Amy Bernstein is an artist and writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her work has been exhibited in Portland at Nationale, The Art Gym, Littman Gallery, Portland State University, Car Hole Gallery, Worksound and Carl & Sloan Contemporary.
At The Fullest we are inspired by Amy’s curiosity about life and how she connects with a variety of creative outlets– from fashion, music, poetry and politics. Although everyone has the ability to create, and each piece is unique and beautiful in its own way, we are especially loving Amy’s contemporary creations. They are simple and complex, just like life itself! Learn more about Amy in our interview below and check out her incredible work along the way!
When did you start painting?
I have always drawn pictures, but I think I started using oil paint seriously when I was about 15.
Have you always been into abstract art? Where does your inspiration come from?
Yes, I have always been interested in abstract work, but as a kid, I was reading the work in a very different way. I saw abstract work as more of an emotional outpouring than a language.
As for my inspiration… this is a tough question because it comes from so many different places and is such an abstract animal unto itself. I am very inspired by certain ideas and phrases that seem apropos to a time or a moment, and at the same time are sorts of formal contradictions or plays on words. I want my work to reflect the experience of these things in a visual way. A lot of my inspiration comes out of the work itself– watching it unfold and seeing things for the first time. Making is very generative for me. The more I make, the more ideas are born. I am very inspired by the work of other artists, the greats who humble me in their brilliant but simple visual subversions. I love seeing the way people live in different places in the world, how they put their homes together visually. I love fashion magazines! And poetry. I love poetry.
Do you have any musical inspirations?
There are so many! I like everything from droney, stoner Metal to unaccompanied Bach to Hip-Hop and R&B. I love Motown and Moondog. I like a slow crescendo and anything you can dance to. Man, I am a music fan through and through. It is the most visceral and the most powerful art form. It slays me in all of its iterations.
Does your art tell a story?
No, my art doesn’t tell a story. I think it plays a part in the story of the history of painting. But it doesn’t tell its own story.
Do you feel vulnerable sharing your work? Did you ever?
Always! Occasionally less now, but most of the time, yes.
What blocks your creativity?
When I try to think too critically about the work while I’m making it. I’ve learned to separate those processes.
How do you move past blocks in creativity?
Make more stuff, and wait for the block to pass. It always does!
What do the shapes in your work represent?
I think of my shapes as characters or kinds of punctuation that talk to each other within each painting. They are not specific symbols with specific meanings, but orchestrated works. I think of them as acting as a sort of sensual and absurd poem. Hopefully, one that is compelling enough to make you look and think and open yourself up to. I want the work to take you on a walk in its world. The shapes need each other for context. They wouldn’t maintain their oddity or their individuality without each other and their specific arrangements.
How do you choose color?
My color choice is a mixture of intuition and cultural influences. I mix large batches of one color and then make a million different variations on it until it catches my eye in conjunction with something else on my palette. I make notes in thick, gooey notebooks so that I don’t forget certain combinations that I like. I try my hardest not to reference certain times or places too blatantly, even though I realize this is an impossibility as color will reference something for everyone. I am a color junky, and I try to put myself on special diets to make things more interesting, but I always end up indulging my appetite for it. I often use stacks of Color-Aid paper when I’m stumped. My color choice is a mixture of curiosity and experimentation; what will happen when I put these things next to one another? What mood or emotion or reference will surface?
Your “We The People, Your Blood is Made of Jewels” painting is so different than the rest of your work. What was the intention behind this piece?
I made that piece during the escalation of the last presidential election in this country. I felt it to be a time in which I needed to use a different language, one that was of this world, but not. I wanted to remind people that we are all made of the same stuff (the dust and light of stars) and that maybe this would inspire them in some way to love. I wanted to paint an image that let the viewer breathe in the midst of all the chaos of that time. I wanted that painting to stand as a gentle symbol that the blood that was being spilled on the streets was as much theirs as anyone’s, and it was as precious as diamonds. It was a call to love in a dark time.
What does your life outside of the studio look like? How does it influence your work?
My life outside the studio is a hectic jumble of hustle and chaos. Being an artist is part strategy and part living by your wits. Part of survival as an artist is the balance of maintaining your practice in the midst of it. This is always a challenge, but one that inspires a lot of gratitude. My friends and loved ones are my delicate ecosystem of checks and balances and ideas, and we are in constant conversation about the time we live in and the ideas that circulate within our community. All of this bleeds into the studio and surfaces into my work. Life outside the studio is my biggest influence– it is what you’re bringing in every day to work with, so, in essence, the raw materials are you, and your life.
*Portrait of Amy by Simon Metcalf.