Art & Culture in Chicago

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Amy Mayfield is turning a lot of heads.  

She has exhibited her paintings throughout Chicago at Gahlberg Gallery, The Hyde Park Art Center, Bucket Rider and Zolla Lieberman Gallery, and Franklin Parrasch in New York. In 2007 she exhibited in the MCA 12×12 series, a program designed to exhibit the work of local, emerging artists.  Just this September her work was part of the “Ahh… Decadence” exhibit at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s new gallery, her paintings being referred to in a Newcity review of the show as having the most “luxurious surfaces of all.”  In the current issue of CS Interiors, art collectors are encouraged to invest in “meteoric talents like Amy Mayfield.”

Mayfield currently has a solo show up at threewalls gallery; an installation that fidgets with color and energy.  Her gooey abstracted paintings are displayed on walls that she painted and, while you gaze at them, you are standing beside blobby sculptures and tropical potted plants on floor tiles she painted.  Pale orange, burnt sienna, and black are repeated throughout, creating a sort of “before the dawn of man” feel.  The whole show exudes a primordial air.  A lot of love went into this installation.  Like a conservatory, she has created a nurturing environment for us to enjoy the fruits of her labor.  Likewise, it almost seems as if her art enjoys the attention.

 Mayfield’s paintings are quite arresting.  Her flowing, often indirect method of applying paint to the surface causes the shapes to appear to tinker around the canvas like the glowing organisms that inhabit the deepest parts of the sea. Large shapes give way to intricate detail upon closer inspection, making the whole visual experience quite rewarding.

 “There is no conceptual trick to being seduced by and pulled into Amy Mayfield’s world of visual pleasure,” wrote Jason Foumberg for Newcity last year, “all you’ll need is your eyes and your wagging tongue.  See the world through the eyes of a kitten in heat that has it’s own stash of magic mushrooms.  These pictures cut, gut, thrash and finally woo the senses in a choreographed and glorious bloodbath of paint, replete with tiny flowers.”

Artists are often drawn to Mayfield’s work because of the unusual textures in it- something she explored in graduate school as a fibers student.   “When I experiment with mediums, I look for a specific materiality- things that are plasticky…  I like materials that have a weird bubblegummy feel.  They also linger in abstraction and geometric form,” she said.  “Also, the paint that I use is pretty cheap, which is important because I use so much of it.” 

When asked to describe her work in a single sentence, Mayfield described it as biographical reflection of her daily doings, often influenced by landscape. When her work was called nonsensical, she replied that “nonsensical” was only partially accurate, opting to call it “strangely peculiar and divinely horrific” instead. And it certainly has a dark side.  We are compelled to stare at it much like we stare at car crashes and atomic bombs.  Shannon Stratton, director and curator at threewalls, wrote:  “Mayfield’s paintings are pleasing to look at, but they don’t strike as pretty, nor are they particularly funny. Instead they again conjure the beautiful and horrific decline; like aerial photos of oil slicks or waste ponds, they are a compelling disturbance.”

Mayfield is a bit of an extrovert.  Her only gripe about being an artist is having to work alone all the time. “I like being around people, socializing, getting ideas off other people,” she said.  So, when she’s not working, she spends a lot of time with her friends, sometimes bringing her Chihuahua, “Dagger” around with her. Lately though, she’s been concentrating on work and family.  When I asked her to meet me for an interview, offering beer, she replied “a beer probably wouldn’t be cool because I’ve got a bun in the oven, but how about some tea?”

When we met at a Wicker Park coffee shop she looked happy and comfortable.  Her hair was a natural brown, cropped shag and she wore no makeup. She wore yellow pants and played with a scarf. Mayfield and her husband, Loren Grage, came to Chicago about five years ago to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Moving to Chicago has had an impact on her work.  She said her husband has a theory that her work got brighter when she moved here from San Diego, perhaps as a form of compensation for the bleakness of Chicago.  But, he thinks, as she’s adjusted her work has gotten darker again.  Also, he observed that her work gets darker when she’s happy. 

The paradox behind that seems rather telling.  She’s not a stranger to eastern philosophy, she enjoys yoga, and her artistic method seems quite meditative, even Zen-like.  Whoever it is that’s she’s channeling while she’s in her studio- be it Alice in Wonderland, David Attenborough, or Buddha- it’s working for her. 


Written by Kelly Reaves

October 20, 2008 at 6:47 am

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