Chapter 6: ASSASSINATION: Amy Pryor, Artist and Printer at Two Palms
Photographic portrait of Amy Pryor. Courtesy of Facebook.
Aaron Siskind, poet of the streets. Amy Pryor‘s paintings and works on paper remind of his photographs. A counterpart perhaps? Her urban sensibility shows in the handcrafted nature of every piece that comes out from her studio. Caught my eye with her profound sense of capturing humanity in a way that cannot be reduced to merely reductive philosophy.
Pryor, who also works as a printer at the famed Two Palms, demonstrates her versatility with being able to collage discarded materials, some known and other unknown, into a visual encyclopedia. Viewers are drawn into the archaeology of a life full of abstracted landscapes where boundaries are deconstructed into relationships.
She is not represented currently by a commercial gallery. So if you have any questions about Pryor’s artwork, feel free to contact her privately at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
qi peng: To begin off on a lighter note, Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?
Amy Pryor: Hangouts? That doesn’t happen very often in my life! I do love the Strand of course. Who doesn’t love miles and miles of books! The last time I was there I found a great little book of James Ensor prints. You never know what gems you are going to come across.
I also love the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. I suppose it’s more of a getaway than a hangout. It’s on the north end of the park along 5th Avenue, below the Harlem Meer. I love the north part of the park in general, but these are formal gardens with fountains and arbors and pools. It’s a really beautiful and relaxing place.
Amy Pryor: Well, since I was born during the heydays of conceptual art, I don’t know that I consider it a current trend. I love ideas and love the idea of an idea driving the work, or being the work itself. Actually Sol LeWitt was one of my earliest influences and still remains one of my favorite artists. I think I fell for him because I just love lines, and because he allowed a certain touch to exist in the works. I’m thinking specifically of the gridded wall drawings, rendered in graphite where the lines vary in direction… I find these striking because they are minimal, completely driven by the idea, but are also warm, not strictly mechanical or manufactured or imposing like a Serra or a Judd. I’m not exactly talking current here, but I think these kinds of works opened the door for “installation art”, and created dialogue with and about site. Art didn’t have to be a discreet object anymore, but could exist in another context.
Technology and art have always intersected I suppose, like lost-wax casting of bronzes, photography, or the printing press. Now technologies are developing so rapidly that there are more “new mediums” than possibly…ever! I am all for making good work by what ever means works. I guess “good” is the key. I think I am disappointed when the means feels like a gimmick, like wow, see what I can do? And it just isn’t that interesting beyond the initial wizardry.
qi peng: Do you feel that there is a certain strength in your mixed media and sculptural conceptual paintings within the scene where curators are hunting for the latest cutting-edge work that may diverge from painting on a support?
Amy Pryor: The mixed media nature of my work exists for several reasons. They are about their source materials, and that is literally there as an element, take barcodes for instance. Then there is also a medium, like paint to create a context for those materials. I have a proclivity for very tactile works that are very much matter and image, and that don’t let you entirely escape their material nature.
I am resistant to the notion that my work is cutting edge, although I take it as a compliment, thanks. It’s hard for me to think of them that way because I see myself re-presenting things that someone else—another machine, another institution has produced. I enjoy dissecting and examining different aspects of these materials, like language, design, color, sex appeal. I’m kind of pointing out the obvious really.
qi peng: What are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your visual eye and imagination?
Amy Pryor: Well, around the same time I was looking at LeWitt, and Eva Hesse, I was also looking at Jessica Stockholder’s work. I love her use of color, and Stuff, and there is always a lot of conversation between her work and its site. Who else? Durer, Van Gogh, Andreas Gursky… Recently I have been looking at the landscapes of Klimt, Samuel Palmer, and Turner…
I mostly read non-fiction books: physics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy. I highly recommend Oliver Sacks’ works…nice little scientific tales. In the philosophy/ theory realm I’d recommend Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value, Roland Barthes’ Barthes par Barthes, and Jean Beaudrillard’s America. Ah, and Orlando by Virginia Woolf.
T.V: I do all my viewing from Netflix, so I’m always a season or so behind. I love, love, love 30 Rock! Also Big Love, The Wire, and although it took me a while to accept Larry David’s a–hole character, I also enjoyed Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Toys: Ha! Do you mean for adults or children? For kids: Sea Bones, my kids love them! For adults, the Swedes are the top designers there in my opinion.
