Multi-faceted art: Hollidaysburg’s Michael Allison holds one-man show in Johnstown

JOHNSTOWN – It’s all in how you look at it.

Some people look at Google maps to find out where they’re going. Michael Allison looks at the maps and sees art in the making.

“I cruise the topography until I find an area that peaks my interest and then I try to capture it,” said Allison, who lives in Hollidaysburg.

Allison’s unique brand of artwork is on display in a one-man exhibit at the Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center in Johnstown. He starts his artwork pieces, both paintings and sculpture, on his computer, saving then printing maps and other files that intrigue him.

Next he grids them in one-half inch increments and gradually enlarges the images until they are several feet in size. With the paintings, he starts working usually in the upper left-hand corner.

The painting techniques he uses will vary, everything from pin-striping used on auto bodies to traditional types of artistic painting, Allison said.

“I sort of let the image suggest what technique I will use,” he said.

Although this is the first time Allison has had an exhibit inside the Bottle Works center, he is no stranger to the center. He has pieces displayed outside the center, such as a red cement ball and a “Nationality Tree” in the center’s garden, said former center director Rosemary Pawlowski.

Pawlowski, who was a founding member of Bottle Works and only recently stepped down from her directorship, said Allison has a long history with the center.

She said audiences, both young and old, have reacted enthusiastically to his indoor exhibit.

“It just pops,” she said. “They’re just blown away by it.”

The center, which is now under the directorship of Angela Rizzo, is large enough to accommodate the three stages of Allison’s exhibit, Pawlowski said. All of his pieces are for sale and could fit into homes as well as corporate offices, she said.

Allison’s talent isn’t limited to pulling ideas from Google maps. His exhibit is called “Maps, Scotch Bonnets and Snallygasters” because it progresses from the somewhat orderly world of maps to the slightly more abstract area of floral images.

Again, using the technique of breaking down computerized images, he paints colorful floral pieces centered on images of the spicy Scotch bonnet pepper.

He chose the pepper because of his Scottish heritage, he said.

The final section is the most abstract, the “Snallygaster” section, based on images of a creature from an actual folklore legend in western Maryland that came from a writer friend.

“They’re probably the wildest ones,” Allison said. “They’re among the most vivid They’re completely off the wall.”

Allison, 63, said he grew up knowing he always wanted to be an artist.

He went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and audited art courses at other art schools. He has his own commercial arts business in his home, Studio EFX, and he has a long list of artistic accomplishments to his name, including a bird mobile at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, murals in Hollidaysburg, Lilly and along Lincoln Highway corridor.

A former director of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Loretto, Allison is currently refurbishing an old building in downtown Altoona for a private museum that will house a classic car collection owned by area businessman Leonard Fiore, Jr., he said.

The founder of the local Art in Common group, Allison has also worked with area schools to help students learn more about art and related concepts.