Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Dream Girls, Monkey Love, and Amy Crehore

Written by Josie Schoel
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Amy Crehore's paintings are filled with monkeys, cats, archaic instruments, and really cute, sort of subversive looking girls. Even though we most likely won't ever know exactly what the monkey and the pierrot in her paintings are up to, we are still compelled to look closer and analyze how the different players relate to one another. Are they friends? Lovers? Siblings?



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Amy Crehore's paintings are filled with monkeys, cats, archaic instruments, and really cute, sort of subversive looking girls. Even though we most likely won't ever know exactly what the monkey and the pierrot in her paintings are up to, we are still compelled to look closer and analyze how the different players relate to one another. Are they friends? Lovers? Siblings?

Over the years, her work has been featured in The Atlantic Monthly, BusinessWeek, ESPN Magazine, Esquire, Forbes, GQ, The Los Angeles Times, Ms., The New York Times, Outside, Playboy, Redbook, Rolling Stone, and Texas Monthly. She also had the opportunity to contribute her images of Jewel and Alanis Morissette to Rolling Stone: The Illustrated Portraits and has an upcoming solo show, titled Dreamgirls and Ukes, opening February 13th, 2009 at Thinkspace in Los Angeles,  which will combine music and art. In addition, she was just represented by both Thinkspace Gallery (French Bubble Gum Encore and The Caged Wonder paintings) and Murphy Design of San Diego (The Song of the Firefly painting) at Art Basel Miami Beach from Dec 4-Dec 7, 2008.

In our interview, Amy said that her work is in part about finding surrealism in realism. This air of mystery is a rarity in work so highly pictorial. It leaves us feeling like we finally have some abstracted answers to some of the great unanswerable questions about relationships and autonomy, but it also leaves us with more questions.  

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Josie: In your bio, you state that your work shows a preference for “vintage musical instruments and a knowledge of art history.” What era of art history do you find particularly inspiring? Your work reminds me a bit of the work of Leonora Carrington, not so much in style, but in subject matter. Do the Surrealists have much of an impact on the way you create and view your work?

Amy: I am inspired by Giotto's [Giotto di Bondone] thirteenth and fourteenth century Italian paintings—his rendering of faces and emotions, drapery and architectural details, his sense of drama. I like his colors, his flattened perspective, and surreal proportions. His art was unique—it was a bridge between Medieval and Renaissance Art.

I also like late nineteenth century illustrative art—Victorian trade cards, engravings, old childrens books  and such. Around 1915, Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà came up with “metaphysical art” by studying early Italian artists like Giotto. They painted poetic juxtapositions of common objects in Italian squares. Surrealism and Art Deco happened right after that, in the early twenties. I tend to gravitate toward this whole period of art, design, theater, and music. It's a romantic and creative time—artists such as Man Ray, René Magritte, early Pablo Picasso (set design and costumes for the ballet), Joseph Cornell, and Max Ernst (collages).

Then there was Balthus in the 1930s, and Antonio Donghi—I love them too. Like Leonora Carrington, my art is intuitive and imaginative, but she tends to use biomorphic shapes. You can tell she loves Bosch and fairy tales, and so do I, but my art is more about finding the surrealism in realism. We both create personal "dream worlds," and we both use animals as symbols.

Josie: You have a ton of animals in your new paintings, including cheetahs, birds, and cats, but you seem to really focus on the figure of the monkey. Do you just really like monkeys or are they symbolic of something else? Would you ever want to own a monkey?

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Amy: I would not like to own a monkey! I just like to paint them. They are symbolic of man or male sexuality. They are funny like cartoons. I like to make up characters that are iconic, nostalgic, and humorous.

Josie: I find it really fascinating that the clown, as seen in a number of your current paintings, such as Honeybee, is so much smaller than the naked woman. Is this supposed to be about gender relations, as the male clown is small and, well, clownish, whereas the female figure looks empowered? How do these two characters relate to each other? Is the clown subservient, or is he actually something of an accomplice?

Amy: Yes, my art is about gender relations and uses double entendre. But, it's also about design. I like to use certain characters because of the way they look. The pierrot can represent a little man, an innocent child, an accomplice, a fool, a fellow who is curious, an entertainer. I don't think he is ever really subservient.

Yes, the girl is sometimes empowered, but sometimes she is sad. She is sometimes motherly and sometimes childlike. She is always romantic. I think the clown is her friend—an ambiguous and mysterious friend. He can sympathize, but sometimes he just doesn't understand what it's like to be a girl. He might just have a crush on her, too. Sometimes he's a jerk.

