Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
Keeping surrealism alive and thriving down in Louisiana is Painter Amy Guidry. She works in a photorealistic style, using incredibly personal and political symbolism. Amy’s veganism and relationship to animals and nature strongly influences her visual language. The details in her painted desertscapes and animal furs are so intricate it makes you want to reach out and pet that floating wolf head. Enjoy our conversation about Amy’s psychologically charged mini masterpieces.
SW: What inspires your imagery?
AG: I tend to work in series, so I’ll basically come up with ideas far in advance before I actually put them on canvas. So, I have an image come to mind while I’m half asleep or just doing random things throughout the day and I’ll make a note of it. I come back to it later and I try to add as much as I can, but still stay true to the original idea. And then as I start to build and see a direction forming, I’ll save it for a certain series that maybe I’m not working on in that moment but I am thinking about doing in the future. Or if it is something applicable to what I’m doing at the moment, then I’ll go ahead and put that into my rotation of what I want to do next.
SW: So I read that you are really into psychology and that shows up in your work. What do you focus on? Are you inspired by things that happen to you, or just life observations?
AG: The psychological aspect of my work is influenced by surrealism, which was influenced by psychology and Freud’s works, studying the Id, the ego, the super-ego. Really delving into the subconscious. Some of the surrealists artists, which I’m sure you’re aware, they would use imagery that at times was maybe more personal, sometimes maybe more of a reaction to what is going on in the outside world. That’s what I like to explore in my work, letting this free flow of imagery come from my mind, and really being open to new ideas and not hindering the creative process. Sometimes, I find it can be difficult to come up with an idea, to really try to force it causes a lot of stress. I find that if I can be open and free and not worry about what is going on in the rest of my day, if I don’t focus on what I need to accomplish tomorrow, and just really be open, I can have this flow of imagery come to mind and use that later as part of a series of work. There’s a lot of it that just stems from my family life. I’m a vegan, I’ve been so for 15 years now and that’s heavily influenced my work and my general reaction to things in the world. I’m constantly aware of what I’m wearing, where it was made, who has to make it, and what happens to them to be able to do that personally. It affects every decision I make, so I think that that creeps into my subconscious and a lot of my imagery comes to mind naturally. It’s really not a surprise to see that in my dreams, what not.
SW: Was there any particular piece that really stands to you or do they all, like you say, kind of flow? Do they all have the same importance? It sounds kind of like therapy in a way. Art therapy, the way that you’re making it. Maybe I’m not understanding it?
AG: [Laughs] There’s a lot that’s very personal to me that goes into my work and, y’know I want to be proud of every piece that I do. I have this relationship with each and every piece. I really hate to play favorites because of that, because I do have this connection to my work. So much of my content, like I said, is personal. It’s stuff that I think about all the time, and wish other people would think about also and end up taking action as a result. I have certain pieces that I might think of, that are more prominent just because they were the early pieces. It was maybe the first idea I had for a series, or a piece that I happen to be working on for a longer period of time than some of the others, but those might be milestones in their own right. Really, I like to think of the series as a whole, like this current series, In Our Veins. If I were to play favorites, that is, out of any body of work that I’ve done thus far. Just because it is probably the most personal thing, even if it isn’t evident to people when they view it, but for me, it means a lot. I felt like it was really taking my work to another level. I’m always trying to challenge myself with my work technically, conceptually. I felt like this series really hits that nail on the head. Not to say that I’m not always trying to constantly do more, or do better. Right now I’m in a good place and I’m really happy with the series as a whole.
SW: Yeah, this series is really beautiful. I was wondering and maybe it can be specific to this series, In Our Veins, visually not symbolically, what are your favorite things to paint? What is just satisfying to aesthetically create?
AG: I know a lot of people may comment on the mountain ranges that I do, those are very satisfying in the end result. As far as the process goes, it is challenging, but like I said I always want to challenge myself with my work. The end result makes it worth it. The mountain ranges, I’m really happy with. I like doing animals. I guess some could be more prevalent throughout this series, so I guess they’re kind of favorites. There’s actually a lot of deer, horses. It’s funny, because when I was a kid I would draw horses, so I’ve had a lot of practice on that one. Eyes, I’ve always focused a lot on the eyes, whether it’s a person in the painting or an animal. I don’t want to be cliche, but they really do tap into the soul of a being. You see so much in them. I think that, especially in a larger piece, I can make an entire landscape out of an eye, with all the shape and colors, patterning that you see in them.
SW: How big are your pieces?
AG: They range, the smallest ones are 4 inches square. Some of the larger ones are like 3 ft long. A lot are kind of in the middle range, they might be like an 8 x 10 in or 11 x 14 in , which [Laughs] depending on the person, may be small. For me, I feel like they’re a fairly significant size because when I’m painting really really small on a 4 inch painting then going up to 11 x 14 in, it’s like the size of a football field…
SW: [Laughs] I love to paint small, so I know exactly what you’re talking about.
SW: Who are some of your favorite artists?
