Briefly describe the work you do.
The focus of my work for the past few years has consisted of images found in and cut out of vintage magazines. I position these people, primarily women, and collage them on Stonehenge paper. Then I paint using gouache, creating shapes with a small Sable brush.
I enjoy many things about the vintage magazines I source from, the anonymity, the flat representation of the figure, the black and white or warm colors, their eerie enthusiasm. I feel I am empowering them somehow by providing them this new abstract and sarcastic experience.
I mix colors, paint lines, fill in shapes, layer them all, and sometimes movements emerge. I am particularly fond of gouache after all these years, because it is finicky and demands control. It can be flat and yet very painterly. I can create small amounts of slightly different colors and return to the same palette.
I began this body of work on a smaller scale, partially due to space, partially, I realize now, to be able to work out ideas while learning these mediums and their relationships. I have recently been expanding back a to larger format.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
My parents are both from the East coast, we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when I was 4. My biggest influences have been the teachers in my life. Beginning with my parents, I saw my dad as capable of following his dreams, as well as being able to fix anything. My mom taught me how to look at and respect the work artists do, as well as introduce me to a fearlessness for all kinds of materials. I am grateful to my high school art teacher Cayewah Easley for noticing and encouraging my love for painting. I moved back to the East coast for college and found many supportive environments. From Sheila Gallagher at Boston College who challenged me to create my own art community there, to the Post-Baccalaureate studio intensive program at Brandeis that pushed my studio practice skills, to SMFA where I honed my ability to communicate about my work in any form it took.
Now, I look back at my teachers and realize the wealth of resources they have provided me when I am stuck in the studio or in life.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio practice is pretty traditional. My studio time has been serious for as long as I have had projects to work on. In my current set up, I have a desk and wall space. My studio takes up about half my room and is well integrated. I do miss having a separate studio space to be messier and work larger, but am also comfortable living and creating in the same space because I don’t see them as that different.
When I finished grad school I was grateful for the appreciation that as an artist, I have many creative outlets, it’s about perspective and balance. I remember to take the time to plant, cook, make messes in the studio, enjoy the company of friends, observe my surroundings and have adventures.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I started making art, I saw it as the dedication to painting and sole pursuit of showing in museums. But as an artist I am a lot of things. I am a problem solver who is able to work towards the greater goal, while taking care of all the pieces that make it happen, and that doesn’t only have to happen in the studio. I wasn’t, and am still not really, sure what “I wanted to be when I grew up.” To the same degree, I struggled for much of my artistic career as to what to paint. I ultimately keep working at it, at attempting to pursue my passions and be genuine. I feel fortunate that people are responding to my work that has grown organically in my practice. The opportunities that social media has provided for people to see my work is something I didn’t imagine when I first started painting.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
The best time of day for me to make art is in the evening. I definitely get a second wind and feel more comfortable as the sun goes down. Even if I have a whole day committed to the studio, I will likely fill the beginning portion with preparation, observation, or research.
Due to my schedule, I paint after I come home from work, make food and relax a bit. I listen to music, podcasts or have a show on in the background as I work. I set aside at least 2 evenings a week and an afternoon on the weekends. I definitely go through phases where I am more productive then others. When I paint too much, I do not have enough inspiration to bring to the table and may overwork pieces. I need time to stand back and look at the work, or leave altogether and resolve the composition based on the image I have in my head, and then return to make my next move. I do love producing and get antsy if I haven’t painted in days, so I often at my desk working away.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Five years ago I had just arrived in San Francisco after finishing grad school. I was primarily recovering from my exploration of mediums and disassembly of the figure in my work. I was still attempting to synthesize my work in different contexts. I was creating soft sculpture installations using fleece pillows that resembled my painted shapes in color and form. The shapes I had created through painting exploration and consisted of abstracted imagery based on recalling my memories.
My work has evolved and yet still remains very similar, at least to me. I do not experiment with different mediums as often to express my ideas, but have been able to refine my skills with gouache, focus on my shapes, color combinations and compositions. A lot of new elements have evolved organically, but the captured movement I have been able to create with flatness has been the most exciting.
The found image element has been a rewarding discovery. Representing the figure through relationships and attempting to express emotions has been a goal of my work. I thought I had lost the visual representation of the figure as I was experimenting with the abstraction of energy. The combination of my mediums has allowed the flat figure to finally be finally harmonious with the abstracted painting.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Early influences were the abstract expressionists, MTV, and my mom telling me that, “Only boring people get bored.” I was very inspired by the creative woman throughout my life, and the feminist literature I was exposed to in grad school definitely made me question and find strength in my representation of the female form. Early I was drawn the colors and patterns of the late 60s, particularly to psychedelic posters.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I do have an occupation outside of my artwork. I work for a fashion start up in San Francisco. I began doing production and now I do inventory management, quality control and procurement. It is very rewarding and challenging. It fulfills a lot of my skill sets. I am thankful for the experiences I had as a teaching and artist’s assistant, exploring different mediums in my work, and also for my parents insisting I get a liberal arts background, as I am capable of and able to bring my skills in creative problem solving, research, communication, and organization to the table.
Elizabeth Amento was born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She moved back to Boston, where she attended Boston College for Studio Art and Psychology, Brandeis University for a Post-Baccalaureate in Studio Art, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University for her Masters in Fine Arts. After being awarded honors and included in shows in Boston, as well as Florida, Arizona, and Korea, and attending The Homestead Residency in Alaska, Elizabeth ventured back to the San Francisco Bay Area and found her colorful palate at home in the Mission District of San Francisco. There she has been carefully composing and displaying her collages for 5 years. She was recently interviewed by Frankie Magazine in Australia and published in Barcelona based Index Book’s Cut out for Collage.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.