Movies: Where the Green Ants Dream, Werner Herzog…love it. And, I still don’t understand it really, but Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey still resonates with me, and I watch it at least once a year. I think I’m just a sucker for movies with men in ape suits. I love the beginning sequence where they obtain the use of tools/weapons after coming into contact with the Monolith,–the Donald Judd– that they are terrified of. Another man-plays-ape /ape-plays-man movie that was formative for me was Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. I remember watching that over and over again on HBO in junior high or high school and crying every time they shot the ape, Tarzan’s father, in the end of the movie.
Amy Pryor: Oh please! What could be better than art world journalism? I love the attempts at articulating and thinking about visual matters. It is wonderful and limited and necessary. Having struggled immensely over writing an artist statement, I have much respect for art writers. I enjoy Jerry’s writing too. And you see him out and about a lot. He is always looking and that, to me, means a lot.
Amy Pryor: Well, I don’t exactly read Art Forum; it has or had so many pages of ads that it is mostly looking at pictures. Those are useful for letting me know if there are any shows up or coming up that I’d like to see. I do read some of the reviews in the back, or a larger article if the work is of interest to me. They are good indicators of what’s being shown, and what is being written about.
qi peng: Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis?
Amy Pryor: I haven’t looked at any art blogs. Do you have any to recommend?
qi peng: Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like Chicago or Miami will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City during the recession? What do you think is the current state of contemporary art within New York City where you live?
Amy Pryor: I do think things will shift. Many of my friends from grad school no longer live in NYC. And it is getting harder and harder for most artists to make a living and make work here. A lot of artists are losing studios because they can’t afford them. These pressures will likely affect the kind of work artists can make…this could be a good thing in theory. Maybe more interesting collaborative projects will happen, more web-based projects or public art projects that aren’t dependent upon a studio space to exist will emerge.
qi peng: What are some of your hobbies outside of painting?
Amy Pryor: I am mostly trying to find more time for the studio, so I don’t have many hobbies. I like to cook, but that’s necessary. And I also enjoy gardening. I am a member of a community garden in my neighborhood.
qi peng: How does these things relate to your studio practice?
Amy Pryor: I am not sure they do…in any significant way.
qi peng: Do you find yourself having to enter into the studio out of discipline or inspiration or a mixture of both?
Amy Pryor: Both. I am always ready to work in the studio; I would be doing it all the time if I could. But some days, the only time I have is in the evenings after I have worked all day, and I just might be too burnt out to get much done. I always try to do something though, even if it’s only processing my junk mail.
qi peng: What are some of the practical challenges that artists have to face inside or outside their studio time?
Amy Pryor: Most artists that I know are constantly trying to balance the work/money/time equation, so that they can adequately support their art habit. This is the challenge: how to have a decent life and make art that is good.
qi peng: What is it like to work as a printer at Two Palms which is a collaborative studio that produces multiples, prints, sculptures, etc.?
Amy Pryor: I am very fortunate to be working at Two Palms in an environment full of brilliant, multi-talented artists/printers. David and Evelyn Lasry, the owners, are amazing people and have set up a great thing that goes well beyond the traditional model of a printer/publisher. It’s rewarding to work as a team, to work with other artists, and be a part of the whole production process. There are always new challenges, problems to be solved, or techniques to be worked out. It’s great to be around nice art all day long. I’ve grown to really appreciate more traditional ways of working in intaglio, and have learned a ton, especially from Craig Zammiello, one of our master printers. I’ve always felt that print making, the process one goes through, is beneficial to an artists’ practice. Now I have an even greater appreciation for it after working with other artists who also view print making as an invaluable part of their practice.
qi peng: What is a typical daily schedule like over there? Are there any joys or hardships that you face while you work on various tasks in the printing facility over there?
Amy Pryor: The days vary there depending on what’s happening. When an artist is there working, everyone is helping out, mixing ink, inking plates, cutting materials, printing, or doing whatever needs to happen, a lot of thinking on your feet. Other days are more methodical days of editioning, or research and development. They are all good in their own ways. Some days it’s a challenge to find a zen place when editioning, it takes patience and a certain aptitude and attention to detail. It’s easier if you are naturally a little anal-retentive.
I think we all genuinely enjoy working together and David Lasry is hilarious, so it is pleasurable to be there.
qi peng: What trends do you see are forthcoming within the contemporary art world?
