New York native Amie Cunat’s exhibition Petal Signals includes a wide range of biotic hand-painted pieces that vary in colour, shape, texture and layers. Held at Dinner Gallery in her hometown, until October 23, it primarily focuses on plant life at the surface while ultimately showcasing something deeper. Each piece intends to highlight the familiar while at the same time leaving plenty of room for the audience to wonder what is and what could be. Integrating her interests, love for the sc-fi and horror media genres, and familial influences, Petal Signals is set to be her most ambitious set yet.
Tell me a bit about yourself, what drew you to an artistic and creative career?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single event that pushed me into the arts. My interest increased gradually over time. I was fortunate to have incredible mentors in undergraduate and in graduate school, who made the pursuit feel possible. Around the same time, I assisted several artists on their wall paintings and it made me realise how much I enjoyed the labour, conversation, and company of other artists.
What do you hope to portray in your exhibition, Petal Signals, in Dinner Gallery in New York City?
When I was planning for the exhibition, I wanted the work to feel confrontational, aggressive, and looming – as if each painting presents an omniscient entity that hails us through a language of grids, prickles, and billowing petals.
If Petal Signals can be compared to a garden, its plants would be barbed, spurred, manicured and voluminous. Each ‘grows’ within the four walls of the canvas and their scale is reliant on the dimensions of a substrate.
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Amie Cunat: Rampion Arms, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Dinner Gallery.
What, if any, previous pieces have affected what you are creating now? (Maybe even a piece or two that stands out?)
What I am painting now is an extension of ongoing work that explores an interplay between the earthy and transcendent, comedic and horrific, local and alien, abstract and familiar. In 2019, I had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon on a series of community programs and exhibitions at their historic site in New Lebanon, New York. While living at the museum, I made Granary, an installation that used paper materials to recreate the original grain bins and elevator in situ. On the walls of my constructed bins, I painted objects, plant life, and buildings sourced from the surrounding landscape and Shaker Gift Drawings.
Do you find that your art is your primary identity and, if not, do you still view it as an outcome of yourself and a mixture of your identities?
I don’t describe the work as an expression of my identity. The work contains decisions, tendencies, and other subjectivities that have informed how it is made and how I have produced imagery. It’s my hope that the work expands beyond any assigned labels and the assumptions these assignments carry.
Across your more recent work I noticed that it highlights a more tactile approach to painting (layers, grooves, shapes and sharp colour differences). What drove your latest work to represent this visual aesthetic?
Over the years, I’ve noticed how much my work flattens out when it is documented through digital means – graphic, crisp and punchy. This is also true of other artists’ work who use sharp edges coupled with an impactful range of colour. But after you see a Nicholas Kruschenik in person – or an Elizabeth Murray, or Carl Ostendarp, or Karl Wirsum, etc. – you’ll notice what might appear flat is actually tactile, which emphasises the significance of a painting as an experience, over a document.
My paintings have a velvet-like, matte surface produced from multiple coats of flashe, gouache and other flat paint. I want ambient light to shift gradually across the surface of the painting, versus a glossy finish, which tends to reflect light. The sharpness of a form’s edge is produced by guiding a bead of paint along its contour, and after several coats of paint, produces a delineating ridge between fields of colour.
“If the paintings are breathing, some are bellowing deep, while others are in staccato, shallow, and about to choke.”
Many of your paintings feel as if they are alive, even breathing at times. Is this a result that you were hoping to achieve?
I love this question! Within abstraction, I am interested in the pace or velocity that a form’s gesture suggests. In one painting, the composition’s dominant centrality and symmetricality can conjure a grounded, stable, or stoic appearance. In another, all things are whipping around the canvas in a torrent. If the paintings are breathing, some are bellowing deep, while others are in staccato, shallow, and about to choke.
Do you find that you have a routine that helps you stay motivated and creative? If so, does having such a routine help balance work and family life?
Yes, I definitely need a routine to keep my day organised. In addition to navigating life as a new parent, artist and educator, like many, I am also trying to stay healthy and keep my family safe. It’s amazing how quickly and how much you can stretch yourself without realising it.
