Exhibition/new work preview and interview: Amy Guidry
By Guy Sangster Adams
Throughout the summer of 2010 Amy Guidry has enjoyed a very busy exhibition schedule in which her paintings have been included in a sequence of shows across the USA: from the multi-media, 2010 Art Melt at the Louisiana State Museum, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which opened on 15th July, to the Cam Rackham curated, The Black Plague Art Show, which opened the following week at The Congregation Gallery, in Los Angeles, California, to the Wally Workman Gallery’s 30th Anniversary Exhibition in Austin, Texas, which opened on 7th August. That schedule continues from summer into autumn with her work included in two shows which both opened on 27th August in her home state of Louisiana, Where Are They Now? at the Slidell Cultural Center, Slidell, which runs until 25th September, and the 23rd September Competition, at the Alexandria Museum of Art, Alexandria, which runs until 8th October.
For Guidry, who was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, but grew up in Slidell, exhibiting at the Slidell Cultural Center carries an added resonance. Because on 29th August 2005 Hurricane Katrina, which caused so much destruction and loss life along the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas, made its final landfall near the mouth of the Pearl River, with the eye straddling St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana and Hancock County, Mississippi, before sweeping North East, where it caused its most severe devastation in Louisiana’s largest city, New Orleans. St Tammany Parish, as Guidry explains, “consists of several cities and towns such as Slidell, Mandeville, and Covington,” and as a result of the damage caused by the inundation created by the hurricane, the Slidell Cultural Center’s original premises have been in disrepair ever since, and it is now housed within the Slidell City Hall.
All of the artists included in Where Are They Now?, which features fine art, photography, sculpture, culinary arts, animation, graphic design, and performing arts, were former students from St. Tammany Parish who have gone on to pursue careers in the arts.
“Exhibiting in Slidell is important to me for several reasons, Katrina was devastating, but Louisiana has proven to be resilient,” says Guidry, who still lives in the state, in the city of Lafayette, “I really wanted to do something positive for my hometown, for the community, and for the arts. I would often go to the Slidell Cultural Center to see exhibits while I was in high school and I was always impressed by the gallery. When they had closed due to Katrina, I was disappointed, but glad to know that they still had the funding to rebuild. Though they are in a new building, it’s still nice to go back and to be a part of one of their shows. I grew up in Slidell, I went to school there, and I was actively involved in the arts whether it was through school or local art competitions. Coming back, I hope to serve as a good example of their arts programs as well as a positive role model for students that are interested in a career in the arts.”
Guidy’s paintings in the exhibition are taken from her series, Beneath the Surface. Working in acrylic on canvas, Guidry’s paintings stem from, as she says, “two loves: psychology and art,” and the themes she explores, “involve the human psyche, who we are and how we interact with each other, including our relationship with other animals and the natural world.” For Beneath the Surface, as she explains, “I took issues of current social as well as personal interest and portrayed them in a sometimes humorous manner. I felt humor helped soften the political blow a bit in order to reach a broader audience. I was more direct with the content in hopes of getting the viewer thinking and questioning, and hopefully taking action as a result.”
Her entry for the 23rd September Competition is taken from, New Realm, the series of paintings with which she followed Beneath the Surface. The New Realm series is, “essentially a modern fairy tale which re-writes the role of women,” says Guidry, “I wanted to challenge the notion that women are weak and always in need of some prince to save them and whisk them away. New Realm portrays women as strong and independent. The overall look of the series is more dreamlike: birch trees and white, wintry backgrounds. I did incorporate a lot of imagery typically considered ‘feminine’, such as high fashion, butterflies, as well as a light color palette. However, many of these symbols represent freedom, growth, and change. The haute couture fashion incorporated into the series alludes to royalty, which is typically seen in fairy tales, but with a modern approach to make the series more current and relatable to the viewer.”
The Alexandria Museum of Art is housed within the former Rapides Bank Building which was built c1898 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The September Competition is held annually and is open to any artist aged 18 or over from across the USA. The sole judge and juror of this year’s competition is the artist Kelli Scott Kelley, who is also Professor of Painting and Drawing at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Kelli Scott Kelley’s involvement was an added draw to Guidry, as she says, “I’m a fan of her work, though I’ve never met her, so I was especially interested in entering.”
For me, the six canvases that Guidry has already completed of her new series, In Our Veins, make a more pronounced break from her two previous series, and represent something of a change of direction, and I am keen to find out if she agrees and if so whether this change is in response to specific stimuli. “I have to admit that “In Our Veins” is certainly a more pronounced break from my previous work,” she replies, “I’ve worked in a surrealist vein for quite some time, but I did up the ante on this series. At the time that I started In Our Veins, I felt that I needed to challenge myself technically and conceptually. I think that once I made that realization, that’s when I stopped censoring my own ideas.”
