Frame of Mind: Alison Schuchs

Frame of Mind: Alison Schuchs

Inside the mind and visual world of portrait painter, Alison Schuchs.

photo of Corpus Christi artist, Alison Schuchs

Alison Schuchs photographed in her home studio alongside her work, "Blooms of Remembrance" | Photography by Matthew Meza

Walking through Alison Schuchs’ home-turned-studio is similar to walking through an exhibition of portraiture past and present. The Scottish Highlands native’s artistic journey manifests itself in the hundreds of tiny brushstrokes to form hyper-realistic portraits of her family and the impactful people she finds along the way. 

Though unequivocally beautiful, the art of portraiture holds a deeper significance for the artist and the viewer. Transcending both personal experience and the therapeutic aspects of putting paint to canvas, the anatomical features and colors in Schuchs’ work intertwine the viewer with the subject. “[It offers] windows into the past that celebrate the enchanting and intricate tapestry of the human experience,” Schuchs said. 

Just outside her studio, framed charcoal works starkly contrast the hyper-realistic, colorful works on the subsequent walls. “Those are my daughter’s…she passed away,” Schuchs recalled with simultaneous grief and pride. 

“When we went through all her stuff, there were all these little portraits and doodles and drawings, and a lot of them were portraits of herself. I think, subconsciously, without me explaining it to myself, I just decided to take up portraits because it made me feel close to her in some way,” she continued. 

In hindsight, this event was the unfortunate and unexpected catalyst for taking up painting. Since then, Schuchs’ identity as an artist has morphed into a mission to  “freeze time, capture the essence of [her] subjects and weave their fascinating stories into the canvas for future generations,” she shared. 

After her daughter’s passing in 2003, Schuchs and her husband opened a non-profit coffee house for teens which served as a place for them to eat and hang out. Schuchs would even cook for the teens at the house, and when the day was over, she would read about painting and eventually start painting portraits of the kids. 

They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something,” Schuchs said of her time spent self-educating.

Some spend those hours in school or working in a specific field, but for her, it was spent reading books about painting and sharing her work with professional critics. Before she knew it, the kids were asking to be painted, which served as great practice for the skill she would grow to master after several years of dedication to the craft. 

Long before portrait painting came potato prints in school. “I never felt like I could create a masterpiece in the time frame I was given,” Schuchs recalled of her first conscious experience with creating. Years back, Schuchs was diagnosed with aphantasia, a condition that impairs her ability to create mental imagery, making her a perfectionist by necessity. Schuchs was exposed to art in childhood and through her grandmother’s landscape paintings, but her talent was not realized until she leaned into realism. Though envious of artists who can create abstract works from imagination, Schuchs has taken ownership of her mastery of replicating facial wrinkles, eyelashes, satin fabrics and other exquisite details taken from photographs. Some of her portraits mirror the photographs so closely, you’ll have to do a double take.  

At 18, Schuchs married a sailor and moved to the United States. Fate and proximity to the grandkids landed the couple in Corpus Christi in 2020. She traded the cool, often gray Scottish landscapes for Texas’ quintessentially warm-toned scenery. “I want to paint Texas,” she said. Vibrant pink and orange sunsets, blooming cactus flowers, red dirt and coastal vignettes allow Schuchs to infuse colorful landscape elements that complement the personalities she paints. Replicating the diverse landscape and people of Texas, in many ways, filled the void that the lack of imagination created. 

Many of her recent works depict the cowboys of King Ranch and various aspects of South Texas and Mexican culture. Her current musings are community members who sit for a weekly portrait class Schuchs hosts at the Art Center of Corpus Christi. Paintings featuring dozens of recognizable local faces will be displayed at her next exhibition, Oct. 4 – 26 at the Art Center. 

Gentle, empathetic, kind and curious are all adjectives to describe Schuchs’ essence as observed by only a brief conversation. It should come as no surprise that her work—with its striking human features—forges the unbreakable bond of shared humanity and evokes those same feelings. 

In reality, facial wrinkles tell a tale of a life well-lived, color tells a cultural story and the textural elements of fabric inform certain parts of the personality that make us uniquely human. The art of portraiture, and the capturing of the smallest details, achieves what everyone, though self-realized or not, is after—to be understood and, eventually, to be remembered. 

Next up in the “Frame of Mind” feature is Jimmy Peña.