IC Interview: Amie Esslinger

Where were you born? I was born in Georgia and grew up in a small town on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had a slightly wild childhood spent exploring the woods on our large plot of land and the surrounding National Forest. My parents built our house from wood timbered from our land and later built studios and workshops to provide working space for my mother’s painting career and my father’s metal art practice. I had open access to materials, tools and permission to create. 

What are you favorite materials to work with? I generally switch back and forth from painting/drawing/printmaking to the more dimensional tasks of cutting and stacking paper, canvas, linoleum and converting my paints to a more 3-D viscosity for application. I also incorporate different printmaking techniques, paper making and sculpting into my mixed media works. Right now I’m finding a great catharsis in hand sewing/embroidering the edges of my canvas pieces. It’s very meditative and it’s something that I can constantly pick up and put down as needed. 

What is your motivating factor in creating artistic work? I have always loved making objects and the act of construction feels borderline compulsive at this point. I used to struggle focusing my energy strictly into my work and would constantly be indulging in creative tangents to satisfy the compulsion. I’ve made many quilts, mobiles, paper dolls, wall murals, ceramic vessels, photo collages, etc. The work I’ve been making for the past eight(ish) years is motivated by my desire to converge my interests in anatomy, microbiology and micro/macro landscapes, as well as the types of materials and processes I’ve learned along the way. 

What do you like most about the art that you make? I like that my work is built in layers and is flexible in it’s format/application. I can be a painter, sculptor, ceramist, textile artist and beyond. I feel grounded in my vision enough to move through different mediums and I feel open to incorporating more as I go. 

Who are your influences? Lee Bontecou and Eva Hesse. Growing up around  self-taught southern folk art has definitely left its imprint on my own work (bold color, rich dense patterns). I love aboriginal art, especially the work of Dorothy Napangardi. 

The first art you saw that informed your practice and let you know this was possibility to become an artist? The 18th century medical and natural history museum La Specola in Florence, Italy really opened my eyes. Seeing how art and science not only could be aligned, but seeing the power when they supplement one another. Realistic wax figures and all the corresponding anatomy were splayed out on pools of red velvet inside gorgeous glass cabinets. It was the most exciting museum and artistic display I had ever seen and I got a giant creative boost from it. 

Also seeing Lee Bontecou’s work for the first time. I’m thinking it was around 2014-ish. I opened an Art in America magazine and BOOM! A little later in my mid twenties, seeing in person her untitled piece from 1960 in the Art Institute of Chicago only solidified my love for her work. I remember feeling under the weight of this void-portal-thing and how scary and luring it was. The jagged raw yet seamless construction looked like stitches on a spaceship. It was thrilling and it made me want to make work that could transgress genre and material.

What do you feel you are trying to communicate with your work? Complexity. Although my work is not rigidly representational by any means, it is suggestive of the very real and very complicated parts and systems that compose and surround us, but that cannot be seen by the naked eye. The forms found in microbiology are not only visually beautiful, they are also governed by uniform laws, yet influenced by chance and opportunity. 

As an artist, do you think you work is political? I suppose if you get down to it, what ISN’T political?  I make work that attempts to enlarge and bend the invisible fragments and systems found in microbiology. I want to illuminate the seemingly invisible worlds inside and around us because they are underlying giants in their influence on us, yet routinely ignored. With the present situation, no one is going to ignore the hidden world of microbiology for awhile. Right now, we’re witnessing the social, economic, and health effects of ignoring the invisible. In a sense, my work has become more political than it was just a few months ago, but not because of any intention on my part. 

What is the connection between protest and art-making? We protest and make art for many of the same reasons. To be be visible, to communicate our ideas and needs, to engage and challenge ourselves and our audience. Protest and art are both powerful catharses; a release of our fears, frustration, and anger and our demand for hope. Our methods for art making and for political protest both require clear communication and endless energy in order to be successful and to encourage others to do the same.

What was the seminal experience that got you to the work you are making now? I started five paintings while living in Chicago (around 2012) that really helped solidify my ideas and approach. Something eventually clicked and I finally gave myself permission to make the work I was really after. I stopped compartmentalizing and gave into the disorder by creating a regular studio practice. I feel fortunate to have gone through this shift privately; no school, with few artist peers, and no pressure to make a consumable product. Those five paintings gave me the physical proof that I was indeed an artist. I became self disciplined and convinced myself that I was onto something worth pursuing. I think of those paintings as my foundation and I feel like all my work can be linked back to them.  

What are you working on currently? I’m back to making paintings again after a long period of focusing on installation work. My paintings include ambiguous microscopic forms and cellular dysfunction. I’m also working on free formed components that will be incorporated into large installation pieces that are very reminiscent of details found in my paintings. These are slow going and it’s hard to focus right now. Like many artists, I’m finding the current climate difficult to deal with; mental fatigue and personal losses are hard to work though. When I find a sliver of studio time, I relish it. 

What would be a meaningful way for Idea Capital to support your practice in these current events? I think to stay flexible and to check in with the artists is great. I haven’t yet acclimated to how life has been rearranged so I’m still trying to find the time to work. I hope I have better ideas about this later.

Back To Top