To do this she has adopted a very different conceptual approach for In Our Veins. “Most of the imagery has come has come from dreams and free association exercises,” she says, “which is the complete opposite of what I was doing before. I would brainstorm and write down words or phrases and do numerous thumbnail sketches in order to come up with a concept. Now I’m letting my subconscious lead me to the concepts. Any dream or image that comes to mind while half-asleep, I quickly sketch it as soon as I can and make sense of it later. I’ve never been a risk-taker, which is all the more reason why I think it’s time to take the risk with my work.”
That she is now taking direct inspiration from her dreams, and given the change in direction that In Our Veins represents, leads me to ask Guidry whether her dreams were always so vivid, or has there been a motivating factor that has made them become more so of late. “I don’t think my dreams have changed, I think that it’s my approach that has changed,” counters Guidry, “by not censoring, or maybe I should say editing my creativity, I’ve noticed that images and ideas are much more abundant even if I’m sleeping. I’ve also learned to tune out noise, whether it’s environmental or mental noise such as thinking of errands or my to-do list. Tuning out everything else has helped my creativity, or at least I’m more aware of it now.”
In common with her two previous series, In Our Veins continues to showcase Guidry’s latent talent to create acutely detailed, beautifully realised canvases, that cleverly subvert the initial welcome, or the ‘no need to think further’ security of being within familiar territory, that a benign style may provide, such as the pop art of Beneath the Surface, or classic fashion illustration of New Realm, with surreal flourishes, darker symbolism, details that only jar on closer inspection, or a message that percolates and reaches fruition upon reflection.
But taken as a whole, this juxtaposition is more immediate and more pronounced in the canvases of In Our Veins. As across phenomenally dramatic and beautiful land- and desertscapes, the paintings meld The Searchers’ VistaVision vast panoramas with the unsettling vision of Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. Because these iconic wide open spaces are inhabited by the likes of a human skeleton surmounted with the skull of an horse, an hare atop the ravaged corpse of a man, and traversed by the disembodied heads of animals and birds that have roamed free across the lands. Forget mere high definition, the exceptionality of Guidry’s mix of photorealism and surrealism, creates a fantastic heightened definition that presents a hyperreality that forces one to address and, with hope, redress our reality.
“I have never been particularly impressed by how Westerns portrayed life as good vs. bad,” says Guidry, elaborating on the themes behind In Our Veins, “in reality, the land, environment, people, and animals were all seen as a means to an end. I wanted to portray this in my own work by using this ‘character’ that I came up with while half-asleep, the skeleton with the horse skull, as well as the desert, as symbols of cowboys and horses, all typical Western imagery. I called the painting, The Wild West, as a reference to how the United States, itself being part of the West (hemisphere), is still taking over land, resources, etc. to this day.”
In addition to the Dali-esque air to In Our Veins, there is also an element of Magritte, as there is in various paintings from her earlier series, particularly Everything’s Coming Up Roses and Complacent from Beneath the Surface. I am interested as to whether the work of these artists was a conscious inspiration on In Our Veins. “I wouldn’t say that I was consciously thinking of Magritte since I try to tune out everything else when I’m working and let my creativity take over, but I’ll gladly take the compliment!” replies Guidry. “Even with a positive influence such as Magritte, I feel that it may inhibit my ideas and lead me to something more contrived. I will say that Magritte and Dali have been two of my favorite artists since a very young age, so their initial influence occurred long ago.”
Six canvases in, In Our Veins is still ongoing, as Guidry says, “I have a ton of ideas that I’m still working out as I go. I’m letting each painting lead me to the next. Since I was looking to challenge myself technically, these pieces are also taking much more time to complete due to the detail, complexity, and the fact that I’m now adding glazes to make my paintings more like oils. I’ll be working on these for awhile…” It is a fascinating and exciting prospect to see where Guidry’s journey into the landscape of dreams and a nation’s collective memory will lead next.
Where Are They Now?
runs from 27th August - 25th September 2010
at the Slidell Cultural Center, first floor City Hall,
2055 Second Street, Slidell, LA 70458-3403, USA
Telephone: +1 985 646-4375
Open: Tues-Fri, 12pm - 4pm; Sat, 9am - 12pm
23rd September Competition exhibition
runs from 27th August to 8th October 2010
at the Alexandria Museum of Art
933 Main Street / P.O. Box 1028, Alexandria, LA 71309-1028, USA
Telephone: +1 318 443-3458
Open: Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm; Saturday 10am-4pm
Amy Guidry: www.amyguidry.com
Slidell Cultural Center: www.slidell.la.us
Alexandria Museum of Art: www.themuseum.org
Wally Workman Gallery: www.wallyworkmangallery.com
Louisiana State Museum: lsm.crt.state.la.us
The Congregation Gallery: www.congregationgallery.com