Q&A with Amanda C. Sweet

Q&A with Amanda C. Sweet

A conversation between Amanda C. Sweet and Krista Schoening on the topic of Sweet’s current show, Uncharted

KS: These works grow from your experiences out in nature. What are the qualities of the natural world that you are most enthusiastic about translating into your work? What sorts of landscapes and outdoor experiences inspire you the most? 

AS: I love all of the dynamic energy spontaneously converging at the shore. I typically set a new batch of works on paper into motion each time I’m able to spend a couple nights or more by the water. Low tide in the mornings when the moon is full and tide pools are unveiled—this is an ideal backdrop and an environment that I feel so lucky to explore every so often.

Tide Pool VII,Emerald Green

KS: In this body of work you have some works that are composed in such a way that they seem to indicate a field of vision that has been cropped—like a photograph taken of the surface of a body of water which implies a larger swath of unseen water beyond its edges. However there are some works here that seem to center a figure, interacting with the boundaries of the canvas or paper in a different way. I am speaking about works like Sea Fog, Nocturnal Tide, Tide Pool VII, Emerald Green. Is there a difference for you between these two ways of composing? Or is this, perhaps, something new arising in your practice? 

AS: Yes, definitely! The first works you describe do feel photographic to me (Tide Pool Nos. IV-VI). They are paintings that happened in a burst of creative energy. I created each in just two or three layers (roughly three painting sessions). I believe it was my collective time spent preparing by exploring the physical landscape, assembling my field drawings, taking photographs, and the ingrained memory of the natural color palette that quickly brought the painting to a finished state when it came time to touch the canvas. These works are more about the explorations of a specific place in nature and my memory of it. 

Each of the other paintings you cite grew out of a specific region of one of the aforementioned works, inevitably assuming new form and balance. This took further intuition, layering, and excavation to reveal a new painting with its own identity and personality. The works feel caught in the act of becoming rather than being. This grouping of work is more about exploring the parameters of the painting influenced by my visual observations made in nature.

KS: I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition here of spray paint, which obscures the trace of the painter’s hand, with brushy marks—or brush-shaped lacunae—that allude back to your agency as an artist by showing the evidence of the action you took to make them. Can you tell me a bit about your mark-making here, and how it relates to these seemingly opposing tendencies? 

AS: On one level, the act of applying the brushstrokes feels therapeutic. It’s a way for me to take time during my practice to be present in the moment and clear my mind, much like the Asian art practices of brush calligraphy and Zen-style painting. On another level of interest, I appreciate the possibilities that lie in applying my brushstrokes with masking fluid, so to remove a future layer of paint (a reductive method), as opposed to layering a new color directly on the surface. This requires additional planning on my part in an effort to maintain a compositional balance, but also welcomes chance alignments and new dynamics regarding what form and color will recede or advance from the surface. 

The spray applications leave behind a relatively flat surface, which places more weight on the color and texture of the work to define its space. The brushwork carries the color and texture in the works and marries all layers of paint. The marks suggest movement and are a way for me to insert myself into the equation. I see myself as a similar natural force that can pick up material and displace it elsewhere.

KS: I am struck by how the marks you are making in these works remind me of Chinese calligraphy. Is there a relationship between your work and this artform? 

AS: It’s a relationship I’d like to explore further. With each body of work, I grow more confident in my original mark-making, which synthesizes the repetitive patterns and motion of the sea. Someone who is practicing calligraphy will learn to leave bold, deliberate strokes without hesitancy. I owe the confidence to years of drawing practice tracing the movement of my source with my eye. These expressions flow out of me at this point like writing; they have become second nature. 

KS: You mention in your statement that the paint you are using is low solvent and water-based paint. Please tell us about your philosophy of materials — what is guiding your choices when it comes to selecting them. 

AS: In general, I’m excited to try out unconventional paint application techniques and my art practice has always been experimental with regard to methodologies and materials. The decision to pair art masking fluid with spray paint allows me to leave a unique set of marks on each work. This is a noted shift from my previous use of handmade stencils that were cut from field studies and repeatedly applied across several works over the past two years. 

My selection process in spray paint is influenced by greener environmental choices and maintaining the highest standard for quality in pigment strength and lightfastness. Spray paint is a modern material choice for fine art painting, and I want to ensure that the integrity of the color and the paint skin is unaffected by my experimentations, and will stand the test of time.