I have not posted on here in months! Now that school is out, I can focus back on interviewing artists and keeping up with the blog!
To end my brief hiatus, I wanted to kick off the Spring with an interview with Amy Hughes Braden.
Artist Amy Hughes Braden is an Arlington native and Corcoran graduate who works as a painter and art teacher in the DC area. Her work utilizes portraiture to investigate a wide variety of issues, from family dynamics to the control of mass media in daily life.
I remember seeing a picture of Amy’s powerful and evocative portraiture in either The City Paper or the Express years ago when I was a sophomore in college. I was really struck by her work. Not only could she capture the personalities of the individuals that she rendered , but she used luminous colors (like the bright red color that she used as a background in her paintings) that could not escape my mind. Today, years later, she is still cranking out compelling work and is one of the most prolific artists that I know.
Here is the interview:
Who are you and what do you do? (You can answer this question in any way that you desire!)
I’m an artist, named Amy! I used to be Amy Elizabeth Hughes, but when I got married I wanted to take my husband’s last name. Many of my friends would not do this, but I like the idea of melding together in that way. Although I see the oppressive hand of men in many areas, for some reason this one doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I went to DMV and changed my name to Amy Elizabeth Braden.
Then I became sad at the loss of Hughes. I identify strongly with that side of my family, and my grandmother Hughes has a great deal of artistic talent. She would make beautiful detailed paintings on ordinary objects like trashcans for us when we were little. So I went back to DMV, and changed my name to Amy Elizabeth Hughes Braden. It’s fitting that I have all the names, because I’m greedy and have a voracious appetite. I don’t care about Elizabeth, but when it comes to art career stuff I insist on Hughes being included to honor that part of my family.
Can you tell me a little bit about your art? What mediums do you currently work with?
I’m very excitedly generating some new pieces in mediums. I’ve historically been afraid of, or intimidated by. As I mentioned above, It’s exciting, I’m very excited. Photo 1 at Corcoran was a miserable wreck for me. Six weeks in a row I worked very hard on shooting my rolls and every single week I went in and wrestled with the terrible canisters and film in the dark, and agitated and all that crap and every week my film came out blank. I was such a mess, I don’t think the teacher could even figure out at exactly what point I was fucking the whole thing up. The one exception to my hatred/fear of film photography is the photogram. But that removes the film aspect anyway. I just remembered that I want to make some more photograms.
The point of the above is to tell you that I recently produced the beginning of a series of digital prints. Bridget Sue Lambert helped me (did everything), but still I felt very empowered. I feel like I’ve unlocked a level or something. I’ve also made my first video piece, and first sculpture recently too. The former will be in ‘Are You Gonna Eat That?’ My show at Civilian, and the latter at Delicious Spectacle as a part of my collaboration with husband.
I haven’t told you what I do use though. I paint. I am and will always be in my heart a painter (while the new media are exciting, I think I’m worried that I’ll leave paint behind some day). I love to make heroically large works, and my husband loves to help me cart them around. I bought a bunch of large masonite panels last summer. I intended to use them for a piece that I’m making that will be slightly larger than the dimensions of Guernica (12 feet x 26 feet). Recently I employed husband to help me carry all the masonite from the garage to my studio, and when we had already carted it over, we realized we couldn’t get it up the stairs (they have a sharp turn, and the masonite would crack). I decided masonite was not a good material for the project, and that I should probably stretch canvases instead. Husband wished I had decided that before we spent the morning hauling it around. It was a nice ending though because I donated the masonite to a theater group that has an office nearby.
I’m telling you this story because it’s an example of the way I work. Very instinctively and often making rash decisions. Sometimes they are wrong decisions, which means that the rest of the time they are right decisions. I’ve been trying to learn to pause in the middle of the process and leave a work alone for a while, if I still want to completely destroy it so that an evolution may occur, I can; I just have to have a waiting period. Sort of like the divorce process I think.
Anyway, I make paintings. And drawings and collages too.
What are some concepts/ideas that you contend with in your current body of work?
I am interested in the way we consume information these days. I am interested in deterioration both of images and of objects/lives in general. I am interested in feminism and motherhood and interpersonal relationships. I’m interested in pop culture.
On Instagram, I saw some new work that you are creating that engage with collage, text (Richard Prince-style), and the notion of the deconstructed canvas. Can you a little about that?
Yeah, I don’t know all that much about Prince. I like some of his work, and his attitude about appropriation. Simultaneously I’m aware that he’s a megastar, powerhouse gallery-approved macho dick-swinging art/artist and I want to rebel against the system that created him. I am a humor enthusiast and have plans to do some in-depth, academic, clinical-style research on humor, so his joke paintings immediately appealed to me. I frankly don’t care much about why he makes them. I’ve done cursory research and I know the jokes are not his and are not personal. However they frequently are from a presumably male voice, talking about the every-wife. Naturally I needed to make my own joke paintings and talk about the every-husband. I’m so tired of “the wife.” Also, It really tickles me to be appropriating ideas from a master appropriator, some of my joke paintings are more directly about appropriation.
Does your sense of style influence your art? Does your art influence your sense of style?
