ARTS & CULTURE | Featured Artist: Living in the Flow with Al-Lisa Tresierra McKay

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This Moment. Acrylic and black light paint produces a three-dimensional image in the dark. By Al-Lisa McKay

By Lisa Bland —

Artists and visionaries throughout the ages have stood at the edges of worlds unseen—gatekeepers to parallel universes, reminding us of the myths, dreamscapes, and mysteries that exist within and around us in every moment, yet lie just beyond our reach. The trust and courage required to stand fully and authentically in the center of one’s creative flow and allow it to dictate the structure of life is a remarkable task in today’s modern paradigm of security-focused consciousness.

Imagine you could walk in two worlds—parallel universes, where the fabric of reality blended with inklings from other dimensions, and dreams and symbols were your guides, insistently whispering on the wind. Imagine that the rules of linear existence were like the confines of a cage and you had no choice but to walk away and live completely outside them. What would life be like if you made time for nature and voices and images to move through you and committed yourself so completely to the creative path that it coloured your world and the worlds of everyone you touched? For most of us this is only a dream. But for some it is very real.

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Al-Lisa Tresierra McKay at the Rudy Johnson Bridge on the Fraser River. Photo: Dr. J.

Meet Al-Lisa Tresierra McKay. She lives outside the rules of ordinary existence; some might call her a visionary. Al-Lisa brings worlds unseen into time and space and sees her role as a midwife to the realms. She is at once ethereal and grounded, serious and playful: a paradox. Creative expression is her goal, and process, not product is her guide. She is a modern day shape shifter, and in surrendering completely to the creative flow of the moment she invites us to do the same. With humility, respect, and gratitude Al-Lisa serves her community by offering her art in its myriad forms. Whether she is painting mystical worlds on canvas, creating clay sculpture, designing spirit dolls or puppets, blending graphic images with ancient designs, singing lyrical messages, painting children’s faces, or decorating sacred spaces, Al-Lisa acts as a living bridge between material and spiritual realities.

I spoke to Al-Lisa this winter from her forested retreat dubbed Moon Base Studio in Errington on Vancouver Island. There, she’s working on exhibition pieces for her two upcoming shows, From Sea to Sky at The Station House Gallery in Williams Lake in May, and a multicultural pieces show called Herstory at Worth Every Penny Gallery in Williams Lake, tentatively set for June.

Al-Lisa was born in Squamish, BC and raised in the William’s Lake area. Her artistic nature got her into a lot of trouble as a child and even as an adult—ultra dreamy and easily bored with the mundane lessons of linear teachings, school was like a prison for her free spirit. Being forced to think in ways that didn’t come naturally and eventually being judged for her inability to fit into a mold she didn’t resonate with, Al-Lisa’s favorite memories (except for art class ) were her walks home from school, when her imagination could soar once again, unbridled, uninhibited, and free.

As an adult, Al-Lisa applied to the Emily Carr Art Institute, where she was flatly turned down and told that she that she was not and would never be an artist. With a sense of self-knowing beyond any disappointment, she realized that once again, the school or institution was not her place for creative growth. The idea that anyone could judge whether another could be considered an artist didn’t compute. What the experience did provide her was a deep passion for continuing on an artistic path of her own free will and the desire to ignite the creative spark in others. Al-Lisa believes that we are all artists and are infinitely creative and ‘drawing’ from the same source.

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Messenger, acrylic painting. By Al-Lisa McKay

Inspired by mystical experiences, nature, dreams, cross cultural folklore, spirit, symbolism, and inner and outer mysteries, Al-Lisa has brought visions of mystical faeries and metaphysical dimensions to life. In her more recent work she is realizing the importance of touching everyone, not just some.

“Nature is such a universal language and, especially now, it needs all the positive attention it can get,” she says. “I am drawn to the human condition and our relationship with nature and I want to help create a bridge between them. There’s a separation happening as we’re become more of a cyber and scientific world. I want to focus on what is organic and natural. My paintings are like a tangible prayer for the healing of the Earth and for a deeper human understanding to ground that notion.” 

Al-Lisa resonates with her Scottish/Irish (Gaelic) side in her connection to the unseen faerie realms, and at the same time feels rooted in her Shuswap heritage, honouring the natural world, plants, animals, and medicines.

“I feel as an artist, it is my calling to re-awaken the importance of spirituality and creativity in our culture” she says. “I am inspired by the diversity in life and am drawn to that which may not be tangible to the naked eye. Finding a way to express these other realities, energies, and living forms that are inter-weaving with us as they connect us as a whole and guide us individually is a challenge. I think it is important for people to realize and honour these sacred and integral parts of being and existence.”

