Conversation With Amanda Kates

Amanda Kates sits down with doris-mae to talk about her work, influences, paint, and inspiration

Is that an Us Weekly reference in They’re Just Like Us: Larry Ellison Eats a Hot Dog?

Yes, sort of. I’m poking fun at those types of headlines.

There are some very specific references in the titles of your work (Young Kochs and Mother, Ether RoomOrtega). Are these starting points?

The titles themselves are not starting points, but for most of the work in this show, the photographic (from the internet) source images are starting points, and the titles are direct references to those images. For example, the source image for Young Kochs and Mother was an early photograph of the Koch brothers with their mother. Ether Room was taken from a photograph of one of the first surgical procedures performed using anesthesia successfully.

That said, the specificity of these titles is a bit out of character for me. I usually title the pieces after they’re finished—sometimes long after. These titles are frequently references to something I’ve recently read, or I’ll try to find passages in books that are important to me that seem—however vaguely— to relate to the painting/drawing.

What prompts you to stop everything and begin a painting? Where do you start with a large canvas like Picnic (60×60 inches)?

There’s not any one thing that prompts me to begin a painting. It’s just what I do when I go to the studio. As I mentioned, the paintings are usually instigated by some kind of digital image, though I don’t try to replicate that image too closely. The paintings tend to get away from the source material pretty quickly.

Knowing when a painting is finished is based purely on formal elements. Every part of the painting has to be considered. Colors and textures need to interact in a way that is satisfying to me, and there need to be enough visual interruptions—agitated areas —by way of shifting patterns or colors to keep my eye moving. That’s all very vague, I know, but it’s different every time, and I guess the real answer is that a painting is finished when there isn’t any one part that persists in annoying me.

“[…] a painting is finished when there isn’t any

one part that persists in annoying me.”

60×60 is not really a large canvas for me—I prefer to work large when I’m working with paint on a canvas (as opposed to with markers on paper) because painting is a physical activity. However, I have been working a bit smaller for the last few years as I don’t have a large enough studio to make really big paintings. The canvases usually start with some really simple big-brush mark-making with a fairly wet, thinned-out acrylic paint. Sometimes, it’s a very simple drawing meant to outline the subject matter of the painting. At other times, I start out with some kind of abstract loose pattern— a grid or just splashes of paint. These beginning moves are meant simply to give me something to work against as I move forward with the painting.

Who or what do you find yourself inspired by?

This is cheesy, but I’m inspired by art and by paint. I say all of these things, by way of explanation, about anxiety and digital communication, and all of that is true, but it’s secondary to paint itself, and color. I love the smell of oil paint and the sounds that paint brushes make as the drag across a canvas. I use acrylics, too, but I don’t get as much pleasure out of the process. I usually feel most invigorated and excited to get to work in the studio when I’ve just seen some really good painting shows. I love Nicole Eisenman, Dana Schutz, Barnaby Furnas, Philip Guston, Francis Bacon, Amy Sillman, Bonnard, Soutine… the list goes on.

Your statement speaks about the “omnipresence of constant communication” and “unrelenting visual activity.” Do you think it is overwhelming to be a visually-oriented person in this age of incessant visual communication?

I love to be visually overwhelmed! It’s exciting! The constant communication I’m talking about in the statement is really social communication: the internet, social climbing, electronic noise—a general lack of quiet. The unrelenting visual activity is something I deliberately impose upon my paintings and drawings. I do this in part because, as I said, I find visual overload exciting but also as an attempt to convey the viscerally anxious relationship I (and I believe many people —city dwellers, at least) have with our collective lack of privacy. There’s a weird and disconcerting disconnect between who we truly are as individuals and the person we choose to present to society. This has probably always been the case, but it seems greatly exacerbated by social media and other aspects of technology. People present improved versions of themselves on Facebook and Instagram. I understand this, as a mostly rational person, whose world didn’t include social media until adulthood, but I still find myself comparing my real life to the Facebook lives of others.

The unrelenting visual activity is something I deliberately

impose upon my paintings and drawings.

I find the space in your work to be always shifting. Like going down a rabbit hole, I keep noticing things that are farther back, hidden, behind. Is this calculated or does this come about as part of your process?

I think I addressed this somewhat in my answer to the previous question. Simply put, I prefer artwork that takes a little while to explore I like it when you don’t see everything right away. I would say that this is deliberate but not calculated. I don’t have much in the way of a system, nor do I have expectations at the outset for what a painting will look like when completed.

There are not many artists in the area working with color the way you are. The color in your work is exciting and has changed over time. How do you see you use of color change over time?

This is sort of a weird one. My work from a few years ago is all muddy browns, reds, and yellows but, at the time, I thought those colors were really vibrant. Then I went to grad school, and my work changed really quickly. I “discovered” fluorescents and had to figure out how to make and arrange colors that could compete with such bright harsh colors.

Are you involved in the Washington art scene? Can you recommend any local artists we should watch?

I am trying to become involved in the Washington art scene. I’m not the best at socializing and self promotion, but I try to attend as many art events and openings as I can and talk to other artists when I’m feeling comfortable enough. I think doris-mae has been putting on really interesting edgy shows. Project 4, The Fridge, and Catalyst Projects have done great work, too.


Amanda Kates’ website.