Amanda Church, Thrust, 2015, Oil on canvas, 14 x 11 inches
What makes Amanda Church’s paintings so seductive? Is it the constant flipping between abstraction and figuration? Is it the playfulness, the command of color, the underlying eroticism, or their relationship to Pop that makes them so alluring? Or maybe it’s that her work looks like it could be the lovechild of John Wesley and Ralston Crawford. Whatever the reason, Church’s paintings are immediately approachable and upon closer analysis conjure elements of Surrealism, Abstraction and even Minimalism.
I first met Amanda several years ago. I was in the process of checking out the new galleries opening up or transplanting themselves to the Lower East Side and I would periodically run into her at openings. I never introduced myself, but was struck by her outgoing personality and overall good vibe. This experience, oddly, encapsulates the personality of her work. There is something both distant and familiar about her paintings, which have a discernible Pop ethos. The moments and scenarios she portrays seem distinct yet universal. The shapes, color, forms, and spaces she depicts are ultimately slippery, in that one can’t quite hold onto them because they slide away quickly as their specificity eludes us.
Take, for instance, the painting “Thrust”, in which there is what looks like a figurative form in the lower center of the canvas suggesting a forearm or leg; the shape and color, however, are articulated so as to set up a degree of ambiguity. The pink fleshtone to the right suggests (Caucasian) skin, whereas the pale purple/lavender to the left could be the fabric of a sweater or shirt. When you look elsewhere for a context in which to place the figure, the spatial elements of the image collapse and the painting becomes enigmatic. How to read the blue shape in the right quadrant – is it an object or another part of the body? Or is it a thought bubble? Its reductiveness leaves the question open. The black downward-shaped spike/triangle penetrates the yellow form, which just pricks the roundish gray shape. The saturations and values exist at about the same level, with the exception of the black shapes.
If we were to think about the image in terms of language, it would be a noun or a verb. The painting is called “Thrust,” meaning to lunge or to push. However, the painting is not to be read literally, in that language is used to dissect and deconstruct, but if we think of the painting as being based on a feeling then we may get closer to the intentions of the work. It’s not a feeling of nostalgia or sentimentality, but perhaps the feeling one has when one is jostled unexpectedly. The red line to the bottom left anchors the painting as an object. But, to be clear, it’s not simply about a feeling of nostalgia or sentimentality. The size of the painting purveys the feeling one has when they are jostled unexpectedly. It is small, no larger than the size of a head. And, after all, aren’t the mind and brain where feelings– mental and emotional states— come from?
Amanda Church, Beamers, 2017, Oil on canvas, 32 x 26 inches
When I think of the word “thrust,” I imagine two movements: one of pushing forward and the other of being pushed. Living in New York City, one is constantly trying to find personal space. Riding on a crowded train or walking down the street involves being pushed, thrusted against, and pushing back. Amanda’s paintings appear to be the product of an urban dweller collecting and doling out fragments of her environment. The paintings’ surfaces and mark-making are devoid of any expressionistic elements or traces of the hand, and the images are rendered in flat, outlined areas reminiscent of comics or cartoons. This sort of flatness conceals emotional expression yet, because the work is handmade with acute attention to a surface quality that often seems soft and cushioned, they reveal a layer of vulnerability. Her work does not come across as mechanically as, say, the work of Peter Halley or John Wesley (an artist I know Amanda very much admires).
Amanda appears to be painting particular moments, showing us fragments of the body in various situations. Her depictions of body parts, which at times resemble rubbery characters such as Gumby, are tinged with both eroticism and whimsy. There is a sense of humor and lightness to the way forms and gestures are expressed. Through the ambiguity of humor, real emotive sentiments are simultaneously concealed and revealed as underlying truths.
Amanda Church, Sympathy, 2016, Oil on canvas, 32 x 36 inches
In the painting titled “Sympathy” two figures are shown with what seems like a window between them. The title suggests an act of compassion and understanding, but upon closer scrutiny one wonders if the hand is actually reaching to touch the other person or if it is instead just reaching for the rim of the glass. Both figures and their identities are cropped out of the canvas, with the figure on the left seeming to look away as she reaches across to the other side of the painting. Perhaps the feeling and gestures in “Sympathy” are about a misinterpreted sign and, in essence, about being misunderstood. Amanda’s work flips figure/ground relationships, thereby creating spatial and emotional ambiguities as well as incorporating humor and its underpinning of darkness.
The work sets up a level of figure/ground ambiguities but at the same time demonstrates the dichotomy between visual tension and that which relates to actual feelings. Her use of color, shapes, and surface helps taps into and addresses emotional states while reinforcing the physical presence of painting. If we look at Amanda’s paintings as an urban artist’s representation of her immediate environment, then what results is an examination of emotion through the lens of humor, distance, and ambiguity. In the words of Francis Bacon, “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”
Riad Miah, The Problem With Math and Science, 2016, Oil on canvas on panel, 30 x 30 inches
Riad Miah was born in Trinidad and Tobago and now lives and works in New York City, NY. He has exhibited with Lesley Heller Workspace, Rooster Gallery, and Sperone Westwater Gallery, among others. www.riadmiah.com