Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Interview with Artist Amy Pleasant, Part 1

Interview with Artist Amy Pleasant, Part 1
'Painting is what I wanted to do.'

I showcased figurative and abstract painter Amy Pleasant of Seattle, Washington, in my May 19 Artist Watch feature at Escape Into Life. In preparing that column, I became interested in Amy's use of visual art to convey autobiographical experience that resonates universally, and wanted to explore with her how she translates the personal through a prism of societal and cultural norms that address issues of the public and the private. Thus, this interview.

Today, in Part 1, Amy talks with me about her background, how she became a painter, her style, her sources of reference and inspiration, her techniques and materials, and her artistic goals. In Part 2, posting tomorrow, Amy discusses the backstory to her exhibition "TERRIBLE BEAUTY: under the canopy", now on view at Seattle's Gallery 110.

* * * * *

Maureen Doallas: Amy, tell us a bit about your background and how it influenced your decision to become an artist.

Amy Pleasant: I grew up loving art and having a passion for drawing. I spent most of my high school days in the art room but in college received my bachelor's degree and a 5th-year teaching certificate in education and literature. I taught elementary and middle school students for several years and, while teaching, returned part time to art school to study design. I dropped out [of art school] when my marriage ended. A single mother who needed to supplement my teacher's salary, I started painting and selling my work in a small gallery and alternative venues. My initial decision was a very practical one, and I came in through the back door, so to speak. When I started painting, I had an immediate resonance with the process and knew painting is what I wanted to do.

MD: Do you have an art degree?

AP: No; I attended just a couple of classes short of [earning] an A.A. in design. Later, I attended the Drawing and Painting Atelier, under Mark Kang-O'Higgins, at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle. (Next lifetime, a MFA for me.)

MD: How would you characterize your style?

AP: My own interpretation of abstract expressionist. 

In my earlier work there is a certain groundedness in realism within the context of pattern, flat shape, and a colorful palette. I love intense color, shape, and line—and this has been a driver throughout my work.

Amy Pleasant, The Mind's Aegis Wall, 2016
From the Series Terrible Beauty
Painted Hatboxes 12" in Diameter
Acrylic on Cardboard

MD: In what ways has your style changed or evolved over your career?

AP: My style has shifted just a bit from series to series; however, I think the most significant shift has happened within the last two years. The integration of abstraction into my figurative work continues to progress, along with my exploration of video and more concept-oriented pieces. More and more I am fascinated by the concept of exploring ideas through a less direct means, as opposed to the overtly accessible nature of my paintings.

MD: What are your sources of reference and inspiration?

AP: Figurative painters from the mid-1800s in historical contexts have always intrigued me, and I'm particularly focused on the Post-Impressionists, the Nabis, and German Expressionists

As for contemporary artists, I love Lucien Freud's and Eric Fischl's work; and, I would have to say, Louise Bourgeois, both the person and her work, has always completely and totally inspired me.

MD: What preparations do you make once you get an idea for an artwork?

AP: I use my sketchbook as a place to play with visual ideas, [which] are often accompanied by ideas and phrases that become fodder for poetry. To work through composition and color issues, I often make a small acrylic painting before I start working on a large canvas.

MD: What techniques and materials do you typically use?

AP: Regular materials include acrylics, oil paints, charcoal, canvas, vellum, board. I often use a monoprint process, using handmade items and templates, along with friskit for layering and reductive effects.

[Vellum is a translucent, non-porous paper. Friskit is a sheet of oiled paper covering the space between the type or illustrations and the edge of the paper to be printed.]

MD: Do you have gallery representation?

AP: Gallery 110, an artists' collective in Seattle.

MD: What would you describe as your "lucky break" as an artist?

AP: This makes me laugh. I think I'm still waiting for it!

Actually, I don't really see [my career] in terms of a "lucky break"; I see my career as a natural progression, and unfolding. I am going into my 9th year of doing this professionally and, in some ways, it feels like I'm just getting going. I think that is the wonder about what artists do. [We see] a new horizon around every corner. Growth and expansion are part of the landscape. The trickling stream becomes a river kind of metaphor. I am loving what is, at whatever stage it is.

Amy Pleasant, Hiding in Plain Sight
From the Series Terrible Beauty
36" x 36"
Mixed Media on Canvas

MD: Of what piece of artwork or series of artworks are you most proud, and why?

AP: This current series [TERRIBLE BEAUTY: under the canopy]. It has been many years in the making, and the work is probably the most hard-won, so to speak. It feels great to have taken this particular journey to its conclusion. 

I'm also proud of Continental Shift | the families we've made, because it became an exhibition that created a space for others to participate in the artistic process in a way that was most meaningful to them.

MD: What are your artistic goals?

AP: My goals are to continue on this trajectory of developing my craft and voice in both visual art and writing. After the personal journal my art has taken in the last few years, I would like to look outward to see where that focus can take me artistically. I'm all about reaching out and reaching for more, pushing my boundaries as an artist.


Following is Amy's poem for her artwork Laundry Day, from her series Family Album:

She looked behind her and saw her future,
the passions of her youth,
slowly simmered,
tempered by unspoken contracts signed.
Somehow, the whole wide world ahead became
pink and green floral wallpaper,
dinner on the table by 5,
laundry on the line on Tuesdays,
pressed pillow cases and stacks of neatly folded diapers.
Ever so slowly, the requisites of life took their place,
and her dreams
like leaves fell gently from the tree,
so quietly and calmly,
that not even she noticed
when they fell to the ground.

Join me tomorrow for Part 2, "Encounters with 'Terrible Beauty': Trauma, Memory, and Healing".

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