Sunday, March 02, 2008

Art Space Talk: Amanda Potter

Amanda Potter received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. She is currently pursuing options for a graduate degree in fine arts, painting in particular.

Just a Little Longer, oil on canvas, 23" x 31", 2007

Brian Sherwin: Amanda, you studied at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Can you tell us more about your academic background. Have you had any influential instructors?

Amanda Potter: My favorite thing in the world to do is to learn. So I really loved school. My undergraduate education was really influential. I dabbled in a variety of media and really found my strongest interests in painting and printmaking. I was also very interested in classes outside of the art department. I took classes like Survey of Fossilized Primates, Survey of Living Primates, Archeology, Human Evolution, and Conservation. I have a strong interest in the sciences and in the environment, so I have always felt it important to incorporate these into my artwork.

When I think of influential instructors during my undergraduate work, I think of three people. Thomas Nozkowski has been hugely influential to me not only with valuable critiques of my paintings but also with art advice in general. Whenever I have a question about the ins-and-outs of the art world, I know I can always go to him and he will have an answer or be able to point me in the right direction. Secondly, I think of the painter Steve DiBenedetto; his blunt and to-the-point comments about my work were very useful. Lastly, Carrie Moyer was influential in that she gave me good tips on a "delicious surface" as she liked to call it, a recipe for priming a surface to a smooth, absorbent finish. I don’t readily use this recipe but it did make me think about the importance of my own primed surface for a painting and how it can significantly impact the work.
Cataracts, oil on acrylic on canvas, 36" x 45", 2007

BS: Amanda, you have stated that your work is focused on what you call "grotesque representational"... your work deals with subjects that involve disfigured animals and humans. You have a history of advocating for the protection of animals. Can you go into further detail about this?

AP: I am a member of a variety of organizations that try to promote environmental and animal protection/awareness. I am fascinated with all animals, plants, insects and ecosystems. Each organism has adapted to its surroundings in unique ways and each has something valuable and interesting to offer. In some cases, an organism may be a keystone species where if they were threatened enough by all these polluting and destructive factors around us, then a number of species would fall in descent behind it. I don’t think a lot of people realize that.

At any rate, I think in general people need to be more aware of their impact on other living things and their ecosystems. So in my own small way, I take animals and humans and sort of hybridize and anthropomorphize them so that the viewer can maybe see a bit of humanity in a non-human character, to maybe reflect a little bit about that organism and its struggles. In some ways, I add the human element so that the viewer can be more easily pulled into a picture that contains an animal. I feel that people tend to be more intrigued by works that include a human trait.

Once I’ve grasped these characters, I morph them or disfigure them accordingly to the deformed traits I’ve researched from the use of Agent Orange. This chemical warfare from the Vietnam War has left many effects on the generations to follow those who were exposed. By portraying effected humans alongside effected animals endemic to the region (the pygmy loris), I feel the viewer may be able to relate not only to the one but also the other.
Teratogenic Siblings, oil on canvas, 54" x 47", 2007

BS: Philosophically speaking... what is the connection that you see between disfigured animals and the battered human soul?

AP: My physical manifestation of a disfigured animal (or human) is a representation of their life’s struggle. Paint is a still and quiet media. I love that trait about it. It’s my ultimate way to find reflection in a piece. But it also requires sort of a dramatized manifestation to really be able to express my complicated concept. In that way, I’ve disfigured the characters to reflect upon the struggle in their life. I’ve had struggles and trauma in my own life and these works, these friends that I’ve created, allow me to show that everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has issues and struggles if only you’d look and listen.

BS: Amanda, describe some of the reactions you get from viewers...

AP: Haha, that’s a great question. I get all sorts of reactions. Some people feel sorry for the little creatures and want to kiss and cuddle them if they could. Some people find them enlightening and help them figure out their stance on judging others. Some cry. Some just laugh. And some people just ask, "What’s wrong with you?"
Pierced, oil on canvas, 18" x 24", 2007

BS: Considering the thoughts behind your work... is it hard to face it on a daily basis?

AP: Ya know, I really go out of my way to find those things in life that make me really sad. I research a lot about the Holocaust and the chemical warfare of Agent Orange. I deal with the trauma of my father’s death on a daily basis. I feel saddened by our spiraling downward and outward when it comes to the degradation of the environment and about how few people really care enough to make simple daily changes in their routines. But it’s all these things that I truly dwell upon so that they are ingrained into my brain.

