little Mermaid), by invoking this kind of agitated vaginal imagery. In that version, the mermaid’s tongue is lopped off, and, with her long tail divided in two, she bleeds for the first time. Haunted by the pain of her phantom limb as she walks on land in desperate pursuit of the object of her sexual desire, the story ends with her unrequited obliteration into sea-foam.
Schulnik’s post-transformation mermaids present swollen full frontal vulvas, painted in thick, fleshy tones which recur throughout this exhibition. These sweaty, blistering, and barnacled mermaid bodies display their wounded sex and awkward, barely functional toes. They have clownish clumps of makeup reminiscent the hobo-clown-sailors that when paired with the figures' vulnerable, nubile posture, read like masks of teenage acne scars.
Here is a video that displays Schulnik's weary charisma and haunting embodiment of human emotion/torment.