All I can say about this is that last year I was with some friends, and someone’s mom was in town and for that reason we all went to a mall. I hadn’t really been in a mall in quite some time, and we went to Tysons, which is massive. Anyway we walked into a Gap and they had some flat kind of purses that were grey, with neon pink and more pinks and oranges. I turned one over in my hands, sort of horrified, realizing I was looking at what could have been one of my paintings.
You use a lot of pink in your paintings, so I have noticed. Especially colors like opera, crimson, and quinacridone. I have also noticed that you do not wear much pink, if any at all. Is this an accurate observation/ can you elaborate on this?
This is an accurate observation. Although in person recently, I showed you the hot pink laces I put in my combat boots. Still thinking they’re too much, but I’ve been too lazy to change them back. I like neons/neon pink as accents both in painting and in style. I don’t think pink looks particularly good on me either, so that’s probably why I don’t have a lot of it in my wardrobe.
Do you have a “style?” If so, can you describe what it is?
This winter it was British school boy, because all I could throw on was navy pea coat, black pants and combat boots. I love to engage in fashion, but recently I haven’t had time to think about it. The more time I spend in the studio the less I get dressed up. Everything gets paint on it, and so I just revert to a uniform of sorts. Husband describes my style as militant, which I would agree with to an extent. Never been much into bows/frills.
The peak of my fashion life came in 10th grade when I was voted best dressed in my class. I think I won on the bewildered vote. I wore weird things like a skirt I made out of a dress shirt, and red tie-dyed pants, and I surely was not putting outfits together properly. But everyone else seemed to be shopping from the same three stores, so I looked different. In hindsight I’d call my style at that time circus-pajama-gothic-core.
What influences your sense of style?
Who are some of your fashion icons?
Hmm, my finger’s not quite on the pulse these days. It’s funny to think about these questions, because there was time when I was interested in pursuing a career in fashion. I did a pre-college course at SAIC in fashion, and a short semester at Pratt in the fashion department. But I can’t really remember anyone. I like John Fluevog shoes.
Oh, you know whose clothes I really like and hope to wear someday? Native Danger’s. I know he doesn’t do a women’s line but one day when I have some money lying around I’m going to see about trying on some clothes.
Where do you typically shop? Any favorite local spots?
I was sad when I finished growing up and no longer had a regular valid reason for buying more clothes. So I don’t shop regularly, but I do pop into Current Boutique (a consignment shop) in Arlington. Friends work there, and I take the clothes I’m sick of there to consign, so I can sometimes feel like I’m shopping for free, when I have credit in my account. I just found an incredible black hooded cape with leather pockets by Alexander Wang there, and I had 50 bucks in my account so it ended up being a really good deal. Current has locations all over the area.
What is your favorite item of clothing in your closet? Favorite accessory?
Can’t pick one, so here’s a list: Orange ring my brother gave me for Christmas, weirdo black leather fingerless glove/sleeve things that my mother gave me, black cuff made from recycled tires purchased with my mother, fanny pack/hip bag made from cowboy boots purchased on Magazine street in New Orleans that husband gave me, and the new cape I mentioned above. Writing this list makes me think I should incorporate more color. Or at least, grey.
Do you have any “weird” studio habits? (For example, I often break out into dance while I am painting)
Not really, sometimes just walking around in circles, putting my hair up, then putting it down.
What kind of music do you listen to when you work in the studio? If so, what bands/musicians?
This past week I’ve been listening to This American Life podcasts and Rick Ross. I always spend a lot of studio time listening to TAL, it helps me focus and can keep me working longer—if I’m getting tired and think I might crap out and go home, I switch from music to TAL and it works. When I was little I would spend HOURS coloring and listening to this Focus on the Family tape series called Adventures in Odyssey. Same concept, slightly different content…
But about the aggressive terrible radio rap—I fucking love it. It’s ridiculous too, I’ll be making my version of a Richard Prince joke painting that tries to flip the voice from masculine to feminine while maintaining the same power because I’m interested in why we only have male art heros aaaaaand I’m listening to lyrics about date raping chicks, or Busta telling a girl to pull up her pants and go get her friend. The lyrics do bother me, but my attraction to the heavy/hard music overrides that. I thought I could try and balance things out a bit lyrically by downloading Missy Elliot’s Supa Dupa Fly, but she’s a terrible lyricist.
I also have my playlists for when I need to sing really loudly while working. Cat Power, White Stripes, Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper, Modern Lovers, Elvis Costello. Singing loudly feels so incredibly good, that can also help to sustain my focus. I think of it sort of like off-gassing.
Want to check out Amy’s work in-person? She has a solo show that opens THIS SATURDAY at Civilian Art Projects called, Are You Gonna Eat That? It’s going to be an exciting exhibition and will feature a ton of Amy’s new work and explorations. The opening starts at 6 and is located at 4178 14th St. Washington, DC 20011. Facebook Event
Amy also currently has a show up at Delicious Spectacle in Columbia Heights, called Shiver. It is a collaboration with her husband, Alex Braden and will be up until May 23rd. Go check it out before it closes!