Amanda Watson’s practice extends ideas of abstraction, landscape, and scale primarily through the medium of paint. She experiments with the physicality of paint and surface, and recently has investigated the fluidity and freedom of drawing translated in paint. Her work refers and responds to the urban and natural environments, and their architectural and organic forms and structures. Aesthetica talk to her about the influence of the environment as inspiration and processes behind her pieces.
A: As a contemporary artist living and working in New Zealand, how do you think the context of this has informed your work, both through the landscape and the culture that inevitably affects and shapes our lives?
AW: As a New Zealander I feel closely connected to the land. The land is important for us in terms of resources and industry and also culturally. In Maori culture (Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, Aotearoa), people are seen to be intrinsically connected to the land, and this relationship is given deep importance. These cultural beliefs have been a part of my development both personally and artistically. I was brought up with the beach at my doorstep and the mountains in my backyard, perhaps that is why I dedicate a lot of my time to exploring landscape in my work as it seems natural to do this. Early last century, the world’s artists and new ideas were hidden from artists in New Zealand because of our geographical isolation. In some ways I like that because it allowed a genuine and unique contemporary art to develop that was personal to New Zealand. Now, with prolific digital communication, the world is accessible and we are able to participate on a global platform, so there are not many limitations.
A: Could you talk about your practice as a painter – what do you find so enduring about the art form as opposed to, for example, photography or digital art?
AW: I have not yet come to the end of my investigations in painting, in fact I’m drawn further in the more I paint. I like the idea of being connected into the tradition of painting that extends back in history and weaves through to today. I’m building on that and contributing to that in some way. I enjoy the process and preparation of making a painting, starting with bare materials, constructing the surface, then building up the surface with paint. I dabble in photography and sculptural work, mainly to inform my painting. It’s all about painting.
A: How do you think that the environment informs your work, both in terms of the content for your work but the inspiration behind each piece?
AW: My work responds to the environments I find myself in, both specific locations and spaces in general. I take a lot of photographs to document locations that I find interesting, both natural landscapes and urban. After seeing a Lygia Clark retrospective at MoMA in New York in 2014 and being transfixed by both the simplicity and complexity of form in her work, I began to see shapes, shadows, recesses, and protrusions as we continued to backpack through America, Europe and Asia during that year. I walked through the streets and landscape daily, and engaged with the environment this way day after day. When I returned to my studio back home in New Zealand, my work took on a fusion of built environment and landscape elements.
A: In terms of personal vs societal contexts, how do the everyday, human elements of life affect the work you produce?
AW: I view painting as an essential part of my life, so juggling the challenges of real life and making work is a constant for me. I see my role as an artist, along with other artists, as my part in serving humanity with what I can offer. Planning time in the studio gives me the space to create, so I keep to a routine to keep balance in my studio work, family, friends, and other parts of my life. At the moment I have a studio in a building with other artists, and it’s good to be in that kind of environment, alongside other artists. My studio is in the city, and so when I need a break, I can go down the road to my local for a coffee, and say hi to friends in the community. My engagement with the people and places around me are continually feeding into the work I make.
A: How do you think the abstraction behind your works help to replicate the fluidity of landscapes, organic forms and structures?
AW: There are elements in my work that relate to the ideas of abstraction and in particular action painting and the importance of the process of making art. My work has a sensual connection with the materials of paint and surface, and it explores intuitive and loose paint handling, and ideas of illusionistic space present in lyrical abstraction. These references to abstraction support ideas found in the processes and systems that occur in the natural environment, and in biological forms. I use my work as a platform for conversations between process and idea.
A: When approaching a new piece in this style, is it colour or shape that first strikes you or is it more of an entwined process?
AW: It’s the process of mark-making, and the subsequent decisions that come from that are the driving force of my work. I usually have in my mind a colour palette, but this can change, but the subtleties and sensitivities of colour are important to me. It definitely evolves as it goes. I work a lot with layers of paint. It’s difficult to know when a painting is finished, and most paintings will go through a long life of many changes and many layers. Often I will take photographs of each painting at the end of each day, just to keep a record of the layers underneath.
A: Could you talk about how your work is evolving now, and where you’re planning on taking it in the future?
AW: My practice extends ideas of abstraction and landscape through primarily the medium of painting. It addresses and experiments with the physicality of paint and surface, and recently has investigated painting as drawing and the fluidity and speed of the process. I have been curious about how a moment or an idea can be translated into painting, and how the act of painting can act as interpreter. I would like to further explore the intersection of gestural line and hard-edged form, how they exist together on the painting surface, and explore the tension and intersection I see between urban and natural environments and the unseen or what might lie beneath. I will continue to make work that embodies my response to architectural, bodily, and organic forms and structures, and using urban and rural environments around me and personal to me, as a starting point.
1. Exposed, oil, acrylic pigment, compressed graphite, ink on canvas, 700x900mm. Courtesy of the artist.