These and countless other atrocities are so tragic that humanity needs to be reminded of them constantly if anything is ever going to change for the better. It’s by learning and evolving that maybe there is some sort of hope at the end. Probably not, but I can’t sit back and do nothing about it. At least with my art and activism I feel that I’m bringing some sort of voice to issues that I feel are important. That’s all anyone can really do.
Small Boy, oil and watercolor on paper, 15" x 22", 2007

BS: Amanda, today it seems that politics has become more of an issue in art regardless if artists are in pursuit of that direction or not. We live in a politically charged society... and viewers tend to seek political meaning within the context of a work of art. In a sense, they seek the views that the artist has. Unfortunately this mixing of political views or assumed political views can cause some viewers to judge a work of art negatively based on a conflict- or assumed conflict -- of ideology rather than on the merit of the work itself. One could say that your work is very political... have you struggled with these issues?

AP: I haven’t struggled per se with the politically charged content of my work. I’ve used historical wartime references in search of drastic human emotions and images; but the outcome isn’t necessarily a comment on the effects of war. It’s more a comment on the human condition, acceptance, difference, exile, loneliness. In response to the current wars of the world, it was also a comment on the consequences humanity still faces from wars that happened decades ago. Wars don’t end when the war is "over." But in general, I enjoy the ambiguity of my work and its multitude of narratives.
Waiting, oil on canvas, 48" x 36", 2007

BS: Amanda, tell us about the technical side of your paintings. What are the techniques and methods that you utilize in order to create your work? As far as process is concerned... where do you find focus?

AP: I find my greatest focus in silence and solitude. I really love just contemplating and questioning everything; but for the most part, it all just happens in my head and not within conversation with others until I’ve developed some sort of idea and researched all of its facets.

As for my studio practice, I’ve learned over the years that a painting for me is 50% concept and 50% process/surface. An idea can only take you so far unless you’ve got a technique to back it up and vice versa. I really enjoy oil paints. They are viscous and can make these beautiful glosses and buttery consistencies. There is such a variety of textures one can utilize. I like to scratch the surface with graphite and sketch right onto the canvas. I love when pockets of that peek out under the finished product. I use my finger to blend sometimes and I am constantly right up in the painting’s face and then take 15 steps back to look at the whole. Every inch of the canvas should be interesting, and that’s impossible to do I’m realizing, but it also might not be such a bad thing.

Layering is important to everything I do. Sometimes I’ll spend 10 hours on a painting and then wake up the next day and paint over the entire thing. Sometimes I’ll be almost finished and then paint over that partially or wholly. I really enjoy when a painting develops a history in its layers. It has a story to tell. I’m usually the only one who knows what is actually underneath all of the layers of paint in any given work. I get a little kick out of that. I’d like to think there is something really funny underneath the Mona Lisa.
Should I go Back?, oil and watercolor on paper, 15" x 22", 2007

BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you tell us about your studio practice?

AP: I’m working on a new series. Research is extremely important to my studio practice so that is the stage I’m in now. I like to really learn about my subjects before I proceed with finished works. The concept is a dramatic storyboard of global warming and rising sea levels. The primary characters are the baobab tree (an ecosystem unto itself) and the humpback whale who’s mating grounds reside near the baobab’s region in Madagascar. The sea level rises, the whale infamously backsplashes out of the waters and lands in a baobab. The story develops further, but I won’t spoil it. But it will be the first time I’ve thought of large paintings as a storyboard rather than individual works that stand on their own.

Beyond that, I’ve been engaged with trying to make my studio practice more eco-friendly: switching to lower-toxicity cleaners and oils as well as learning about which pigments are the most hazardous and proper disposal. It’s an excursion to say the least. It’s hard to maintain quality and some sort of archival property when you take away some of those things, so any advice from painters would be appreciated! It’s also a topic I wish schools would address more, especially in the face of today’s swift environmental change. I strive to see these issues taught as a specific course instead of just an OSHA handout.

BS: When all is said and done... what is the message that you hope to leave with your art?

AP: I’d just like people to think more, about anything. I try to think of things from every different person or things point of view. I don’t think people give themselves enough time to just stop and think until your brain hurts. My brain hurts all the time. I always say there’s a little hamster on a wheel in my head and he’s always exhausted.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the motives behind the work that you do?

AP: I don’t know if I have "motives." It’s more like, I can’t NOT do it, ya know?

Amanda Potter is a member of the www.myartspace.com community. You can learn more about Amanda by visiting her website-- www.amandapotter.org. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

4 comments:

JenMarie said...

im so glad amanda potter was finally interviewed! i just wrote a 7 page paper on her! congrats and keep on keepen on.

mallory said...

extremely beautiful images.
so romantic. where do you show?
mallory

mallory said...

extremely beautiful images.
so romantic. where do you show?
mallory

Anonymous said...

great paintings, it reminds something from Witkin..

Luca Palazzi