AG: Salvador Dali, Kiki Smith, Magritte, Bosch, James Ensor, Frida Kahlo, Wangechi Mutu, Philip Pearlstein, Lucian Freud, Odd Nerdrum. There’s so many. [Laughs]
SW: It looks like you’re really good at promoting yourself, your website’s really well organized and it seems like everything you do, you document. So, I was wondering, and this could be a ‘both’ answer, but what is the most appealing thing to you about being an artist? What’s more gratifying to you, selling your work in galleries? I see you’re featured on these really big name art magazines and all over the press. What really is the most exciting to you?
AG: Ah, they’re all exciting. Anything. Positive feedback, I mean that’s all it is. Anytime I get some kind of positive feedback I’m always excited about that. I get excited just when I get an email from somebody from the other side of the planet and they say, ‘Wow, I really like your work’ and ‘It moves me’, y’know they took the time to write me. I love to have that interaction. I work in the studio by myself. I have cats in the room with me… but [Laughs], they’re not much on critique. Really, I’m making all the calls myself. On the other hand, it is nice to know what other people think, to get their reaction. I make the work for myself but it’s also just gratifying to know that other people agree with you and see what you see, even if it’s not quite the same, just the general idea. They’re with you and there’s this sense of community and understanding. That’s what I really like. Obviously if I could say work was in such and such magazine, or something like that, that if it’s flashy and that means a lot to people, because it’s something that they can recognize. They understand that this is good. But for me, it’s just really exciting to have anyone understand my work and really get it. It doesn’t have to be the flashy thing. I’m excited just to have people come to a show and know that they thought enough of my work to carve out time in their busy schedule to see it in person.
SW: You say you work alone in your studio, is that out of convenience? Is your studio in your house? I ask because there’s a lot of people in bigger cities that tend to, for economic reasons or for inspiration, share their studios with other people. Do you like working alone?>
AG: Yeah, I’m like that with everything I get [involved in]. Even in school, if I tried to do a study group it was always just playtime. I couldn’t really focus. The same reason I don’t go to a gym, I just can’t focus on it. It’s hard for me to go places like that. When I work alone, it’s quiet and I don’t have any distractions. My studio does not have a computer in it or anything like that, so I’m just totally in my zone. Also, it is convenient, it’s in my house. I don’t have to worry about y’know putting on shoes or anything like that. I just get up and get to work, I can work as late as I want, I don’t have to worry about driving in bad traffic or anything like that.
SW: Yeah, that sounds awesome. I have two more questions. You said that when you come up with ideas during the day, you’ll work it into an idea in a current series or you’ll save it for the next. Typically, on average, from the time you first conceive the idea to your last brush stroke on that same exact idea, how long does it usually take to complete a whole process?
AG: When I first come up with the idea, that can literally be years. A few years. There’s stuff that I’ll just sit on for awhile and y’know, sometimes it’s just not the right moment. It’s just a gratuitous process for me. I guess I work on a series and when I feel like I’ve said everything I need to say, then I feel like I can move on to another body of work. They all do have ties to me. It may not be as evident to others. When I actually feel like I’m starting on an official series, it can literally be two to three years before it happens.
SW: That’s actually really inspiring to hear. I’m an art teacher also and a lot of my students think that art happens immediately, especially with technology they don’t realize stuff takes a long time, and what you’re saying is really saturated in importance. It’s not just how long you’re taking on a piece, which actually our last artist we interviewed, he took a long time to work on his pieces and you can see how beautiful they are. I think that developing that concept is just as important, and as you said it might not be the right time. Never force something, sometimes you just get one shot. Sometimes you can express something multiple ways, but… I really like that.
AG: Like you said, the sense the of immediacy with the internet and all these social media sites popping up left and right. What you mentioned earlier about stuff that’s maybe old to me but new to your audience, it still applies. Just because it’s taking me awhile to work on a painting, doesn’t mean that it’s not exciting and new to a whole other audience. You can take that time to promote just your process, show how it started on paper. Put that online. Put photos of the work while it’s actually being painted, make a video of that. Speed it up, slow it down, whatever you want to do. It doesn’t always have to be this sweet finished piece to make a difference. When I’m coming up with an idea for a series, I’m always painting. Even if it’s not that idea at that time, I’m currently working on something else. I’ve always got something going. I just try to let it come organically whenever I’m working on what I want to do next. Sometimes I may just have an idea, but it might be better for later. Sometimes I just have something and it’s like ‘Wow, yes, this. I have to work on this right now.’ I’ll do that and generally I don’t work on two or so paintings at once. Sometimes, on rare occasions I do that. If I’m really that excited about something. It also gives me a big chance to sort of experiment with it. Just kind of see what it looks like fleshed out. If I’m working on something else as well, it allows me to have that playtime, but to everyone else they still see that I’m being productive.
SW: Our last question, we usually end on a random note. Has anyone ever told you, you look like Dee from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, mixed with Avril Lavigne?
AG: Wait, is it the blonde girl?
AG: I have a vague recollection of what she looks like… but I have heard Avril Lavigne. [Laughs] I’ve heard that a few times actually. The best time was, somebody posted a picture of me and one of her friends said ‘Oh, I thought you were hanging out with Avril Lavigne in Jersey.’ [Laughs] I’ll take it as a compliment.
SW: Yeah! She’s pretty. She’s famous, whatever. [Laughs]
AG: [Laughs] I wish it was someone more classic like Marilyn Monroe, but I’ll take it as a compliment.