Favorite Artist Feature: Talking Hyphenated Identities and Succulents with Alisha Sofia

My first-ever artist feature showcases the talents and works of Alisha Sofia, an Armenian-American Angeleno who paints, illustrates, and animates beautiful scenes and figures by incorporating aspects of both nature and culture. I first came on to her work as I was strolling Abbot Kinney in Venice when I noticed one of her murals depicting two female silhouettes holding a hauntingly beautiful gaze, surrounded by green cacti with little pink flowers. Since then, I’ve become a huge fan of her work, not only as an enthusiast of cool contemporary art, but also as an Armenian-American Angeleno myself. 

  "Lounger I,"  Courtesy of Alisha Sofia  – I love the elegant female silhouette juxtaposed with rocks and succulents in this simple, yet powerful, piece.

"Lounger I," Courtesy of Alisha Sofia – I love the elegant female silhouette juxtaposed with rocks and succulents in this simple, yet powerful, piece.

Alisha, who holds a BFA in Illustration from the Art Center College of Design, is a participant of the City of Los Angeles’ Beautification Project (hence why her work graces the streets of Venice), and she’s also been featured in Brooklyn Magazine and Flaunt Magazine. Read on to hear what she has to say about her hyphenated identity, succulents, and different art mediums.

  "Caucasian,"  Courtesy of Alisha Sofia  – This simple illustration showcases the varied, unique beauty of people native to the Caucasus Mountain range, which includes not only Armenians, but a host of other groups, such as Georgians, Azeris, Chechens, and Lezgins. 

"Caucasian," Courtesy of Alisha Sofia – This simple illustration showcases the varied, unique beauty of people native to the Caucasus Mountain range, which includes not only Armenians, but a host of other groups, such as Georgians, Azeris, Chechens, and Lezgins. 

How does your dual, or hyphenated, identity as an Armenian-American inform, influence, and inspire your work? Do you ever feel that these identities at times clash in your work, or do they harmonize to yield something unique altogether?

Growing up in the States and coming from an Armenian background that has such a rich history has made me more curious about my roots and has forced me to delve deeper into the culture. The California nature creates the backdrop for all of the characters in my pieces, and this is the starting point for my work. Nature is such a pertinent component in what diversifies and unifies all cultures — it influences their way of dressing, cuisine, and traditions, and this is why I feel such harmony between my roots and where I’ve grown up. Aside from this, superstitions, proverbs, sayings, aphorisms, idioms, an puns from cultures around the world are a huge inspiration and starting point for a lot of my work as well.

  "Sister's Blessing,"  Courtesy of Alisha Sofia  – Alisha says superstitions from cultures around the world are a huge inspiration and starting point for her work. This piece features the Middle Eastern “nazar,” a talisman believed to ward off the malevolent “evil eye,” a curse intending harm or misfortune upon another individual.

"Sister's Blessing," Courtesy of Alisha Sofia – Alisha says superstitions from cultures around the world are a huge inspiration and starting point for her work. This piece features the Middle Eastern “nazar,” a talisman believed to ward off the malevolent “evil eye,” a curse intending harm or misfortune upon another individual.

A lot of your pieces feature succulents, which I absolutely love! They are so pretty and colorful visually, of course, but is there a particular reason as to why you’re drawn to these desert plants beyond their aesthetic appeal?

Yes, living in California has graced me with such a great opportunity to observe the impressive nature and wildlife we are blessed with in this part of America. As a result, this comes up throughout my work. When I was much younger, it was harder for me to comprehend and really appreciate the nature that was around me. Now, as and adult, I feel more integrated into my environment, whether it’s walking in an urban setting or going for hikes in Griffith Park. If I’m not hiking in the mountains, I’m urban foraging, which is my absolute favorite thing to do and gives me the physical material as reference for my work. 

  "Hidden,"  Courtesy of Alisha Sofia  – This piece perfectly exemplifies how Alisha brings in Southern Californian foliage, represented by lush green succulents, and combines them with human silhouettes for beautifully vibrant, unique art.

"Hidden," Courtesy of Alisha Sofia – This piece perfectly exemplifies how Alisha brings in Southern Californian foliage, represented by lush green succulents, and combines them with human silhouettes for beautifully vibrant, unique art.

I love urban foraging, too! Your work comes in a number of mediums, whether it’s digital illustration, gouache and ink on paper, or a mural on Abbot Kinney. Do you have a favorite medium to work with?

Being an illustrator can be very confining and isolating, and painting murals gives me a chance to step away from the studio and converse with the people that walk by during the process. Contributing art to the communities around the city is the most rewarding part for me. Using Photoshop and Illustrator as digital tools is also a really good way for me to plan my paintings. I can play around with composition and colors before starting the final piece. If I don’t use those, I tend to just start my paintings traditionally by hand, which comes more naturally for me and I prefer that the most.

  "Sunbathing,"  Courtesy of Alisha Sofia  – Not only does the artist illustrate and paint, but she also dabbles in digital mediums, like this fun gif of a sunbathing girl.

"Sunbathing," Courtesy of Alisha Sofia – Not only does the artist illustrate and paint, but she also dabbles in digital mediums, like this fun gif of a sunbathing girl.

To me, you are a pioneer in presenting a grossly underrepresented group, Armenian and Caucasian women, through contemporary art. Do you see yourself as such, and is it your conscious choice to bring more of this unique culture in the art scene?

Yes, I do. They [Armenian and Caucasian women] are my main influences. I have many Caucasian friends, and to me, they are the most uniquely beautiful people I know from their facial features to their mannerisms. The strength that all women exude is such an inspiration for me as a female artist as well. Especially seeing women playing inspiration roles and being depicted as positive characters in films gives me drive to continue painting these alluring and powerful women.

  "Nor Ashkhar (Նոր Աշխարհ),"  Courtesy of Alisha Sofia  – One of my favorite pieces I’ve ever seen, depicting two Armenian women baking lavash bread in a traditional  tonir oven . The title refers to the little yellow  loquat  fruits on the tree in the upper left hand corner — a fruit whose name in Armenian translates to “new world.” I am so appreciative of Alisha and her ability to feature and empower traditional Armenian women through refreshing, new mediums!

"Nor Ashkhar (Նոր Աշխարհ)," Courtesy of Alisha Sofia – One of my favorite pieces I’ve ever seen, depicting two Armenian women baking lavash bread in a traditional tonir oven. The title refers to the little yellow loquat fruits on the tree in the upper left hand corner — a fruit whose name in Armenian translates to “new world.” I am so appreciative of Alisha and her ability to feature and empower traditional Armenian women through refreshing, new mediums!

I’d like to thank Alisha Sofia for this interview and for sharing her inspirational, thoughtful, and and beautiful work. To view her full portfolio, head over to her site, and be sure to follow her Instagram, @alisha_sofia, to keep up with her latest works!