Alexis Amann is a SF based artist working with a wide range of mediums.
Rae: Describe your process for creating a new piece and what sorts of materials you prefer to use and why?
Alexis: I work with acrylic gouache on paper. I love working on paper because it references a book, illustrations, and comics. I like making work that feels like it comes from that world. I can cut the edges to suit the painting. I like that I can work with paper to make a small painting that will be framed, or a larger installation piece made of multiple pieces of paper that over a wall.
My experience is that when a painting really needs to happen, it will not leave me alone, even if I have a ton of other paintings in line that I should be finishing up. I have to at least get that idea down on paper as much as possible. A lot of my art making process is about listening to those little thoughts and images as they arise as much as I can without censoring them. I’m definitely a first ideas person – get your first idea out and refine it later, don’t mull it over for all eternity trying to find a better idea, or make it something that would say this or that, suit this person or that person, or be one thing or another. Once they are out, the ideas are mine to change and manipulate in the making of the piece, but in the early stages, I try to just the ideas as much as possible. I also do work out of ideas by drawing in my sketchbook. Drawing is thinking, sometimes a better way of thinking. I often go back to those drawings as a starting place for creating pieces.
Rae: I noticed your illustrations seem to take on a comic illustration perspective, do you also agree with me?
Alexis: Yes for sure! Comics have been a huge influence on me. As a kid, I read Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, Archie (and all of his pals ‘n gals), Lynda Barry, Amphigorey, Matt Groening’ Life in Hell stuff, Zippy the Pinhead, the comics in Cricket magazine, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, among other things. I was never much for superhero comics as a little kid, although now I do have a collection of Golden Age Wonder Woman comics that are amazing. I continue to read lots of comics, including everything Lynda Barry does. I really, really love the Hernandez Brothers. They are beyond compare both in story and art, truly stellar- their female characters are brilliant, and it’s amazing to be able to see story arcs occurring over years and years.
Rae: How is it living and working as an artist in San Francisco? What do you love most about being an artist based in SF?
Alexis: The art community is great here. I grew up on the Oregon Coast and love being in a city that is also right next to the ocean, where I can take Muni to the beach!
Rae: What inspires your work these days?
Alexis: I have been working on a series of monster women that are a mix of literature, pop culture, fairy tales, personal history, and mythology. My work is inspired by pretty much everything that passes through my brainpan, catches my interest, or tugs at my heart. Some of those things are: the ocean, my personal history, my friends, relationships, books I’ve read, things I’ve heard, natural history, old illustration and comics, William Morris patterns, science fiction, and Doctor Who.
Rae: When are you most creative, at what time of the day?
Alexis: I’m in the studio a lot at night because I work a day job. I’m creative whenever I have to be, whenever I have time. I like to paint in the mornings on my days off – it feels so good to start the day painting and then I can just keep painting all day. My favorite time to paint is really Saturday night – it feels like the farthest point in my week from any other obligations, and the quietest, deepest time.
Rae: What was the most inspiring moment you had this year?
Alexis: Right now, everything kind of pales in comparison to how inspired I feel by the Occupy movement. I finally feel proud of America in a way, I’m not sure I ever have before. Art-wise, I went to the Alternative Press Expo this year and was very inspired by the way Kate Beaton talks about her work, reading her history comics aloud, almost like a stand-up routine. I like people who really have fun with their work like that. It’s cool to see artists really excited and entertained by their own work. People who really make work they love inspire me the most.
Rae: Any upcoming projects, trips, more shows? etc……….
Alexis: Worked on a squid costume for Halloween! I have a few things in the works, but not ready to talk about any of them yet. Soon, hopefully.
Rae: How would you describe your work to someone?
Alexis: Usually, I tell people that I make narrative paintings on paper that are drawing based, with use of a lot of color and line, have cut edges, and reference mythology, pop culture, literature, natural history, and personal narratives, and are populated by mermaids, boats, harpies, whales, monsters, women, fish, water, demons, etc. And that there’s a lot of water everywhere, usually.
Rae: Can you recall a memory of when you first started making art? How did you start being serious about it?
Alexis: I had a lot of hip surgeries as a kid for a condition I was born with, and was in a cast more often than not until after I was three years old. I remember drawing on my casts a lot with my mom, and sitting at the table drawing and painting a lot back then. She also let me draw on the walls of my bedroom. I got to keep the casts after they came off and had them for years- heavy plaster things with scrawled marker pen drawings all over them. I’m not entirely sure when I became “serious” about art, it just kind of happened because I didn’t like doing anything else quite as much as drawing and painting.
Rae: Having studied at SFAI. How did studying there influence your art making now?
Alexis: I feel like my time at SFAI really returned me to myself in terms of my painting practice. I came up against a wall with needing to find fun and excitement in making my work again, and I really fought to let myself make work that I loved. Grad school shook everything up in the way I was hoping for and brought me to the work I’m doing now, which I’m so grateful for – it feels like my real work. Because of this struggle, the most important part of what I found during grad school was a deep trust in my own vision and own process, the knowledge that I can see myself and my work through those difficult times- a feeling that I can really count on my artistic process.
Rae: Studying at SFAI, any teachers that are influential? What did he/she teach you most about?
Alexis: The teachers at SFAI are awesome and incredibly generous. When I was there, I worked with Caitlin Mitchell-Dayton, Mark Mulroney, Amy Ellingson, and Dewey Crumpler, among others. I feel like they all had a role in helping me understand my vision for my work in different ways. I also feel like I learned a lot about how to be a teacher myself from working with them. I think the most successful teachers are those who are able to share a lot of their own artistic process/struggle with their students – their honesty and compassion with themselves is something they bring to their students as well. That’s something I try to bring to my classroom when I teach now, too.
Rae: What impressed you most about the art department in SFAI, for you to pick the school?
Alexis: I loved the vibe of the studios at 3rd street and the Chestnut campus. I think this may have changed over the years, but at the time I was looking at schools, and the SFAI Chestnut campus really felt like a painting haven.
Rae: Yeah, I know what you mean, I totally agree with you on that one. And which cities have you lived in?
Alexis: Rochester, NY (until I was 8), Newport, OR, Portland, OR, San Francisco.
Rae: Any artist you want to collaborate with in the future?
Alexis: I would love to collaborate with a writer on a book project!
Rae: Any amazing gallery you love in the bay area?
Alexis: I just showed with Rollup Gallery in August, which was super fun.
Rae: Favorite place traveled? Why?
Alexis: The library – everything is there!
Rae: Lastly, what type of music or bands are you listening to right now while making art?
Alexis: Music is so emotional – it’s too much like painting for me to listen to music much in the studio. I mostly listen to audio books and podcasts because they put my mind into the right kind of distracted focus when I’m working. I’m a devout Nerdist podcast listener and also listen to all the usual suspects like the Moth, This American Life, etc, when I can. There is more media to consume than I can keep up with, which is so frustrating. I just finished the audio version of The Martian Chronicles, and currently listening to Ready Player One, which is awesome so far — and read by Wil Wheaton!
Rae: That wraps up the interview. Thank you, Alexis! Will be seeing more of your work in the future, I’m sure.
Another one of Alexis’s favorite quote: “A girl’s best friend is her mutter.” – Dorothy Parker