In the lead-up to her solo show with us in May 2018, we sat down with Amy Judd to learn more about her life as an artist and her inspiration for this collection.
Tell us a little about where you work…
I work from a studio in south Wimbledon with southwest facing windows all around one side of the room, and plenty of wall space. The windows are gorgeous if you want to bask like a cat in the sun, but actually a pain if you want to paint!
Traditionally painters prefer natural light to work, but my studio has just too much! I used to have a small space with no windows and, although it was a little depressing, it was far better as the light was constant. So I’ve invested in blinds and a daylight bulb lamp.
There’s a small area with a rug for my desk and for reading, then a very messy paint-covered table and easel for the real work. I have taxidermy butterflies, magpie wings, vintage stag antlers, old sketches, a photo of my family, and lots of other junk that I can’t stand to chuck away! It’s always untidy and full of canvases.
What do you need to get the creative juices flowing?
One needs nourishment to work! I’m not a big tea drinker so I have snack breaks. I always have a packet of sweets or chocolates to hand – Haribo are a staple. In the summer I listen out for the ice cream van.
I always have to listen to something when painting, some days Radio 4, some days BBC Radio London (not that I’m a taxi driver but I love feeling in touch with what’s going on in the city). Generally I listen to Spotify and have an eclectic taste of music depending on my mood. Mostly I listen to folk, old and new with a dash of country… Laura Marling, Frazey Ford, Joni Mitchell, JJ Cale, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson. Recently I’ve rediscovered Buena Vista Social Club. I am momentarily transported to Havana, until my heater breaks! If I have a lot to do and need to get my head down I listen to 90s hip hop or Daft Punk as it puts me in a great mood and makes me paint with more energy.
What does the title of your upcoming solo show ‘Beautifully Obscure’ and the Flora collection mean to you?
Really, the title sums up my work. All of my figures are anonymous, never looking at the viewer, and have an ambiguity about them. They are physically obscured as well, with feathers, flowers, big blooms and petals. The compositions are full of intrigue and always an attempt to make something beautiful.
I’ve always drawn inspiration from women’s connection with nature, especially in folklore and mythology, and the Flora collection is a progression of this. My bird and feather paintings had a fragility and strength simultaneously – people somehow found them uplifting, they would say they got strength from them in a way I didn’t know that they would – and I think the flowers have got that same quality.
In painting them larger than life the fragile petals become sculptural, gaining a strength and abstract quality. The blooms become beautiful helmets or masks for the statuesque women. Although the Roman goddess Flora was the initial inspiration, the figures become less Muse and more Amazonian warrior.
Peonies feature heavily. Is there a reason for this?
They’re a joy to paint with their lush, full, rounded blooms – they’ve got layers, they are juicy, and the light and shade work really well. You know, daisies would be pretty but they wouldn’t work in the same way. They look regal and they aren’t just lovely flowers: symbolically they represent positive and strong properties – honour and riches, romance and prosperity. They are quite loosely painted and end up being quite abstract, which is a conscious thing for me. Plus the contrast between the smooth skin of the figures and loosely painted petals just works.
Have you always favoured working in oil?
I started with pastels back in school, and moved on to oil paints in my A-level year. I still use oils like pastels, applying them thinly and using a soft brush to blend. I find oils the easiest medium. It may be harder to clean up your brushes but its qualities are worth it!
They don’t dry quickly like acrylics, which allows me to push the paint around, wipe off mistakes and most importantly blend, creating a subtle edge or dramatic chiaroscuro. Oil paint has a lustre unlike any other medium, giving the image depth and an all-round richness.
Tell us a little of the process of creating a new painting.
I work from found imagery and my own photos, then like a collage I cut and paste, often using Photoshop to explore composition, lighting and subject. I’m not a photographer or computer expert, but it’s become a form of sketching.
I then like to take the ideas straight to the canvas and play about with the composition again. This process gives my work its surreal quality, as it’s not real – it is in fact a scene I have made up using a collection of different sources.
Would it be fair to say your works are a reimagining and revision of mythology and folklore for the 21st century?
Yes, I suppose so – their clean white contemporary clothes and the attitude of the body language is very much of today. They are less gentle, less objectified, compared to traditional paintings of myths.
I would always say my interest in mythology and folklore is an inspiration on which to work from, but I don’t do direct illustrations of the stories. My figures are depicted in many different ‘narratives’: they can be powerful or vulnerable, seen with a sense of whimsy or smouldering sensuality, just as in traditional mythologies.
How long does it take to complete a painting?
Considering content and composition takes time, sometimes more than the actual painting. It may take months to come to a final idea and even then it will likely change when I actually start painting.
I’m actually starting ideas I had a year ago – the process is an ongoing one. But the physical painting will take a few months as I work on three to five canvas at a time and need to allow drying time to build up the layers. (Things also take longer now I have a baby!)
How do you come to your colour palette?
I have a very limited palette, only about six colours, give or take. This is what I know and how I’ve worked for years. My paintings are either stark images with bright whites, warm skin tone and dark background or more muted with subtle greys or whites creating a nostalgic dreamlike feel.
You’ve previously mentioned Swan Lake as an inspiration, and also fashion designers such as McQueen and Galliano. Who most inspires you?
I’m very interested in costume and design within theatre and cinema, and undoubtedly constantly inspired by fashion. Alongside Alexander McQueen’s nature-inspired clothes Philip Treacy’s hats are amazing – they are often made from materials found in nature… feathers, fur, flowers… or are directly inspired by them. His hats often hide the wearer and give a sense of drama.
There was a female Italian designer of the 1930s called Elsa Schiaparelli who was connected with the Surrealist movement and directly with Dali. Her designs were beautiful with a Surrealist edge, from lobster dresses to shoe hats. Beautifully surreal is a great quality in anything!
Another Surrealist I’ve drawn direct inspiration from is Max Ernst. He created collage illustrations for his book Une semaine de bonté, and rearranged images to create a dark and surreal world where people had the heads of lions, birds, shells or lizards; they are both funny and disturbing.
How did you come to your signature style and themes?
I always did life drawing from an early age, capturing the female form. At university I began finding my way towards what is my art practice now, concentrating on the female form and developing my painting skills. But it wasn’t until after university when I saw Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House that my work shifted – I was captivated by Odette’s transformation to and from a swan.
It was a sublime idea and I began looking at other stories that told of this magical relationship between birds/animals and humans. This led to me painting my own visions of these myths, such as Leda and the swan or Diana and the deer, but I soon realised I could make up my own narratives creating new myths and mythical creatures within my paintings.
You recently had a large-scale piece commissioned by the Grosvenor House Hotel – tell us more…
This was such an exciting commission, but it took a few years to come to fruition as I had just had my baby girl when they first asked, so I couldn’t start for another year or so. They asked specifically for a butterfly nude – but not too much skin. When it was finally up on the wall, my closest friends and I all met up for cocktails in the swanky bar to toast the painting!
What’s next for you?
After my show I will paint all summer and send the work over to Stockholm in October, where I’ve exhibited many times before. I get such a warm reaction from everyone and hope to actually get over there myself this year. Bring on the Schnapps!
Please get in touch for full details of Amy’s solo show and Private View tickets:
firstname.lastname@example.org | 020 8944 7171