I make small scale, abstract oil paintings on canvas and panel. They skirt the edges of geometric abstraction and more gestural painting. Colors and marks accumulate and the surfaces become topographical. I mix a lot of the colors directly on the surface as they bump into or overlap each other. Much of the work is inspired by built structures, peripheral vision, patterns, cities and textiles.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I had a pretty typical trajectory as a young artist – went to art school, moved to NYC after art school and made work, taught and showed there. Then I had kids. It stalled my art making for a while, and my family ended up leaving NY for Portland, Oregon, but ultimately it helped me to find my inner fierce artist. I lost a lot of the fear about making work and just got on with it.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.
My work is very studio based at the moment. I bring in some images or objects that I find out in the world but they end up being a starting point and often get obliterated by the time the work is finished. It’s really the materiality of the paint – the physicality of the paint – and navigating color that guides the work. Color is so mysterious to me. I am constantly surprised and engaged by the situations I can get into as I add color.
I am really drawn to the studio as a way of shutting out the world. Or at least the onslaught of information and chatter from the internet. I guess I am just one of those people who has a hard time balancing it all, so I have to make a conscious effort to extract myself. I do use technology, and am grateful for it, but working in the studio has become a way of separating myself from it and getting back to something more tactile and intuitive.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Being a blogger was a bit of a surprise. I have a tumblr where I document art around Portland. Initially, I did it because I wanted to keep track of who was showing and to sort of convince myself or remind myself that there was good work to see here. It was hard to make the shift from NY to Portland as an art viewer. There is a surplus of work to see in NY but in Portland you have to seek it out. So it started from this very personal place of recording shows that I liked or thought were interesting. I didn’t know much about how tumblr worked when I started the blog and I didn’t realize how public it was. Now I do it for other people too – so they can see what is happening in Portland. And for the artists who show here. It feels good to celebrate what they are making. It has gotten me more disciplined about getting out to see stuff and helped me to connect with the art community here.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
Mornings are best. I usually try to get a chunk of work done before 1pm or so. Then the afternoon is spent with my kids going on outings and running errands. I sometimes manage to get back in the studio in the evenings, but I don’t push too much for that. I have a hard time concentrating at that point anyway.
There’s also a natural ebb and flow to my work and I don’t get tooconcerned when I am pulled away for a while. Sometimes life needs more attention than my work and I always know I will get back to it when I can. I have never been able to work full days in the studio. I think it would be pretty lonely for me. And I also balance art making with child rearing and teaching, so I have to be flexible about it.
After we moved to Portland in 2009, I had a bit of a break from making work. I was making conceptual, site-specific work that was very outward looking and it just got too hard to maintain. It was too hard to find that balance between working and taking care of two small kids. And I didn’t have much of an art community here so there really wasn’t a support network. It sort of felt pointless to make work at that time. When I resurfaced, I started by making little gouache works on paper – I wasn’t thinking much about concepts or ideas at all – I just wanted to make something again. It was liberating! Now I am an abstract painter.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
My husband, Wade Nacinovich, is the primary person I talk with about work and ideas. He’s a writer and compulsive consumer of culture, so there is much to share and we are always introducing new art/writing/film/music to each other.
I was also part of a studio group in NYC for about 8 years. They are kind enough to keep me in the loop and even include me in visits through Skype so I’m still peripherally involved with them. But they were, and are, hugely influential for me. We consider ourselves the main audience or witnesses to each others work and are always grappling with where (if?) to draw the line between art and life. We call ourselves WAMER (Women Eating Meeting and Reading) and that’s basically what we do together. There has been some reshuffling of the members over the years but WAMER is…Robyn Love, Fran Willing, Paula Lalala, Yolanda Rivera, Anne-Marie McIntyre, Eva Melas, Erika deVries and Sono Kuwayama.
I’ve lately been really into all the amazing women painters: Florine Stettheimer, Agnes Martin, Anne Truitt, Helen Frankenthaler, Mary Heilmann, Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz, Lisa Yuskavage, Polly Apfelbaum, Amy Sillman, Joanne Greenbaum, Howardina Pindell, Dana Schutz, Bridget Riley, Katherine Bernhardt, Katherine Bradford. I’m sure I’m missing some. They give me the courage to find a space as a woman painter. The writing, talks, and curating of Connie Butler, Helen Molesworth and Michelle Grabner have been huge for me too.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
At one point I thought I wanted to be a textile surface designer. I took a few classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology but it didn’t really stick. I am too interested in process and the idea that the work bubbles out of the making. I couldn’t really see myself churning out textile designs day after day and considering the client’s needs. I like to set up my own parameters. I do still love pattern and working with gouache, so I definitely got something out of that detour.
I also really got into gardening and the idea of homesteading during my hiatus from art making. I turned most of my yard into a garden of edibles and did a bunch of canning, pickling and fermenting. Since I started painting I have really scaled that back though.
Amy Bay is a painter living and working out of her home in Portland, OR. Her exhibition history has included shows at The Drawing Center, Printed Matter, Dieu Donne Papermill, Brooklyn Public Library, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Carriage House at The Islip Museum, in NY; Nisus Gallery, Project Grow Gallery and The Portland ‘Pataphysical Society in Portland; and Spaceworks Tacoma. She has been awarded grants and projects from the Lower East Side Printshop, Dieu Donne Papermill and Women’s Studio Workshop. She received her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA from Winchester School of Art, England and Spain.
Bay also has a blog called Permanent Record which documents art around Portland. And she teaches drawing and gallery education to adults atPortland Community College’s Community Education Program and drawing to homeschooled teens at Village Home in Beaverton, OR.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.