Amy Pryor: I don’t really want to predict trends… I feel all doomy and gloomy thinking about the economic state right now. The art world has been deeply affected by the recession, and if things don’t pick up soon, a ton of galleries are going to close. This might not be all bad, but it means, obviously less income from the selling of work, and a lot of artists will need to find other means of having their work be seen. I think the internet may become even more important. Facebook and other social networking tools may be utilized by more artists and curators. Hopefully more alternative spaces will crop up, more DIY collaborations between artists and curators and such. On one hand, not having to think about selling work, or making saleable work could be liberating, but on the other hand having your art-practice be self-sustaining would be great and liberating. Who knows exactly what changes are going to take place. Artists are always going to need to make art, and are going to find a way to do it. It’s really a matter of adaptation.
qi peng: How would place your paintings within the overall context of art history?
Amy Pryor: How would I place my paintings in the context of art history? Umm, I don’t know, an extension of Modernism? They’re post-something and pre-something else. I think about Minimalist or Post-Minimalist notions at times. There are conceptual bases, and a priori decisions sometimes. A little Warhol/Pop Art lives in the work and also some structuralist notions teetering on post-structuralism? Some concrete poetry too. Jeez, can we just call it collage, and thank Picasso for that invention, if indeed he did invent it? I guess it’s easier for me to think about the pathways that I use to make the work than to figure out where they fit into an art historical context. There are multipIe visual and formal strategies at play, as well as verbal ones. I also think of my work as a landscape, but more in a sociological sense, as a reflection of the world around me, than in a traditional, pastoral sense.
qi peng: What is the overall tenor and conceptual drive shown within your artwork?
Amy Pryor: I think the sociological aspect is key to the work. It is my way of processing my surroundings. I have this drive to make visual things that I feel are meaningful in some way and that make an attempt to talk back to all the socio-economic forces in my life.
qi peng: Before you embark on a painting or sculpture, what factors do you use to determine whether the final work is to be large or small based on scale?
Amy Pryor: Scale is uber important. Although not always determined beforehand. I am looking for a certain relationship between the parts and the whole. In the pieces with more of an overall composition, like the adjective pieces, there is a certain visual buzz that I am seeking. I like these field-like compositions to be larger, so that there is a certain scale relationship to the viewer, so that it can’t be taken in all at once and may have a seemingly endless quality. I’m trying to push graphic elements into an atmospheric place. To even get close to this, there has to be enough mass so they flicker like static on your television. I guess this is not-unlike the visual imperative of the impressionist’s and some post-impressionists like Van Gogh in terms of activating the surface with little flicks of color.
The smaller collages, and the pieces that don’t have an overall composition, are worked out slowly…and their size is figured out along the way. I rely a lot on cutting and re-cutting, fitting and joining, until it “works”.
qi peng: Your formal art education was at both Ohio University as well as Yale University. What was your years of education like? Were there any influential professors and fellow students whose ideas or drive influenced your current expressionist style? Are there any memorable stories from your studio visits or school days? What was it like to be able to study both biology and art at the same time? How does your studies in biology impact your collage-based works and paintings based on commonplace objects such as typed words and even window envelopes?
Amy Pryor: Well, I really lucked out considering that I didn’t go to OU with the intention of studying art. I was pre-med, and changed my major to sculpture at the end of my second year. I then added a major in Art History too. I also took an additional year to complete a Departmental Honors Thesis in Art. I was on the biology/pre-med path, because frankly I had no idea in high school that being an artist was even an option. My high school guidance counselor just looked at your grades and if they were good, particularly in math and science, he would recommend engineering or medicine. I have always had an interest in observing the world around me, and I would say my way of working comes from a pretty literal viewing of the world. When I started studying art, I was a couple of years into a pre-med program. My first art class was 3-D design. I was really into the micro-cosmos, cellular structures, genetics. It seems natural that I would’ve been drawn to artists like LeWitt and Eva Hesse. Why not lay out a code for making art, why not variations on a structure? Take a cell, organize them into organs. That made perfect sense to me. And that is pretty much how my first sculptures went.
Toward the end of my undergraduate studies I was making twenty foot collages using notebook paper or other mundane lined paper. I couldn’t put them on a support like a canvas or anything. I really needed them to be more physical, and I didn’t see them strictly as two-dimensional works. They were very minimal in a sense, but because of the way they were constructed, their rigid geometry started to break apart. The lines started to waver, gaps developed, the surface was wrinkled. Their so-called blankness was important too. I started to look at the conversation between the pieces and the gallery. Ideas of context, containment, institutional relationships entered the scene. I still haven’t lost interest in everyday materials or how they may function as subtle, or not-so subtle shapers of our lives. Notebook paper is subtle, it gently urges one to stay in the margins, and ad circulars, well they are more obviously trying to stimulate desire and get one to open up the wallet.