Living in a world dictated by material values has always been challenging for Al-Lisa. “I feel like English is my second language, yet it’s the only language I know. I have an abstract way of thinking – it seems that I look at the world like an inverted negative photograph – and there’s no way to describe it. The English language doesn’t allow me the freedom to express what art can. I can’t do superficial small talk very well. I want to talk about what is real. What most people want to avoid, I want to talk about. I don’t think there’s anything more important than how you are truly feeling and what is truly going on with the planet. I want to talk about real life; that’s what makes me feel connected and is what inspires me.”

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Winter Companion, chalk pastel. By Al-Lisa McKay

Al-Lisa’s success has evolved over time as she’s found creative ways of staying afloat financially and in her devotion to following her artistic path—persistence has paid off. “I take risks, and if people ask me to do something, I’ll find a way. As more and more people are resonating with what I do, I’ve finally made it to a place in my life where my art is supporting me, but I am still learning and changing and striving for new techniques and ways of expression. I still feel like an infant in the creative realm and do not rely on skill so much as I do trust. I don’t claim to be a great artist or even a very skilled one. I am just being and sharing. That is all.”

From commissioned art pieces and portraits of people and children to indoor and outdoor murals and individualized face and body painting at markets and festivals, Al-Lisa’s creativity takes many forms. Along with her equal love for creating music and lyrical expression and dance, she creates functional art pieces, works with fabric, clay, and mixed media as well as grows medicinal tea blends and is an avid wild crafter.

“I feel like I’m maturing into what it is to actually be a Pisces,” she says. “I’ve let go of the struggle of trying to fit in and appease people and society. I do what it is I feel called to do and surrender happily to that.

“When I paint, I’m on the cusp of a concept. It is really just a feeling, not a picture in my mind. I don’t see any of what I’m creating. I just start. I feel like I am guided; just dipping into the source. It’s awkward for me to take credit for it as I don’t randomly paint from my imagination. I only know that the outcome will be a mystery solved and I feel I’m just watching the process unfold. It is just as much a surprise to me as to anyone else. I feel like painting is tangible prayer. I do it because it is another way for me to give thanks for all of creation, and say Thank You for my life.”

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Depth of Feeling, mixed media. Featured in upcoming Station House Gallery show, From Sea to Sky in May 2014. By Al-Lisa McKay

Al-Lisa’s upcoming show at the Station House Gallery, From Sea to Sky is about honouring and reclaiming those elements that need prayer—our oceans and our air. “I want to honour the cycling process of the Earth’s water in the oceans and its interactions with the sky,” she says. “The union between them is a reminder of the beauty we need to protect and be mindful of. I want people to look at how life is sustained by these other elements of our living world, and what is at stake for all of existence with the chemicals and radiation that have become part of our reality.”

She is also the feature artist and musician at the ‘on water’ stage for the grand opening at Worth Every Penny Gallery in Williams Lake this June. Her collection, Herstory, is a multicultural celebration of the spirit of women through ancient tradition.

When asked about some of her greatest challenges on the creative path, Al-Lisa says, “I’m married to spirit and my path, so it makes relationships hard for me. I go to few social functions and I’m not very domestic in my relationships. I have a hard time abandoning my purpose and whenever I do or get distracted for too long I become unhappy. I lose my luster and sparkle.”

Al-Lisa’s ultimate goal is to put all of her skills towards one focal point in creating an experience that is not just entertainment, but food for people’s spirit. She plans to travel abroad as a one-woman show with her musical theatre company, White Spider Presents, creating her own puppets, musical scores, and stories woven together with existing mythology of multicultural and indigenous peoples from around the world. Al-Lisa creates her puppets using clay sculpting, fabric, beading, and silversmithing, but insists they create themselves. “I am reaching over though the veil and reassembling them on this side,” she says with a laugh, “and they have a story to tell.”

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By Al-Lisa McKay (Untitled at time of article)

Al-Lisa’s vision is about opening the doorways to other cultures, while at the same time giving something back from her own cultural traditions. “I don’t want to go and just look; I want to go there and give,” she says. “The more we become mixed multiculturally, it’s important to remember what each brings. Historically, every culture was a steward of the Earth in some way and has something to teach. These cultural lanterns need to keep being lit.

“I want to be a fire-keeper and help honour traditions and cultures. I want to remind people to be playful and feel the wonder of a child. I think it’s where our answers lie. It’s really about love and feeling connected and feeding our spirit in a way that’s not just a distraction or being entertained. As an artist, I feel it is my responsibility to come from love. ”

Although it’s hard to imagine living our lives so far outside the norms

Swan Puppet. Handmade by Al-Lisa McKay

Swan Puppet. Handmade by Al-Lisa McKay

of society, what if, like Al-Lisa, we listened to the winds shifting in and around us and embraced the extra-ordinary in every day? Maybe we might look more deeply at the fabric of what we once perceived as reality, and, guided by our muse, awaken a sense of play, wonder, and awe, and co-create a different kind of world. Whatever our paths, creative visionaries like Al-Lisa can give us glimpses into what divine inspiration looks like in vibrant living form. 

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