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In the studio with Amy Casey — Step into her world. 🎨

Peering into Amy Casey's work and entering into her world is not unlike starting a video game—there are so many dimensions to explore, so many twists and turns to take, such wild paths to follow. This fall we released our most recent edition with Casey: Vivacious. Having followed her work for several years, we feel as if she's invited us into her world and along with her as this universe has expanded and adapted to reflect her own evolving perspective and outlook. Now it's your turn! Step in:

1. Where’s your studio? 

It is down a terrifying steep flight of blue stairs from my home in Cleveland, Ohio.

2. What’s your favorite “tool” in the studio (and why)?

Probably my magnifying lamp, because my vision is not holding up as well as I would wish... though with my power company being a bit spotty over the years, any bright lamp at all is great for a night owl.

3. What do you listen to while you work?

Lately, a mash-up. Some examples—  

audiobooks: Jane Austen, Bill Bryson, Joseph Campbell 

old TV: Northern Exposure, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Frasier  

podcasts: A Date with the Bake, DNA: ID, Star Trek, the Next Conversation  

music: Tom Waits, Al Green, Sharon Van Etten   

angry cats meowing for second or third dinners: Tom Sawyer, Henry, Bernice Clementine

4. Can you talk a little bit about your process working on Vivacious?

I saw this great stump a few years ago in a cemetery in Vermont, and I enjoy painting versions of it. It's just a nice craggy landscape stage in which you can place things. This painting built up slowly over time, hanging out behind my desk for quite a while. I first refined the silhouette on the page and found the placement of the little house characters.  Then began building up the textures and the garden of mossy bits and fungus, this is usually the most fun part. I used photo references from walks I've taken, but I wasn't trying to make them realistic. I was just hoping for a nice variety of forms. I tried to keep the plants in a green/yellow color range so that the houses didn't get completely lost in too much color. One of the last things was the background and to do that, I cut a mask and used an airbrush. It was originally a silvery grey color and when I tried to warm it up a bit with an orange translucent color it turned that sort of gold, which was a surprise, but felt right. Then I reworked the edges of the stump where the mask ended and that's the story.

5. You mentioned in writing about Vivacious that in this painting, your houses and buildings have broken away from earlier paintings of towering stacks of buildings. How have the worlds depicted in your paintings changed over time?

Well—there's a range.  In my older work, I liked to see how much of a world I could create or string together with just buildings and sometimes roads or bridges. For me, it was an idea of community building, sometimes taken to absurd extremes. I loved the idea of becoming part of something bigger than one's self.  Over time, I began adding bits and pieces- trees, then water, and then nature started to take over the clean white backgrounds.  I think some of them have gotten less optimistic (especially the exploding/imploding paintings) and less to me about working together...more about falling apart and thinking about how to find a place in a world that is falling apart. Some, like Vivacious, are—I think—a little romantic, an escape immersed in peculiar surroundings. An oversized nature as something welcoming and threatening in turn.  I am hoping that we can adapt to the enormous changes that are going on in the world, and I think my paintings reflect that and sometimes my doubts as well. 

6. What is the biggest challenge for you when producing new work, and how do you approach that challenge? 

There's always that paralyzing feeling when starting with white panels or paper, that you just have to find a way past. Best to skip the 'wondering if the world really needs more paintings' stage. I wish I could tell you I always have a sack full of ideas at the ready, but I don't. I do however have a small pocket of ideas, some scraggly notes and doodles on post-its and envelopes, some pictures of exquisite things I saw out in the world, some color combinations to try out, and some ideas that I think deserve a do-over after the first try made an unexpected left turn. I'm a hands-on thinker and I just need to start touching and trying to get going. While starting to work on those little ideas, you inevitably find questions and new avenues to follow. If none of that helps I go take a walk. Or start cleaning my studio. Sometimes when I clean I find ideas I've forgotten- notes that fell behind a table or just thoughts made clear after sweeping away the dust. 

7. What advice do you have for other artists and creative people in general?

I wish I had good advice!  Maybe I could become Dear Amy! I love the Martha Graham quote about how each of us has a unique expression that we should not block lest the world lose it, how it's not on us to judge how good it is or how it compares with others but to just keep the channel open and be aware of your motivations. I think it's really useful when you get too in your head. So my advice is to read that.

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” ―Martha Graham

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