Amanda Elizabeth Joseph is one of the fantastic artists we will be bringing down to Miami for Select Art Fair. According to her, the entire story of a person can be told through their skin, it’s no surprise that the subjects in her paintings have seen such attention in that department. Check out her interview:
It’s been a year since our last interview of you, what have you learned about yourself in that time? What have you taught yourself?
I’ve learned a great deal about managing my studio practice, especially during my thesis year during which I was almost completely responsible for my own time management. Since I graduated in May, I’ve been dealing with making work outside the necessity of having to satisfy the demands of an academic program, which is a whole other animal. Outside of that, I’ve taught myself to take a little more pride in my work and take better care of my paintbrushes. I’d love to say that I’m solely responsible for this personal growth, but the reality is that I am very much a student of everyone else in my life, whether it’s other artists and educators, peers, friends, anyone. I have taught myself how to cook, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any help from the “Anyone Can Cook” book.
What have you learned as a teacher? How has it expanded your own ability as an artist? How has it challenged you and stressed you out? How has it inspired you?
Sadly, I’m not currently teaching, but during the two years that I taught Drawing 1 I learned a great deal. My friends and I used to joke around when we were in undergrad, insisting that if we ever had the opportunity to teach college students we’d load them with work and have impossibly high standards to make them suffer. And if you ask some of my former students, they’ll probably tell you that I gave them a lot of work and had high standards, but the reality is that teaching revealed to me a capability of patience that I was previously unaware of. I have a deep appreciation for technical ability because Drawing 1 is typically primarily focused on developing skills and understanding the mechanics of making a visually effective drawing. However, I’ve come to appreciate that there are different ways of utilizing the basic tools as the means to different yet equally successful ends.
Through leading critiques, I’ve learned how to evaluate things in a more pluralistic manner and attempt to remove personal bias when assessing the efforts and ultimate outcome of a project. I don’t consider myself very outgoing or someone that asserts herself as an authority, so teaching was a bit stressful in that regard. There was also the occasional moment of having to communicate that basically, if you want to succeed in the class, giving a shit is half the battle. If a student can find some meaning in the material and apply it to other areas of their studies and interests, the learning process seems to come a little easier. That said, my students still inspire me; I love seeing their continued interest in art, design, and visual communication. Many of them weren’t actually art majors and took the class as an elective, and it’s so inspiring to see the continued development in their areas of study and growth into awesome adults.
Tell us about “deep fried; country pride”, what was the inspiration for the piece?
Typically when I work in the pre-planning stages of making a painting, I set up a photo shoot with some models and we dress them up and create some scenarios, which I then photograph. I tend to go in with a few ideas of compositions I want to paint, and then I try to frame them with the camera. “Deep Fried; County Pride” is from a series of shots I used for paintings I completed over the summer, featuring my friend Kate. It was late in the afternoon and I had gotten most of the shots I wanted, and she was reclining on the futon while I reviewed the images on the camera. She was braiding her hair while we talked, and I decided to take a few more photos since a lot of the ones I had taken earlier fragmented her into body parts. In that moment it seemed lovely to focus on just her face. It’s a compromise between my new work and my older work and was more of a happy accident than a lot of my other paintings, which are very heavily planned.
You’ve mentioned that Ke$ha is an influence, particularly her ‘complete disregard for being tasteful and lady-like’, is that reflective of you or of a need you see within our culture? Do you see this as a necessary rebellion? Against what? And to what end? Has Ke$ha’s disregard for being tasteful made her a better artist?
The thing about Ke$ha that appeals to me is that there is a certain undercurrent to her lyrics and public persona that aligns with “white trash” ideologies. She demonstrates a kind of crude and aggressive sexuality that is stereotypically associated with a more masculine and working class mentality, and I love it. To a degree, her image and persona are constructed, but it’s done in a manner that utilizes specific low-income signifiers unapologetically and with a sense of pride. The use of the dollar sign in her name is a testament to that, as it’s an appropriation of a trend in predominantly masculine rap culture that references class and racial inequalities. This might seem like a problematic thing for a white girl to do, but from a sociological standpoint, low-income whites and blacks are both designated as “other” in relation to the socially acceptable norm of “whiteness.” To me, she projects a certain self-awareness and authenticity, doesn’t take herself too seriously, but doesn’t necessarily “dumb down” the stereotype like a lot of shows in the current trend of “rednecksploitation” do these days. She may very well be trolling us all; she’s probably a lot more clever than she receives credit for, but then again I’d like to think quite a few pop stars are. Aside from all that, we share a love for whiskey, glitter, and crass slang.
The skin in your paintings is fantastically detailed, in your last interview you described skin as a superficial barrier between us and external forces, and that it is a catalog of the person’s experiences. What does your skin tell about you that others may not see immediately? How did this idea come about?
