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See animals and the environment through a surrealist's eyes

Amy Guidry uses dreamlike images to make a statement about the relationship between humans and the world.

STARRE VARTAN
December 19, 2016, 11:02 a.m.
Amy Guidry's painting "Expatriate"
Themes like climate change emerge in Amy Guidry's painting, as you can see in 'Expatriate.' (Photo: Amy Guidry)
Fine artist Amy Guidry is a Louisiana-based painter who has been making art since she was 3 years old. Her surrealist art tackles the subjects that she's interested in exploring — she has looked at depictions of women via fairy tale narratives, and the wide variety of human experience. In her newest series, "In Our Veins," she delves into the human relationship with animals and the natural world.
The painting Shelter by Amy Guidry'Shelter' hints at Guidry's promise: 'What seems illogical can come to life through a painting.' (Photo: Amy Guidry)
MNN: What was the impetus for your surrealist series about animals and environment, In Our Veins?
Amy Guidry: I've had an interest in animals and the environment since I was very young. I've been vegan for almost 18 years now. However, despite the fact that animals and the natural world were often present in my work, I felt the need to up the ante. I wanted to challenge myself both technically and conceptually. My paintings were becoming progressively more surreal, lending themselves to dreamlike backgrounds and unusual imagery. Surrealism allows me to delve into environmental issues and animal welfare issues, creating strange worlds that reflect the current state of our planet. What seems illogical can come to life through a painting. Though in many ways, I feel like what I paint is a mirror-image of our reality.
The painting The Pack by Amy Guidry. As she shows in 'The Pack,' Guidry says when we ignore the threads that connect everything together in nature, we see animals in pieces and parts. (Photo: Amy Guidry)
How do you use psychology in your work?
This series focuses on our relationship to the natural world and our connection to every living thing. As humans, we often view nature as a means to an end. Animals are viewed as pieces and parts — head, rump, wing, and so on. They are no longer sentient beings but things we eat or wear or put on our walls. If they are food, animals are renamed: cow becomes beef, chicken becomes poultry, etc. It's as if we're distancing ourselves from nature. While I have depicted this common viewpoint through paintings of just the head or bust of an animal, I have endowed them with personalities or traits that would be considered more “human” to emphasize their importance and do away with the notion that animals are less than humans. So each animal, be it mammal, bird, etc., has been endowed with something we consider a “human quality.”
I’ve also explored what I consider the opposite approach to these paintings. While in some works, I rely on eyes and facial expressions to convey a sense of connection and relatability to animals, other paintings show animals without faces or covered faces. I wanted to explore the idea of anonymity vs. connection. Without seeing their faces, does that make them any less personable or meaningful? And how does this apply on a global scale? For me, even without seeing their faces, I still see so much life and personality in these animals. I still see them as sentient beings.
The painting "Survival of the Fittest" by Amy Guidry'Survival of the Fittest' puts cows in an unusual role — both predator and prey. (Photo: Amy Guidry)
'In Our Vein's is dominated by horses, deer, bears, wolves, rabbits, cows and humans. Why these animals?
I feel like a lot of these animals blur the line between what would be considered domestic and what would be considered wild. As more wild habitat is being encroached upon by new houses and shopping malls, these animals are being forced out of their homes and find themselves having to adapt to this new urban landscape. They are wild, yet at the same time, people either think of them as cute nomads or dangerous intruders, depending on the species.
I'll use cows because I feel like they are the epitome of the agribusiness animal. They are used for meat, dairy, and leather, and it's because of them that forests are cleared and "predatory" animals are killed — all for the sake of ranching.
As for incorporating humans, I do so to emphasize that we are all part of the animal kingdom. I’ll sometimes combine a human with another animal to illustrate that connection. Other times, I may just paint the human brain as a symbol of sentience and our moral obligation to the welfare of these animals.
The painting "Untitled 'Heads'" by Amy Guidry.'Untitled 'Heads' (Photo: Amy Guidry)
How do you find your images when you create a new painting?
The images I come up with are inspired by issues or events that I feel a need to cover through my work. I start out with thumbnail sketches of the basic concept behind a painting and I’ll do maybe 50 variations on that concept until I have the right one. Then I’ll draw out the piece to size. If I feel like it would work better a bit larger or even smaller, then I’ll draw it out again. Once I have that final composition worked out, I’ll then transfer that drawing to canvas, sometimes just tracing what I just did with tracing paper. I try to keep my drawing on canvas fairly basic, and work out the rest with paint. Then I do a rough layer of paint, just working out the basic image and getting the colors down. The subsequent layers of paint are to build the colors, and refine the details of everything, getting more detailed until the final layer of paint.
If I need a reference, I rely on my own pets, myself, or my husband as live models. I also have anatomical models and books, though I use that as a guide. I take a lot of artistic license because sometimes a literal translation just doesn't suit what I'm going for.
The painting "Crutch" by Amy Guidry.'Crutch' hints at the sacrifices animals make to make way for human development. (Photo: Amy Guidry)
How does your local environment (or another one) find its way into your paintings?
So far what I've been painting has been on more of a global scale, really, though I do plan on doing some pieces more specific to this area (Louisiana), especially because of our wetlands. I've been focused on climate change, so oceans have been a dominant theme as of late. I also incorporate desert scenes for not only an apocalyptic feel, but to also illustrate the change in landscape due to the clear-cutting of forests.
Your color palette is very specific; is this to make it easier to reproduce colors time and again or for some other reason?
The colors are really dictated by the subject matter, that being said, there are some choices I make regarding the background which are completely intuitive. I may use a more dramatic sky if I want the overall feel of the piece to be a bit dark.

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