Q&A with Amanda C. Sweet

A conversation between Amanda C. Sweet and Peggy Murphy on the topic of Sweet’s current show, Second Nature.

In the Golden Hour, acrylic ink and solvent-light spray paint on 100% cotton paper,
15.75×28.25 inches, 2021, framed, $1,175.

PM: A couple of pieces in your current show, In the Golden Hour and Between the Moon and the Sun, are torn paper collage in a tight geometric form. They remind me of unfolded origami. Does their process differ from the paintings on canvas and linen and is there a context for these particular shapes?

ACS: I take more liberties with the works on paper—tearing and segmenting, rotating, reconfiguring, and expanding upon the painted surface. These works lend themselves to a more transformative process, and I enjoy playing out what new shapes the work can embody. I’ve found that sometimes a work will call for a pop of color and another will need more quiet space.  

In both the stretched paintings and the works on paper, I enjoy the contrast of the grid underpainting and the geometric collage, respectively, in opposition to the fluidity and freedom of my brushstrokes. This duality of rigid horizontals and verticals paired with organic line is representative of my internal challenges of letting loose, and is also symbolic of human vs. natural influences. Like the state borders on our country’s map, right angles and straight lines indicate human-made borders and those organic suggest the water’s edge. 

PM: You have written that your painting aesthetic and philosophy is influenced by the meditative art of East Asian brush painting and calligraphy—was there a defining work of art or experience that led you in this direction?

ACS: Well, the influence could go back as far as elementary school. I remember Dad bringing home handcrafted items from his travels for work from East Asia and South East Asia—dolls, illustrated books, apparel, and ornamental boxes and miniature furniture. I was fascinated by their colorful patterns and metallic details. I also happened to participate in martial arts through this period of time, which introduced me to meditative techniques at a very young age.

Fast-forward to graduate school, I viewed Alan Watt’s episodes On Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life; I met Pan Gongkai before his lecture at the University and viewed his show Withered Lotus Cast in Iron at the Frye Art Museum; and, more recently, I discovered the work and practice of Chua Ek Kay. Those figures have all been significant players in my painting trajectory for the past 5 years. The scale of Gongkai’s mark in his ink paintings and his practice of standing above the works to paint inspired my process, and Ek Kay’s relationship to the brush stroke in his work as poetry influenced the way I think about my own working methodologies.

PM: Your work seems to always have water as a reference point—the sea, tides, shorelines tide pools, and rivers. You have written that your inspiration comes from observation, but do you ever use supplemental photos, etc.?

ACS: I’m not using photographs as a guide to render forms, but, in my last exhibition Uncharted, I relied on a few photo composites that I created from past visits to tide pools. I used Photoshop to merge various pockets of marine activity to create lush, condensed environments with the pops of color I imagined. I resist the urge, if any, to compose the paintings and collages in their early stages. I expect to respond to the work in progress in the moment and to arrive at a state of resolution once all of the elements feel balanced. 

PM: Gestural painting has such a physical component to it. Would you say the focus of your action is head, heart, or hands? 

ACS: I think it would be fair to say all three. I am in control of a couple of parameters—the initial palette and the sequence and method of layering paint applications. At the beginning stages of collage and painting, I keep my hands busy with repetitive processes—applying painted grids one stroke at a time, and tearing paper into freehanded, geometric shapes—two methods that require little thought, more ritual. At a turning point in the process, I respond quickly and intuitively, spontaneously feeling my way through the work. I brush on gestural expressions that swim across the surface, like extracted poetic perceptions from my time spent along the water’s edge.