I had an amazing advisor at OU, New York-based painter Guy Goodwin, who was there as a visiting professor. We met weekly. He encouraged me to write. It was odd, he had a way of putting me right in touch with hard to answer questions, and inevitably at some point in the conversation I would cry. Like probably every time. Thank goodness he had patience for my weepy defenses. I don’t know why the hell I did that…I know I am super sensitive, but I think it was just pure frustration for me. I was really used to more concrete things, a scientific method, calculus, problems with solutions. And there I was, not knowing what the hell I was doing, trying to figure out what art was about, having some inner conflict about the usefulness of what I was doing, not being able to justify the pleasure aspects because of my bible-belt upbringing.
Yale was a whole other ball game. I had taken a few years off in between undergrad and grad school and I really had no clue when I got there. But I loved it, at least the first year. I had a great studio in the old Art and Architecture building, above the pit. Because they were remodeling I was able to do whatever I wanted in that space, and eventually I cut the walls apart. That was part of the security envelope ‘research’. My second year followed a summer at Skowhegan and a move into the very unfriendly architecture that is now the painting studios. We were fined for getting paint on the floor! It felt really oppressive. There was no central hangout place like the old pit, and less interaction with photography students and architecture students. That was a great part of the old set-up. My biggest complaint would be about how departmentalized it was. I think they are changing that a little now. It was hard for me to be in the Painting department, because I really didn’t identify as a painter. I wasn’t working on a support and didn’t want to have a conversation about spatial problems. Of course I did have the privilege of some great studio visits and crits. Mel Bochner was always insightful and challenging, and I feel fortunate to have been able to continue a relationship with him at Two Palms. I also took a sculpture class with Jessica Stockholder, and that was great too because I had only admired her work from afar before. The conversation in sculpture crits was more of what I was accustomed to. Really though, I made great friends there, and I learned to look and think about many kinds of art.
qi peng: In what ways do you see yourself as a critic and participant within the economic system of capitalism? How does this color your viewpoint of what the art market is all about?
Amy Pryor: Well, its complex… I am a consumer in a capitalist society. I need to buy food, clothes and shelter and I also want them to be as nice as I can afford. I pick and choose and shop about, and I enjoy having the options to choose from. Buying and selling sometimes feels like the basic function of my life. I can’t think of the song’s name or the artist, but there’s this great line something like: “buy this car to drive to work, go to work to pay for this car “. I try not to get too didactic in my work, and I am definitely wary of sounding too preachy, BUT “the Man” does exploit people. We are all products of various institutions, churches, schools, etc… I guess I want to have a conversation about these institutions because they are varied and wily and manipulate people to stay in control. The right’s institutions propagate fears of difference, loss of “liberty”, morality, etc… and this affects how people can see what’s happening around them, and how they vote, and what policies are made and ultimately quality of life. I want the utopian dream, even though I know it’s a fantasy. Life is actually really messy, but can’t we just all get along or at least live and let live?
The art market needs art, and artists need to make a living. But c’mon, we don’t need to be multi-millionaires! In my opinion, contemporary prices are, or were, over-inflated, hence the crash. The art world and art market has its share of institutions, which create and wield power, like any other industry, be it cultural or otherwise. Being able to sell work undoubtedly affects an artist’s career. What sells, get shown. What gets shown gets written about. What gets written about, gets collected, gets shown. It’s not necessarily linear, but there is a relationship. Ideally, one could hope for a symbiotic relationship…and spread all that money around a bit…
qi peng: Using scraps from junk mail, ad circulars, bills, forms, and documents for the construction of your works, what is the objective in using these artifacts as a form of visual archaeology or “topography of [your] life?” What things are you trying to map out exactly?
Amy Pryor: [no answer]
qi peng: What is your take on American consumerism?
Amy Pryor: America is young and conservative as a whole, and its consumers want to be instantly gratified. Instead of saving up cash money for things, we’re encouraged to have it now, on credit, even if we can’t really afford it. Credit is abused and encouraged and profits are made at someone’s expense and not shared down the line. Some people are pathological shoppers and buy, buy, buy. I think it really reflects emptiness in their lives. I’ve had a little retail therapy here and there myself. My grandmother was a serious shop-a-holic! I remember visiting her when I was young and not believing the amount of stuff she bought just because it was on sale. Most of it never left the shopping bags and had the tags still on them. She was kind of barricaded by her belongings. Stuff piled up all over the place. Drawers full of drinking straws and twist ties…everything was saved but nothing was really valuable.
qi peng: Have you read Naomi Klein‘s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism? If so, what do you think of the work?
