We are delighted to exhibit new work in Bristol by an artist new to Lime Tree Gallery. We have admired the work of Amanda Phillips for some time and so we are thrilled to be the first gallery in England to show her evocative Scottish landscapes.
We asked Amanda to complete a Q & A to help us all understand the motivation and inspiration behind her work.
How did you get in to art?
It’s always been there, as far back as I can remember the interest was there and I drew at every opportunity and subsequently became good at it. It was what I was known for at school and has been with me ever since. Previous careers have always involved conceptualising and drawing in various disciplines, so I’ve never stopped being interested.
How do you start each piece?
I usually start by priming the canvas or board heavily with gesso using a very rough coat which will help make interesting marks come through during painting. I don’t sketch out what I’m going to do, I just step right in and head straight for the canvas or board. I usually have an idea in my head about what I want to paint which is often due to a recent trip to the sea or a landscape. It’s never a fixed idea, always flexible and that’s important. Even if I have photographs to hand, they are always there for reference never to copy the image onto canvas. I’m more interested in how something feels as to what it looks like. Sometimes I change what I’m doing as the painting develops and how I’m feeling on the day. The weather and seasons come in to it a lot too, high summer energy or cosy studio.
What materials do you use and why?
I use acrylic paint because it’s quick and I work fast. I love the unpredictability of watercolour which is my favourite medium and any workshops I have done in the past have been using that, it’s the most exciting medium. I also love oils, for the smell above any other reason and may go back to that soon. Sometimes I use collage (usually tartan paper) because I love the lines and grids and the visual complexity it brings, I’m not patriotic. Sometimes I use everything including colour pencil, pastels oil bars, graph paper. It’s what’s to hand and feels the right thing to use, it’s not technically preconceived, more intuitive.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Anything, everything, everywhere. Marks on a rusty panel in an industrial estate, bark of a tree, colours of a meal in a restaurant, a conversation with an old person, things out of place in their surroundings, dreaming in a traffic jam, thinking about ideas for paintings at 4am in the morning when I can’t sleep and it’s wonderfully quiet (my most creative time), Max Richter – I’m planning on painting to his music and of course buildings and architecture. Mostly the sea which is where my heart is and poetry – a certain choice of word or phrase – are probably the most inspiring things.
What is your studio like?
Far smaller than I would like, but we live in a street in a city at the moment which we are not used to, so it’s a small room in the house near the cosy kitchen which the previous occupants used as a home office. It’s just the usual studio thing – shelves with too much on them, surfaces to work on. I tend to extend out into the family room adjoining it and the kitchen because it has roof lights and the natural light levels are good there and it gets full of the latest work stacked about the place. It’s handily near the kettle and biscuit tin too. When we leave here in a year or two I will build a studio that is the most perfect studio ever and I can’t wait.
What other artists inspire you?
All artists inspire me, I get something from so many people. Artists who I have looked at and liked are Paul Bailey for composition, David Tress for technical skill mixed with truly intuitive approach, Steven Lindsay for simplicity and space, Turner – sounds clichéd but I do remember being influenced by him as a very young girl, he caught my interest. And Andrew Wyeth because I love the countryside and I connect with his limited colour palette. I like architects too, some who are high tech, some low tech, and architectural drawings (all those lines and datum and axis – just great).
What is it you are trying to achieve in your pieces?
A painting tutor once told me, ‘you don’t want to get everything from a poem on the first reading’ and that’s it – to go back to one of my paintings and there’s interest there, always seeing something new, complexity even in simple works.
I don’t try to be consistent in my painting although I feel a pressure to do that sometimes. For me the most honest approach I can have to painting is to do what I feel is appropriate on the day. I like change, it’s not always predictable, and that for me is exciting. Some days I’m back being the architect or draughtsperson looking for accuracy and precision in what I’m painting, other days a poet or artist with a more emotional response and I can’t get it down quick enough. I don’t really understand how people can paint the same way for years, that doesn’t work for me. Having been a designer and artist, it’s more honest for me to address both, so my work is a response on the day, that’s as truthful as I can be to myself and so the result is that it’s not always completely consistent in the outcome. I accept that now.
I try to make work that connects with what is going on in my head and hopefully other people observing my paintings can relate to it and find their own connection. I like to think of my work as visual poems, you can read them and find meaning, some bits are obscure and need working out and that brings another level of meaning that’s intriguing. Then maybe later in life you can look at them again and a new meaning can surface. I like that, seeing things one way and then later another, it keeps it fresh and interesting.
How do you know when it’s finished?
If my focus is particularly good I can find myself in ‘the zone’ which means everything else is blocked out and I’m fully engaged in what I’m doing. Usually this is when I’m at my busiest and I don’t want to stop working. Often this is when I do my best work and there is a positive vibe in producing it. I think some of my best paintings have been ‘overpaints’ – work I have painted straight on top of another painting – I don’t paint out the underlying painting with white gesso and start again from a blank canvas, I just paint straight on top of the original work and create a completely new painting. It’s an exciting way to approach a new piece and it usually works, sometimes bits of the original work coming through accidentally. Sometimes a painting should be finished earlier on that it is. It can be that I’m at underpainting stage and the painting just happens but I feel obliged to work into it, questioning what is quality in a painting, then sometimes wish I’d left it. I take a picture of it at this point now, so that if I feel it loses it’s energy I can look back at that earlier stage and recapture some of that instant approach. Some paintings require a laboured and accurate approach and take longer to finish and I can be touching them up here and there for days. Usually most paintings I take to a point that I’m happy with which is perhaps when I think further mark making won’t help it. I then keep them around for the next few days, touching up or changing, usually for the better. Sometimes if a painting isn’t going anywhere but I know there’s a painting in there somewhere, I set it aside, sometimes for months, and attack it when it’s least suspecting. I don’t give out work I’m unhappy with, I like to think I’m producing quality, I care. Someone will hopefully connect and give it a home so they can connect with it for years. I have a sense of responsibility there. The canvases have to be good quality, the paint too and the painting as good as it can be. It’s their painting, and they’re not picking from an assembly line, its bespoke.
Are there any other art form you would like to try?
Yes, sculpture. I did it at art college years ago and loved it, using terracotta. I’d love to stone sculpt too. There aren’t enough hours in the day at the moment and painting takes up all my time, but our children are leaving home in the next year and there should be a lot more time then, so am looking forward to it.
What are you working on currently?
Just now I’m working for lots of galleries all over Scotland. I tap into different things eg just recently I was taken by the flotsam and jetsam being washed up at the beach not far from us and painted that using a lot of different techniques and ‘pick-offable’ collage. It was experimental for me and so exciting and has been very popular. I’m also working on some mini pieces, I like big scale or really small. It keeps it interesting. I’ve done a lot of seascapes recently so may do some landscapes.
What will the future hold?
I used to teach drawing to poetry and colour to music classes at ECA (Edinburgh College of Art). They used to tap into the non-literal approach and they were great fun and I used it with the architecture students too, it really helped them improve their drawing. I want to go back to those lessons for myself, start drawing and painting to music, Max Richter, Vivaldi etc and seeing what happens with colour as I use quite a limited subdued palette at the moment. I also want to get back to using the figure as a subject and using buildings in my work. I want to keep and develop the use of my architectural background in the works too - lines, axis, datum etc and mix it with the freedom of intuition. A lot to do and experiment with but my head is full of ideas. Using a painting alongside something 3d would be good too. Lots to do!