Amanda Elizabeth Joseph is definitely one of the coolest glitter enthusiasts ever! Her beautiful surreal work was featured on our site in 2011 and on our top 100 of 2011. She is just a treat to have interviewed and turns out, she loves EK just as much as we love her!
Please introduce yourself. Who are you and what is your connection with art?
Hi, I’m Amanda, MFA candidate at the University of Notre Dame and perpetual unicorn enthusiast. Fortunately, I’ve been at least leisurely diddling around with some form of art for most of my life so far. As a kid I drew seemingly incessantly, and people often asked me if I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. My typical response was, “No, because they don’t make any money.” And here we are.
Can you tell us about your early artistic experiences? How did you decide to dedicate your time to painting and developing your work?
I attended the School of Creative Arts at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana on scholarship, majoring in Communication Arts and Graphic Design (you know, the “practical” degree in the arts) with an additional concentration in Illustration, which was a way to hang on to a love of drawing. In the fall of 2008, I took Painting I as a requirement for graduation, and it just so happened to be the first time it was being taught by a new and incredibly talented professor. I had never painted before the class, and immediately fell in love with oil paint as soon as I realized what you could do with it.
It just so happened that another amazing artist, Maria Tomasula, had an exhibition of her paintings on display at my school and gave a lecture, and I think it was the perfect sequencing of events to spark my interest in seriously pursuing painting. Within a few weeks of beginning the class, I decided I wanted to apply to graduate school for painting, and from December 2008 through December 2009, I put together a portfolio of 18 paintings to apply. In early March 2010, two months before I graduated from undergrad, I found out I was accepted into the MFA program at Notre Dame, where I have been fortunate enough to work with Maria Tomasula. Needless to say, I was stupid excited.
What do you teach and what are your thoughts on self taught art vs. a formal art education?
As a graduate student, I have the opportunity to teach Drawing I each semester for the final two years that I’m enrolled in the program. Fortunately, I am also able to choose what projects and assignments the students complete, what lectures I give, and the structure of the syllabus, which is pretty fantastic though a little daunting. With regard to self-taught art, I know that it’s entirely possible for an artist to become accomplished without formal training and I really respect his or her drive and dedication to hone technical ability and pursue conceptual interests largely on his or her own. I will say, however, that in a formal art education the opportunity to work with professors and instructors who engage you and are able to push you in a certain direction via the right resources was invaluable to me. Also, I’ve noticed in classes I have taken as well as the few classes I have taught that students learn just as much from each other as they do the instructor. That kind of camaraderie and community really seems to help artists flourish, especially earlier on in the learning process as they sharpen their skills and explore ideas.
Where would you say that you get your inspiration from the most? Is there an artist or source that stands out in particular or has heavily influenced your work?
There’s a great deal of artists that directly inspire me and I would say that at this point, the trinity would be Natalia Fabia, Marilyn Minter, and Jenny Saville. Even when an artist’s work doesn’t directly correlate with mine, there are almost always certain formal aspects that I can admire and file away in my mental bank of images. The movie Gummo was a big inspiration, as well as some of the experiences I’ve had throughout my life thus far. I’m not embarrassed to admit it though I sometimes feel as though I should be, but KE$HA is a huge influence on the work that I make. The music, the glitter, the cheekiness, and what seems to be complete disregard for being tasteful and lady-like are all elements that I appreciate and have infiltrated my work to a degree. Also, I find her music really good to paint to; I can’t help it. Lastly, my best friend is a painter and whether he realizes it or not, the work he makes and his studio practice are always inspiring and keeping me on my toes.
What is it about the human skin and its imperfections that attracts you as a subject?
I could make a statement about how the physical imperfections become a visual metaphor for our interior imperfections, but what I really think it initially came down to for me is how our skin is a superficial barrier between us and the external forces we experience daily. I’ve always been painfully self-conscious of the scars up and down my arm and the bruises, cuts, and blemishes I manage to acquire on a regular basis, but they’re honest proof of physical interaction and trauma endured, no matter how small. For me, flesh becomes an outward corporeal catalog of a person’s history. The colors, textures, and exaggerated details of the flesh in my paintings are something that I find beautiful to look at in a purely formal regard, in addition to the contextual conclusions a viewer will inevitably come to. A certain influence on the way I render flesh arose from my experiences with Photoshop as a tool to visually “perfect” a person’s image during my design classes. As part of my process, I now use Photoshop to accentuate people’s flaws rather than hide them, which is my tiny way of telling highly digitally manipulated ads and mass media images to get bent.