Amy Pryor: I started it, but haven’t gotten past the bits about torture. I had to put it down. I certainly think it is an interesting work and probably right on. I definitely think the Bush/Cheney regime capitalized on the losses of 9/11, and the war in Iraq— a successful business venture built upon the fears of Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. It’s criminal.
qi peng: Do you think that your artwork critiques our American expansionist policies ranging from the manifest destiny doctrine during the 19th century up to the Bush cowboy politics of the early 21st century?
Amy Pryor: Well I never thought: hey I’m going to make a piece that critiques this policy, specifically. But I do think my work is speaking to or about an underlying socio-economic system that is related to these policies. We are all aware of the current economic crisis and somehow it was allowed to get out of hand. I have no problem blaming Dubya for our most recent crisis, and the machines that put him in power, but as you’ve pointed out here, it starts way back when… Bush/Cheney ran a very successful business under the guise of government, and oil/gas companies made record profits, while most people are just struggling to keep up with inflated consumer prices and depressed wages. It pisses me off! And Manifest Destiny, my Ass! Wow, what an un-cool policy. Let’s spread white puritans all over the continent, murder the natives, and set up franchises all “in the name of God”! Uggggh!!!
In the 90’s I spent some time in the Czech and Slovak Republics, shortly after the fall of communism. I witnessed the opening of a Dunkin Donuts and KFC in Wenceslas Square in Prague, a mere minute in historical time after the Velvet Revolution. And I met this kid who was studying business. His dream was to be a manager of a McDonald’s franchise. I can maybe understand the appeal of American fast food chains, the idea of being able to order any number of items from a menu, when one may have grown up without much choice or availability of goods, but c’mon, shouldn’t we export better things? That stuff is crap, and that’s what a lot of the world thinks America is. So I’m not against free enterprise, I’m just a free enterprise snob!
qi peng: How do you think that the art world and/or the American culture will change under the new Obama administration?
Amy Pryor: I think that there will be more support for the arts under Obama’s administration. The US lags behind so many European countries in its support for the arts. This is likely an affect of conservatism, of the right wanting to silence voices from the left. Isn’t Obama thinking about starting something similar to the WPA? But he has a horrendous mess to hack away at, and I am hopeful that a lot of good policy changes will take place. It would be great if there was more government support of the arts, but hey, let’s get everyone a living wage and some healthcare first!
qi peng: Do you have any advice for young emerging artists from BFA or MFA programs who are graduating from their program? Any pitfalls for them to avoid as they search for a way to enter the formal gallery system or to exhibit in non-profit or alternative spaces or museums such as the Bronx Museum of Art?
Amy Pryor: Learn how to tread water?
Seriously. Apply to residencies, viewing programs, etc…often and repeatedly. The people making these decisions change, and so does an artist’s work. Also find some way to keep a dialog happening around your work, find or make some community for yourself.
qi peng: What have been your joys and hardships in dealing with the contemporary art world?
Amy Pryor: Joys? You’ve got to be kidding! I see it as a test of endurance, and a challenge for me to overcome my own reservations. I have to really push myself to put my work out there.
If you are super-confident and extroverted, I think self-promotion comes easier, it’s almost natural.
qi peng: What accounts for your interest in repeated motifs within your source material?
Amy Pryor: Well there is the visual imperative, the buzz I’m seeking, and the suggestion of endlessness. There is also the fact that my source materials, like manufactured goods, are reproduced, homogenous, and are limited in their quantities only by consumer demand. So the repetition is kind of a factual thing that I am aesthetisizing.
qi peng: Your interest in elements of chaos and everyday patterns using bar codes, astronomy, aerial photography, and other harbors of information seems to imply how much our lives are immersed within these crazy amounts of data that seem to dehumanize us. What do you think about postmodern society and the way that we fail to communicate between each other? Is it possible to restore any sense of humanity in the mess of all this?
Amy Pryor: Yeah, you got it. I think we have to try to stay connected and part of a community and be kind to one another you know? It’s easy to zone out in front of a television or a video game. Too much of this bombards our senses and dulls them and then maybe we’re more susceptible to negative programming. Especially in America, where there is so much violence and intolerance. It’s a matter of picking and choosing and trying to balance it all. I think email, and web-based social networking tools are great in their own way. They can help us stay connected or make connections. We can easily become isolated in our own lives, by actual space and distance and also by lack of time or general busy-ness. We are human though and need actual contact and warmth– physical, emotional, and social.
qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans here?
Amy Pryor: Thanks for your interest. It is great to be able to talk about all these matters.