Amy Sillman uses her own invented visual language to create abstract paintings that skirt on the edges of graceful calligraphic expression and noisy, gestural awkwardness. She appropriates some of the formal styles of abstract expressionism and neo-expressionism while leaving the ideological baggage behind. As she said “I’m making fun while having my cake and eating it too. ”She mentioned her strong distaste for the Salle/Schnabel egotism while admitting that she employs a kind of awkward, wrong formalism that exists in expressionism.
Sillman names Phillip Guston, Louise Bourgeois, Jean Arp, as some of her biggest influences and inspirations. She seems to always have one foot in sculpture with her work, both in the way she deals with shapes and her desire for very thick application of paint. She talked about being interested in sculpture because she didn’t have any training in it and she saw it as a way of seeing things in a new light. She uses thick paint on canvas, building up sometimes inch-thick paint on her canvases.
Although Sillman is interested in a painterly surface, she wants her content to escape ornamentality. She strives for awkwardness of line and form. She says “people aren’t always driven by desire” and she is looking for that something else, ugliness, sadness, dismay, cynicism that she feels is more real than beauty. Despite her attraction to the ugly, Sillman’s paintings are beautiful. She has a powerful relationship with color and uses it as a one of the key elements of her invented visual language. She pairs bright, optimistic colors with muted, weighty colors. The result is a complex palette that could make an ugly painting beautiful.
Sillman says she would have been a linguist if she had a teacher that was any good. Instead, she had a bad linguistics teacher and a great drawing teacher. She said once she made the connection between calligraphic line and gestural painting, it was all over for her, she had found what she was looking for.
Sillman is a firm believer in getting things wrong. Could it just be accident that anyone winds up as an artist? You start on a path, then find that you’ve strayed from your original path and discover you like it better there anyway. She believes good artists all have a love/hate relationship with painting. It keeps them constantly questioning, and constantly discovering.
As a lecturer she is funny, articulate and charmingly scattered. She talked through her nervousness while getting loud laughs out of the audience. You can’t hope for a better artist lecture. Her connection and understanding of her own work is energizing. She comes off as both modest and confident. And though I wasn’t very familiar with Sillman’s work prior to this lecture, I now feel like a Sillman fan.
Amy Sillman is currently showing a new group of prints at Crown Point Press in San Francisco until December 29th, Visit crownpoint.com for more information on the show.
You can view more of Ammy Sillman's work at:
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.