“My work is what I call tropical industrial. It’s sexy. It’s nostalgic. It’s gritty. It’s got nuts and bolts and the rust and the peeling paint.”
That’s Lakeland resident Alison LaMons’ own description of her vibrant watercolors, and it was part of a video she submitted with her winning entry in The Next Bealls Florida Artist Competition.
The Bealls award is the latest of several accolades LaMons has gathered since she embarked on a delayed art career last year.
She was honored for best portfolio when she graduated from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, but she didn’t become a full-time artist until after she worked in architecture and interior design, studied and worked Europe, married 17 years ago and home-schooled her three daughters.
After a family decision last year that she would pursue her passion to be an artist, she set up a home studio and started creating vivid watercolors depicting aging neon signs — some based on actual signs and some totally imagined.
“My style of art takes a different perspective on the Florida coastal lifestyle. Neon signs are part of our lives daytime and nighttime. I like the harsh reality — the decay and the disintegration of the things that man makes set against the backdrop of the superior beauty of nature,” she said.
She’s drawn to neon, she said, because “it’s handcrafted, so it’s a dying art but it also embodies a century and a culture. It’s a cultural artifact of our lives.”
The combination of nostalgia and industrial realism has drawn a following and awards.
LaMons received the people’s choice award in 2014 at Mayfaire-by-the-Lake, her first art show, and a merit award last year. She also won best in category at the Atlanta Arts Festival, was accepted to the Coconut Grove Art Festival in Miami and was selected as 2016 featured artist for the Mainsail Art Festival in St. Petersburg.
She entered the Bealls contest honoring new artists after a friend linked her to entry information on Facebook.
“The more I looked into what they were looking for, it sounded just like me. They were looking to put across the Florida coastal lifestyle,” she said. “I’ve spent my life at the beach. I’m a Florida girl and an artist. I feel the part so much it’s almost laughable.”
LaMons gathered some representative images and filled out the application and then discovered at the last minute that the entry called for a video. The adrenaline of putting together a last-minute video resulted in a brash self-confidence that belies her typical modesty, she said. But apparently it helped propel her to become one of five finalists.
She hauled several of her large watercolors — most are 41.5 inches by 28.5 — to Bradenton for her presentation before six judges, and set them up with crates, bamboo, rusted metal and other complementary materials. Plus she used a $500 finalist award to create mugs, T-shirts and other items with her art to show how it could translate into sellable items.
The award came with a $5,000 prize and a possibility of merchandising some of her works.
“Her vivid artwork also utilizes a special iridescent finish that gives her artwork that extra pop,” Bealls noted on its website.