Alyson Khan launched her art career with an unexpected, sold-out show. “It changed everything for me,” she says of the experience and the new medium she’d begun to experiment with. One day, while working as a barista, Khan had found a shattered pastry case in the back alley. Drawn to the strength and integrity of the glass, she began painting on it. Using acrylics, watercolors and spray paint, a collection was born and the outcome was both inconceivable and enlightening. “I had no expectations,” she explains of the show, “but I sold every single painting.”

Khan, who now has a studio in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood, has since graduated to painting on stretched canvas, but “the common theme over all these years,” she says, “is working with the relationships between hard-edge shapes and color.” That sensibility is rooted in a childhood spent painting pop bottles with nail polish and watching her grandmother quilt. “I can really see the connections from way back,” explains the artist, reflecting on the influence of her early exploration. “My abstract paintings are born from an urge to make sense of the present, then they unfold through an intuitive process.”

This interplay is prominent today; her paintings— influenced by such artists as Sonia Delaunay, Agnes Martin and Anne Truitt for the “innocence, clarity, power and sincerity” in their works— represent a continuous evolution. “The end result is complex but ultimately simple,” says Khan.

To start her pieces, Khan will often pull a line from her journal, scrawled on the canvas in “a tangled, cryptic scribble to make the first mark,” she explains. Other times a graphic textile or a detail from an existing painting will provide her with a creative catalyst. From there, she’ll begin building and fine-tuning relationships between the shapes, lines and colors. “It’s quite a process to finish a painting,” she says. “I usually hit a point with every single one where I feel utterly hopeless at the state of things. This is when I often kill the part that I was stubbornly preserving. Soon after that, the sky breaks open and it resolves itself.”

In Khan’s latest series, for which she’s already completed several canvases, the aesthetic is less planned and includes large dark areas within an otherwise colorful palette. “I love making paintings,” she says of the method behind her pieces, a selection of which are on view at Artwork Network through March 28, 2016. “I’m motivated by both the little and big breakthroughs that happen in the process.”

— Taryn Bickley

Photography by Robert Kittila