It’s a bit of a contradiction because while my paintings embrace the physical imperfections, I desire to hide my own. In a lot of ways, painting skin the way I do was a way for me to normalize flaws and make them beautiful in a way while I was constantly stressing about my own. Since I’ve come to learn that a lot of the driving forces in my work are class related, it’s become more clear that the way I paint skin is a function of that. When you have money, you have the ability to fix physical imperfections a lot easier. You can afford braces, trips to the dermatologist, liposuction, expensive hair and makeup products, etc., all of which can help you come closer to the “ideal,” that we’re always being spoon fed by the media. I think the subjects of my paintings exist pretty far outside the realm of the “ideal.” I’m slowly starting to let myself accept some physical imperfections, like my busted front tooth that I had fixed by my dentist that has since broken off again. Now I just tell people I got in a bar fight when they ask about it, which makes me seem pretty tough, right?
Does our culture have an image problem? We photoshop even our most beautiful men and women and obsess about how many people ‘like’ the fact that we ate at a tuna melt for lunch. Your work is nothing if not a contradiction to these possessions, is it a counterforce to these cultural ideals? Do you think the self-possession inherent to our culture needs to be changed?
Technology definitely gives us a pretty substantial control over how others perceive us if we choose to use it to that end. It has the potential to pretty strongly affect how we view “reality,” especially because it allows us to heavily construct and package elements of our daily lives and present them as reality. I think an important way to reflect on self-possession in this discussion is whether or not we, as both spectators and participants in the increasingly ubiquitous culture of social media, have the self-possession to take a step back from it. It’s good to acknowledge the way we tend to use these tools to doctor our own experiences for the reception of others. I have to remind myself that it’s beneficial to make a conscious effort to just let things happen and live in the present without always feeling the need to be tethered to the world of social media in order to validate myself and my experiences. That said, technology is also an awesome tool that allows us to share information and expand our worldview if we choose to do so.
I’m not sure I would consider my work a counterforce to these cultural ideals. There are certain aspects of the work that reject current mass-produced depictions of “beauty,” but that’s just one line in the conversation I’m interested in having. I’m curious about how people’s response to images will change now that we’ve reached a point where it’s pretty much assumed that photographs in magazines, advertisements, and even people’s Facebook profiles are digitally altered in some way. Perhaps it won’t. I do find a bit of delight in presenting people with images that will likely elicit some level of revulsion but at the same time evoke appreciation of beauty that differs from the way one might expect something to be beautiful. So many artists seem to question and subvert cultural norms through their work, and it’s a necessary thing.
What part of the body do you like the most? What do you like drawing the most? What do you find the most difficult to paint? Posture, facial expression, eyes, mouth, all are used to convey the emotion of the subject, which do you think is the most important? Which tells us the most?
In painting the female form, artists insert themselves in a long art historical conversation and culturally and sometimes that gets a little tricky for me. While I don’t disagree that there is inherent beauty in the female form, I’m not really interested in painting women as beautiful objects to be enjoyed by the viewer. Fairly recently I’ve done quite a few smaller paintings that serve as detail shots of my larger narrative pieces that are simply crops of certain body parts such as breasts, a stomach, a back, or even a crotch shot. This isn’t meant to reduce women to merely body parts, but rather is a commentary on how society does. There’s definitely a fine line that I’m constantly trying to be aware of.
While I don’t have a favorite body part to paint, I find that hands and eyes are pretty important when it comes to communicating the emotion of the subjects. A pretty easy example of that would be Manet’s “Olympia,” which, like a lot of other art at that time, features a reclining nude female. The difference is that her expression and the way she holds her hand give her agency and challenge the male gaze. Body language plays a large role in my work, because something as small as a slight shift in posture can alter a perception of vulnerability versus self-possession. I should also note that my work often uses the mouth to convey innuendo in a pretty aggressive manner.
What do you hope to get out of showing a piece at select fair for art basel? What are you working on next?
I’m really just excited to have the opportunity to show work in such good company. Hopefully the piece makes my mom proud. Next I plan to take a momentary breather and continue making drawings and paintings. I’ve got this really great image of one of my models in her bathing suit, picking a wedgie. I’d really like to paint it.
What is your favorite piece of art you own?
This is a tough question! I’ll narrow it down to a top three: The first is a collage by the Aesthetic Apparatus, which consists of a vintage advertisement for shotguns and cookware with the images removed and one of their monoprints beneath it. It’s a really sexy juxtaposition. Second is a fantastic little painting by the artist Alli Good; it’s probably the piece that I own that resonates with me in more than a formal way. It’s titled “Restricted Freedom,” and is comprised of a backdrop of a pink sky with mountains that appear to be bleeding, and a pink house sinking into an abyss. The foreground focuses on a woman wearing a large skirt, looking up at a fat bird in the upper left hand corner that appears to be saying something to her. Third is a little painting on a vintage photograph, featuring a woman standing next to a seated man, and she has a hot, hot pink spray paint splotch and a beautifully executed eyeball over her face. It’s titled “Eye on the Prize” and was a gift from the artist Justin Henry Miller.