Josie: Yeah, there is something about the quality of your paintings that really makes me want to create a narrative of some sort, to put the pieces and characters together in a way that’s cohesive and works with my own sense of reality. Is this intentional?

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Amy: There is definitely a narrative, but sometimes it comes together in the final stages. Because art is about so many things—it's constructed of shapes, angles, and colors. The process is often a lot like figuring out a puzzle. A finished painting has drama and mood, and it is also silent. Mine is very personal art (about my memories of things), and I think in that way you can identify with it and project yourself onto it and make up your own story. I think my art reminds people of things they have seen or done before, so it is easy to do that.

Josie: Yes, it feels very familiar yet exotic at the same time. The girls in most of your paintings look similar; they have the same hair color and body type, but sometimes with curly hair, sometimes straight, and occasionally, there are even two girls. Are the girls all different, or are you showing varied aspects of the same girl? If the latter, who is this girl?

Amy: My girls express different moods and thoughts. These feelings are universal. They could all be aspects of the same girl, yet they could all be different girls. In some ways, the paintings are self-portraits because I am using memories of the way things have felt to me. But I know that externally, the girls appear to be different. These girls are open to experience and they are idealistic and full of dreams (in a somewhat pure, natural  state). They appear young because we all tend to feel young inside.

Josie: In your newer paintings, you have a repeated image of an eight ball. Can you tell us a little about why you chose that image? Is it a Magic 8 Ball or is it the eight ball in the game of pool?

Amy: I like the way eight balls look graphically. I thought I would try one in a composition. And I like the fact that it represents a game of pool or a Magic 8 Ball…or just a prop. Symbolically, it could mean a hint of danger, or it could be good luck. Perhaps it represents something that has been overcome, a successful balancing act. And the "8" could be an infinity sign as well.

Josie: Can you pinpoint when you first came to your particular style? Did you ever have a period where you were making art that was more abstract?

Amy: Yes. In college I was fumbling around with more abstract shapes and things. My style took years to become what it is now. It's an unconscious combination of a lot of styles actually, an absorption of everything I have ever looked at. I just try to "be myself" when I paint. It's a sort of realism, but it's all intuitive. I draw a fully designed sketch first, and then I use a lot of layers of paint. It's not cut and dry. I make plenty of mistakes. I use many kinds and sizes of brushes. Some paintings are more difficult than others. I do like to tell a story and use my imagination. Abstract art just doesn't excite me like representational art.

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Josie: Have you ever done a mural? If not, would you?

Amy: I have never done one. My paintings are not all that big, and I like to work on linen canvases. However, I would love to design a mural or a set for the theater. I would like to have someone else work on the actual painting. I may have a chance to do something on a wall at my upcoming solo show—not sure yet what that will be, however.

Josie: Awesome. Your stuff would look great on a wall! Do you think there is any place where real art doesn't belong? For example, would you let your images appear on coasters or shower curtains and sold in a more commercial fashion?

Amy: I suppose every sort of art could be applied to products. I like the freedom of doing my fine art without any commercial applications in mind. But, I am not opposed to innovative applications if they should present themselves to me. It's all intellectual property that could be used in different ways. It's a matter of taste and whether the artist's life would be enhanced, or would benefit from doing it. I'm open to it.

Josie: For some reason your work feels like you were listening to music when you created it. Do you listen to music when you make your art? If so, what do you listen to?

Amy: Funny you should mention music. Yes, I listen to music when I work. I listen to a lot of Leonard Cohen and 1920s hokum music (blues, rags, jazz, and jug band music on Document and Yazoo Records). My upcoming solo show [in February,] Dreamgirls and Ukes, will combine music and art in a cool way.

I have collected an assortment of antique ukuleles—all styles and designs from banjo ukes to novelty ukes. A lot of them are from the American uke boom of the 1920s. They are being restored to playability by a luthier and I am painting them with motifs from my art. They will be hung like wall sculptures… and will be called my “Tickleroos”.

I will also have a series of new oil paintings that have girls, ukuleles, lions, big flying insects, a tortoise, plus some of my familiar characters, like cats, monkeys, and pierrots. And, I will be playing authentic old-time hokum music at the opening with Lou Reimuller in the Hokum Scorchers Band (a duo).

Josie: Great. Thanks, Amy.




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