This article was originally published at Haute Macabre in September of 2017.
One might experience a peculiar frisson of nostalgia while gazing at the wistful, winsome subjects of artist Amy Earle’s earlier works. Reminiscent of the illustrated plates in a mysterious storybook, dusty and hidden far back in grandmother’s closet and tucked the soft folds of a moth-eaten antique quilt; a discovery stumbled upon one rainy afternoon while the adults were occupied and a naughty grand-daughter was perhaps hiding from nap time. Little fingers gently pluck open the frayed cover and begin to flip through the fragile pages, brittle with age.
A wisp of a line begins a whimsical tale and soon the forgotten moppet is captivated by sketches of charming, doll-like subjects in seemingly innocent, frolicsome scenarios. Yet, in more closely studying the subtle nuances of their trembling expressions, the shadowy textures, and dreary shades of their environs, the small child may sense an atmosphere of foreboding and palpable sadness–and with a puzzled brow, softly let the book slip shut, and tuck it away. It will later haunt their dreams well into adulthood.
This is my story, and I still have that picture book these many years later. When I became aware of Amy Earle’s work in 2008 or so, I was struck by an immediate, adoring fascination, tinged with a quiet devastation–and, in later examining these observations, I made the connection to my beloved childhood book of strange origins, and wondered at this reaction of both giddy enchantment and vague unease as it related to the delicate young girls in her work.
Existing in the perpetual other world of autumn daydream, skirting the periphery of childhood, the young girls’ amusements are both “playful and sinister” and, I believe, presciently belie a murkier narrative hinting at life’s crueler nature (as some of the best childhood games are wont to do!) As a viewer, when I realized this, it became clear to me: my conclusion, for what it’s worth, is that the lurking menace is the looming threat of adulthood and all its dreadful trappings.
It is with this realization that I breathe a small sigh of relief in viewing Earles’ more recent work. The shadowy, mostly monochromatic palette is ever present, but the subjects themselves seem different to me. They are still slight, delicate creatures, but they’ve matured, bodily, from young girls to young women, and the atmosphere is charged with a different sort of tension now.
They carry broomsticks and wands, keys, mirrors, and satchels; they emit lightning from their fingertips, and divine with blindfolds, scissors, and string. I like to imagine their childhood games have prepared them, and now they’ve fortified and protected themselves with magics, charms, and totems. Forewarned is forearmed, and these are empowered young women with agency, autonomy, and an awareness that they are in control of their own fates.
We caught up with Amy recently, and regarding the evolution of her work, she has noted, “…my work is evolving in the sense that the shapes are not as constricted, the concepts are not as obscured. I’m finding it easier to express what I want to express. I’ve made a lot of monochromatic gouache paintings on paper which perfectly encapsulated my state of mind in recent years and I’m still interested in making those because they are still relevant. But I’m also interested in building structures, painting in color with oils. I’m finding shapes and textures in other mediums more enticing lately.”
“People should grow. My personal life has evolved in the past couple of years; my artwork had to follow.”
This expert daydreamer also shares that her current reveries are centered mostly on the vague land she has built for an upcoming show at Stranger Factory in early November. These realms are occupied by “sentient plants, people (how they change with time and their fragility) and inanimate objects that become inhabited by concepts/spirits.”
Earles remarks that most of her inspirations and influences are connected to older things; antique objects and various histories, stacks of vintage magazines. In addition she reveals that she is always enamored “by language (archaic words in particular); certain words or phrases can inspire whole universes. I’m inspired by hair, unusual toys and dolls, old photographs, historical documentaries, vintage celestial imagery, dreams and the unexplainable psychic phenomena that I have encountered all of my life.”
Amy Earles’ works are featured several upcoming shows in 2017: Winter Flock at The Convent Philly which opens February 10th; Moments in Monochrome at Nucleus Portland opening March 25th; and the previously mentioned show at Stranger Factory opening on November 3rd.