Something that helps me realign when I feel this way is to take walks in my Brooklyn neighborhoud with my daughter. I love seeing old homes, historic facades, weird plant choices in front gardens, styles of clothing and hair, churches. Now that my daughter is talking, she says the cutest shit: “fafa” (flower), “keeds” (kids), “paahk” (park), “a saahnick” (a stick), “wun” (run), “bubbas” (blueberries), “aeentz” (ants), “beeeeg one” (big one).
When I’m in the studio, I listen to music and a lot of audiobooks. The books’ narratives pull me out of repetitive concerns.
What are some of the difficulties you had to overcome over the course of the last year and a half while we have all faced major changes due to Covid-19 and the wide range of sociopolitical unrest happening globally? And did this influence any of your art, possibly even upcoming pieces to be shown at the Dinner Gallery?
It doesn’t feel right to volunteer specific examples of personal hardship without acknowledging how lucky and privileged I am in other respects. I think it’s safe to assume that everyone has experienced some form of upheaval, loss, fear or anger since Covid-19 spread globally and that the experience has influenced us in varying degrees of consciousness.
When I think about colour and form, I think about their perceptive capabilities. One hue, when surrounded by a colour, will appear different than when it is surrounded by another one. Within a single painting, one colour can dramatically change in appearance depending on its proximity to others. A form might include all of the attributes of a flower or plant – petals, leaves, stem —but what is it that we are actually looking at? It can only be the likeness of flora.
I visited a sunflower farm near Buffalo, New York, while my husband, daughter and I were visiting family last year. Nearing the end of the flowers’ season, many of the plants’ stalks had started to droop from the weight of their blossom. What was weird is how all of the sunflowers in the field were bent in the same direction, as if they were a population bowing toward some deity or in a gesture of collective, melancholic duress. More than the flower itself, I was interested in their signal, or what was being signified by the behaviour of these non-sentient lifeforms. What are they expressing? What we can assume or assign to their motivations that do not inevitably reflect or resemble our own biases. In my work, a ‘flower’s’ capacity to signal is contained, and limited by, a viewer’s preoccupation with what is familiar.
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Amie Cunat: Radical Spurred, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Dinner Gallery.
Could you elaborate on how this can be seen in your work?
In a recent interview, the word hermetic was used in a question relative to the new work. At first, my mind went to ‘hermitic,’ that somehow the work was imbued with a sense of confinement in locale or solitary introspection given where and when they were painted. But the interviewer repronounced the word, which led me to consider how recent paintings’ imagery were tight in an enclosure, or felt as if they were protected in some way from external influence.
Now having a little distance from this conversation, these two terms have been significant in the way I have been thinking about what has seeped into or informed recent painting. There is no doubt that some of the terms I have been using to describe the work have some reactionary connection with the current events, but their resonance might be more apparent in retrospect.
As someone who is a huge fan of sci-fi and suspenseful horror both films and shows I found that I kept thinking of Alien and Suspiria when viewing a plethora of your work. Are either of these films inspirations in your paintings as of late?
I feel horrible! You are the fourth person to mention Suspiria relative to my work, and I still have not seen it! Being a huge horror fan, I’m looking forward to watching it for the first time. Ok, Alien, I love the film! And I admit, all of the recent extensions of the franchise. The worst creature imaginable is a Xenomorph born from our own flesh? Hell yeah.
As much as I enjoy some newer sci-fi and horror movies, I like the ones before CGI became a staple in their production. I love all the props, sets, goo, and guts made from corn syrup, silicone, foam, and other textured materials.
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Amie Cunat: Meetinghouse, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Dinner Gallery.
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Amie Cunat: Iron and Neon Barbed. Courtesy of the artist and Dinner Gallery.
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Amie Cunat: Cornflower Fanfare, 2021. Courtesy of the artist.
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Amie Cunat: Plume in Plum with Minty Prickles, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Dinner Gallery.
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Amie Cunat: Blossom Rhapsodic. Courtesy of the artist and Dinner Gallery.
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Amie Cunat: Blood Orange Telepathy, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Dinner Gallery.
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Amie Cunat: Globes and Propellers, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
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Amie Cunat: Two Trumpets an Ivory Pull, 2020, Courtesy of the artist.