There is certain vulnerability in showing someone’s flaws. You amplify those defects and details in your subjects. Are you trying to express this in your work?
Expressing vulnerability through showing someone’s flaws has become much more significant in the more recent works I’ve created. What initially began as a pretty intuitive way to render a subject has become a conscious effort and a visual tool for alluding to some of the conceptual forces and ideas that drive the more recent paintings. I think physical imperfections the subsequent vulnerability of revealing them can be a means to allude to psychological vulnerability.
Tell us more about your technique. What is your preferred medium and why?
Oil paint is by far my preferred medium. It’s so malleable, the color palette is seemingly infinite, and it has such a rich physicality to it even when painting thinly, as I often do. When making a painting or drawing, I work from a photograph that I shoot in RAW using a model and then digitally manipulate to enhance the clarity of “imperfections” and some of the saturation as well as cropping the image for composition. Lately I’ve been embracing the visual language of photography instead of trying to deny effects such as soft focus and blown out highlights, and so the work is becoming increasingly more about the photograph as well as the fact that it’s a painting or drawing. I apply the oil paint rather thinly and in a lot of layers, and use Liquin for glazes and translucent areas, allowing each layer to build upon what lies beneath it. Typically, I also tend to apply paint in a rather aggressive manner, which is a bit counterintuitive to the refined works I attempt to make and ruins a hell of a lot of brushes.
What has been the biggest misinterpretation of your work or intent as an artist?
Due to the way I tend to render flesh, it seems people’s initial response to my work is often, “Oh, you’re dealing with battered women and themes of physical abuse.” While I can’t deny the allusion, it’s just one of many visual metaphors I tend to employ and is a means to an end rather than the main reason I make the images that I do. Also, contrary to the belief of some viewers, I don’t allude to abuse, violence and the grotesque for shock value. Sorry.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Any personal goals with your work? Are there any artistic frontiers you wish to explore?
Kind of a tough question, as I’m currently a little short-sighted with winding down and finishing my degree. In five years I’ll hopefully still be painting and drawing and I want to continue to push myself in terms of complicating compositions, incorporating more figures into each individual piece and situating them in environments that speak more so to the specific social circumstances and concerns I’m interested in pursing. Lately I’ve been making small series of works that can exist on their own but when viewed together have an almost cinematic feel to them, and enter a visual conversation in which each piece makes a different statement. Additionally, I very recently completed my first collaborative endeavor, and I hope to do more in the future, since it was a real good time.
Your pieces emphasize and bring out beauty in details that we are otherwise told one should cover up. Do you think there is anything art can do to change the concept of beauty in our society?
This is a really valid question. I think that as individuals situated in our society, we are constantly inundated with images through so many forms of media, whether it’s through the TV, internet, or printed items such as magazines, and at times, for me at least, we seem to just passively allow them to wash over us. There is something about a singular image or art object that is created to physically differ from or even harnesses or subverts the typical means by which we ingest visual information that can take a hold on people, whether they willingly acknowledge it or not. As long as there are artists creating works that embody an idea of beauty that deviates from the ever refining standard of “beauty,” the general notion remains open for discussion and interpretation, whether we’re talking about it strictly with regard to the female body or any physical or even intangible form.
In light of your work, I have to ask, how do you feel about glitter and the fact that it’s next to impossible to get rid of it?
I have a slight obsession with glitter, clearly. My studio floor is usually covered in a layer of dust, glitter, and paint and I’ve been known to give cards in envelopes filled with glitter knowing full well that the recipient will very likely be unable to rid him or herself of it. There is, of course, that rather true statement that “Glitter is the herpes of the craft world,” which I still mentally tether to a lot of my earlier works.
What is in store for the next couple of months for you?
Finishing up my second year in the program at ND and doing a lot of the groundwork for my thesis, both the written component and body of work, which will be exhibited next spring. I’ve also tentatively scheduled my first ever solo show in January of next year, so I’ll need to continue hitting it hard in the studio and attempting to make some magic happen.