We like to talk with our artists to get a sense of their beginnings and inspiration, as well as their current work and where they see their work evolving in the future. Today, we’re speaking with abstract painter Amie Campbell, who is the Featured Artist of March.
We’d like to learn more about your beginnings. What are your earliest memories of art and how did you become an artist yourself?
“My grandmother was a painter and so I remember seeing her painting and I remember seeing her paintings. Most of that was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, so she would paint lake scenes and sunsets and beautiful things like that. I went to a liberal arts college, Kalamazoo College, and at first art wasn’t my emphasis. I got very interested in art history there and I had taken some art in high school but not a lot, and I just got interested in making art. I also did theater, and it all kind of worked together.”
What type of art did you start out making in school?
“Well, we did painting, but I had done that theater thing so I got very interested in performance and spaces and I made a production set that I designed with friends. I made a backdrop with clothes from Goodwill sewn in these huge pieces and then painted over with white. I also did some metal sculpture that is now in my back yard. So I just tried about everything, because you would. You just got interested in everything. The only thing I really didn’t do very well with was ceramics, because I wasn’t calm enough to use the wheel.”
When did you decide to call yourself an artist and start making art more consistently?
“College just fed my idea that that was something I wanted to continue doing. It definitely had a pull for me. I didn’t know how I would fit that into my life, whether I would be doing a different job in my life and doing art for myself, but I knew I would continue to do art. I did it on the side for a while and when my husband was in graduate school I was working other jobs and doing art on the side, but I always did it. I always continued to do art. When we moved to Indiana, I had the opportunity to do it full-time and that’s when I really made some progress.”
Which artists have inspired or influenced you in your work?
“A lot of artists have inspired me. I really love Bonnard. I really like his work and I like Gauguin as a painter. I’m not crazy about all his subjects, but his painting is just beautiful. I’ve looked at a lot of Monet, especially the water lilies; I love those. My friend Tamar’s work is just wonderful. I love that Bloomington is a place where a lot of really serious artists are working and we can see each other’s work and keep going. It’s like a novel you’re writing, but you’re just doing it page by page so the story continues.”
Can you describe your process for creating a work of art?
“A lot of times I’ll just start with a bold smear of color and it’s like opening a book. You start something on the canvas and then figure out what’s next. If you’re into the moment, it really just flows from there. The color tells you something, you tell it something back, and it’s like a conversation. Usually, I like to work in a room where I have two paintings going at once and one is behind me and one is in front of me. If I’ve worked really hard on the one in front of me, I can almost hear the one behind me saying, ‘Well, you’re going to let me just stand here?’ It’s an electric space where you’re in dialogue with the things that are happening. It’s a very active, quiet thing, except usually there’s music going. I like that electricity of being in between things that are happening.”
How has your work evolved over time?
“I don’t worry any more about what I am going to paint, because now it’s just driven. For some reason I just got onto a little track and I don’t really think about it anymore. The next thing is there. That’s something that hasn’t always been there. I’ve always searched for a narrative, but I think I’m on to that now. I don’t know if that’s just a result of having done it for years and I’ve opened my mind and my eyes to my world and that everything gets put in a basket. I also do drawing and some fiber art and that gets another part of my brain going. Music is a big inspiration for me as well as sounds outside. Instead of narrowing, my focus has opened up more. That means that I know more what I’m doing, I know what I’m after and I know where I’m going. I think my colors have changed. They're more attuned to the greenery of Indiana. I think I have more brushstrokes than I did; I’m more detailed. My brushstrokes are also bigger. I’ve always wanted to paint big, so I’m finding a way to do that.”
Are there any colors that you are particularly fond of?
"The colors I choose are seasonal. Green is a very hard color to paint with and I was fascinated by green a couple of years ago and worked a lot with that. I can get into yellow and some of these colors are difficult when you’re doing a really green painting. You have to make some lighter and some darker and mix up the paint in different ways to get different characteristics of green. Green is so transparent and so hard to make opaque, so that’s another problem and that kind of interests me. So when I’m painting, I pre-mix my colors, I don’t use a palette. It’s a bit of an odd way to paint, but I like that because then I just don’t even think about a particular green, I’ve got it if I want it. I do a lot of color mixing and charts and things. I used to chart out my colors before I began the painting, but now I’ve realized that I don’t need to do that anymore.
I use a lot of glazes - blue, magenta and gold. The glazes mimic light. They just transform and change things in interesting ways. If you are using a lot of glaze, it will change the quality of what’s underneath. Your initial painting may be very jarring with strange colors, but when you put that glaze on, it all gets harmonious and wonderful.”
Where do you see your work going from here?
“I can’t see very far down the road there. I just see my work continuing as it is right now, continuing to develop a sense of space and sound and color. That’s not done for me yet. I don’t feel a big shift coming.”