In the Studio
”In working with fabric in the context of painting, there’s definitely a feminist muscle that’s being flexed in the paintings. It was very important for me to have the fabric be sewn into the canvas, engineered into the surface, and then pulled flat so that there’s this equality in the materials. Canvas is just another fabric, it isn’t inherently different to fabric.
In her mid-30s, Amanda Valdez has confidently and unabashedly taken on the role of a feminist painter, a quilter, a textile artist, a colorist, a mother, a writer, and a disruptor. Her many hats lay the ground for a diverse body of work that communicates wit, understanding, and playfulness. With a background in painting, Valdez adeptly contrasts formal, high art abstraction against craft-oriented methods that have historically been marked as women’s work. She hand-dyes and quilts pieces of fabric, then sews the quilts into the canvas – first cutting out and removing the canvas, as if patching a hole – creating an even plane where cloth, embroidery and paint exist.
Valdez recently opened her first solo show, "First Home", with Reynolds Gallery in September, when she premiered works made away from her regular studio during quarantine. The resulting quietude and reflectiveness in the works are echoed in Amanda's thoughts about her practice, which we explore a little more with her in the Q&A below!
Can you tell us about your Brooklyn studio and where you’ve been making work these past few months?
I love my studio, I have a nice, private, sizable spot I’ve been in for over 10 years. It feels remarkably stable compared to some of the experiences my peers have had with studios in Brooklyn. At the beginning of Covid19, when we moved out to my in-laws house, I was working from a table in the sunroom and then coming back once a week to my studio. Thankfully that worked, and it’s how I made a large portion of the paintings in "First Home". Once the city felt stable in the middle of summer we came back and I’m happily settled in to my weekly rhythm.
You just had a baby last year. How has being a mother changed your work? Or the way you work?
I bring a lot of work back and forth from studio to home now. Embroidering smaller pieces, all the quilting, and sewing shapes into the canvas can all happen at home and then go back to the studio for the messy painting and oil stick parts.
The impact of being pregnant, birthing, and then being so connected to his little newborn body has affected the drawing and shapes which have emerged over this whole period of time. I’m grateful to have drawing as a means to process and understand the impact and experience of motherhood...words have yet to capture the experience.
"on going union", 2020, embroidery, fabric, oil stick on mounted paper, acrylic and canvas, 20 x 18 inches.
"first wave, new love", 2020, embroidery and oil stick on mounted paper on canvas, 20 x 18 inches.
Install shot of drawings in Amanda's current exhibition, "First Home"
So you draw and you paint...Does your approach to your works on paper differ from the canvas paintings?
Completely. The two activities require radically different head spaces. With drawing I feel as if I’m unearthing the shapes. I’m mining an aquifer inside me of emotional, physical, psychological, and historical experiences and knowledge, I’m dislodging these shapes through my hands moving pencil over paper.
The paintings become more cerebral in translating the drawing to a painting. There are so many questions to answer in making material choices. In engineering the surface I have to think about if fabric is involved how will I use it, do I want any quilting involved, if so that unlocks a slew of questions to pursue. Adhering the paper for oil stick is a painstaking endeavor. But then when it’s time to oil stick or paint I have to shift into a whole different mental space.
And the way you use color is a whole different decision?
Colors are so pleasurable. They elicit feelings and strong reactions so they are a very powerful tool for an artist. They have personal histories with people, social and political histories in culture, and can resonate on many levels. They can create more information about my shapes in any given painting. As a child, I had an intuitive observational understanding of colors and the power they have to effect one another. In undergrad, I studied Joseph Albers’ color theory with Betsy Ruprecht, a real heavy weight at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, whose parents studied with Hans Hoffman. Color in landscape is also a big influence and something that is constantly shifting with light.
And how do you think of your paintings in the context of feminism?
Over 200 years ago, materials and styles of making were assigned meaning. Objects made by women, people of lower economic conditions, and nonwhite men were deemed of lower value, a craft. While paintings with oil and canvas or a marble sculpture were assigned the highest value. I use the work of feminist artists before me and the material reckoning of this past as the platform for my own freedom to use diverse materials.
In working with fabric in the context of painting there’s definitely a feminist muscle that’s being flexed in the paintings. It was very important for me to have the fabric be sewn into the canvas, engineered into the surface, and then pulled flat so that there’s this equality in the materials. Canvas is just another fabric, it isn’t inherently different to fabric.
Detail image of "Personal Revolution", 2020, embroidery, fabric, oil stick on mounted paper, acrylic and canvas, 36 x 32 inches.
A look into Amanda's studio and loom
Previously, you’ve floated around to different residencies. With less traveling now, how are you finding inspiration?
Thankfully I got in one last amazing residency before my son was born. It was a very monastic environment in a small town in Texas, so the abundance of quiet reflective time really filled my stores. After such an intense Covid19 experience in New York City and transplanting for the first three months to my in-laws house out of the city, we decided to go on a Covidmoon to Maine for the month of August. We all needed the time away from our schedule to get into nature. We went all over hiking, swimming, reading, napping, bbq-ing, watching sunrises and sunsets, picking wild blueberries, and feeling the calm that comes with watching the tides roll in and out all day, reminding me that daily shifts and transformations are part of nature, part of ourselves.
What other adventures are next?
I am in the studio continuing what has been a slow pursuit of weaving as a process, mark, and history to bring into the work. I have two new materials in the drawings I am experimenting with: crayons and ink. I have several solo exhibitions in 2021 and into 2022. I’m hoping these three things will lend to something new and unexpected to develop in the work. All the while I have been plotting away at writing a feminist art history travel guide to Italy! Hopefully by the time it’s ready we can safely travel the globe again. Fingers crossed!
Amanda Valdez lives and works in New York, NY. She received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and MFA from Hunter College in New York. She has held solo shows across the US and internationally including Rattle Around at Koki Fine Arts in Tokyo, Japan, Piecework at the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, NY, several solo shows with Denny Dimin in New York, and Hot Bed at Dotfiftyone in Miami. She is the recipient of a residency at the New Roots Foundation in Antigua, Guatemala; several Joan Mitchell Foundation residencies in New Orleans; and has traveled on residencies to the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire and Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York, among others.