Cynthia Reeser (Tampa Review Online): Where do you find inspiration?
Amy Bernays: At the traffic lights. I’ll look over at a girl and guy walking to lunch. Her tender touch on his arm, his distant stare. Or at a bar, seeing a girl look anxiously around the bar for her friend to join her. Like a lone spindly gazelle sipping from a crocodile waterhole.
I draw. I want to understand. Not just features, not to put onto paper what things and people look like. That is for cameras and iPhones, I draw intentions, thoughts, conversations, and gestures.
CR: Please talk about your process.
AB: It was rainy in east London where I had my studio. I was soaked through, having just cycled back from a life drawing class in Hackney. I was pissed off. The model was an old man; long ago he had broken his arm; the fine pencil drawings looked crocked. He was haggard and ugly.
It was night and the boarded-up pub on the corner was open. A large bouncer smiled at me as I chained up my bike. I could feel rain dripping down my back and I felt thoroughly intimidated as a group of young beautiful people gushed past me and into the club. I followed.
Like a wildlife documentary on the mating habits of the adult male, in the din were all the true gestures of human interaction. The lean in, the pausing benevolence, the overt arch of her spine as she slid down to pick up a tip. I scribbled frantically in the dark, catching the real gestures, fleeting glances and dominant glares. I was an anthropologist in my soaking coat and wet hair.
I wanted it to be beautiful and feminine, but it was seedy. Where I was interested in the bodies and movement, I was lost in the selling of sex. I moved to drawing people in bars and clubs and out at dinner. I want to catch in line that essence of people.
The language of long, lingering looks is an amalgamation of sketches. The paint striations beneath are like music paper, the daubs of paint and line like notes on the page.
Just a few decades ago society adhered to Susan Sontag’s belief that there is no thought without words. More recently, Temple Grandin has been explaining how she and other autistics think. She mentioned “linear thinkers.” They would have done well for the past few thousands of years. Knowledge was in books, long wordy ones with no pictures, the kinds of texts I would get lost in. “Image thinkers” remember people and stories. And there are the “pattern thinkers”; they are great at making things and backing cars. I think in patterns and connections. When describing something, I gesture wildly, sketching in the air my thoughts as I translate those thoughts to words.
With my painting I wanted to gossip about a night out, all the excitement of flirting and boys, but in my language.
CR: How do you feel your art interacts with the world at large; is it a push and pull, or more of a synthesis, or something else?
AB: Making art and selling art are different things. I make art to discuss these lofty ideas about the human condition. I use my painting to bash out ideas, like talking to myself. And it talks back, and the conversation is as varied and dense as any lifelong relationship. The look of these conversations changes. Sometimes my works are sweet nighttime whispers, sometimes an anecdote, a long and winding description of my drive home, or a flaring argument.
But to sell a painting it must also be “hangable.” To get people to listen to these strange and sometimes difficult-to-understand concepts of image-making, the end product has to be something that you want to look at, that is the right size for the wall and goes nicely with the couch.
From what I can glean from the elusive gallery system, to be a bankable artist I should choose my most successful works and make more like that. I should be dependable and return to my style. They want to be able to recognize me in each of my works. I can see the similarities in my painting, but I know my other half very well. It takes a lot of looking to hear my accent.
============================================================================ An anthropologist of sorts, a painter and writer, a mother and a creator, Amy Bernays comes from London and has lived in California since 2001. She attended the Chelsea School of Fine Art and Central Saint Martin’s Fine Art program. With two toddlers in those magical preschool years, she paints quickly. Amy is currently represented by New Blood Art, London, UK.
Cynthia Reeser is the Founder and Publisher of Aqueous Books, and Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prick of the Spindle literary journal. She has published more than 100 reviews in print and online, as well as poetry and fiction in print and online journals. Her short stories are anthologized in the Daughters of Icarus Anthology (Pink Narcissus Press, 2013), and in Follow the Blood: Tales Inspired by The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (Sundog Lit, 2013). Cynthia is currently working on a literary short story collection inspired by fairy tale lore. Also a senior editor for two association management companies, she lives and works in the Birmingham area and attends the University of Tampa in pursuit of her MFA in Creative Writing (fiction). Visit her on the web at www.cynthiareeser.com.