Interview with the Artist : Amanda Usher

Amanda Usher Artist

" To me, artistic practice involves continued experimentation and play and that leads me to jump from one style to another "

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How did you first become interested in art, and when did you decide to become a professional artist?

I’ve been interested in art for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t take it seriously until my late 20’s when I decided to return to college to study it full time. I initially didn’t plan on becoming a professional artist, I purely wanted to take time away from the corporate world to study something I enjoyed. However, I found it difficult to separate myself from it and at the end of 2022, I decided to focus on painting full time.

How would you describe your artistic style? Which artists or artistic movements have had the greatest influence on your work?

I don’t think I have one particular style as I feel that’s quite restricting creatively. To me, artistic practice involves continued experimentation and play and that leads me to jump from one style to another.

Some of my favourite artists include Daniel Pitin, Edward Hopper, Jenny Saville, Gerhard Richter, Dorothea Tanning and Anselm Kiefer to name a few.

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Can you walk us through your creative process? How does an idea evolve from its inception to a completed work of art?

Firstly, I decide on the subject or theme I want to explore and then I set about how to bring it to life. I often use photo references to help me and I use either found online images or I’ll create my own using photography. I’m not great at keeping a sketchbook, but if I have multiple ideas, I will use one to trail the composition and the colour palette. If I need to be in any way accurate, I might use the grid method and roughly sketch onto the canvas first, but otherwise I get straight into painting.

What influences your work? Can you give an example of a piece where this influence is particularly evident?

The world and environment around me. I divide my time between Ireland and Greece and I find myself being influenced by both cultures. The Greek flea market and its endless rows of fresh fruits and vegetables inspire my still life. Irish culture and life have inspired paintings such as ‘Aran Island Pub Scene’ (2020). The global warming crisis has inspired my wildfire paintings and photographic techniques have inspired my abstract bokeh style paintings.

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Amanda-Usher Irish Artmart Irish Artmart

How do you choose these materials, and what do they add to your work?

I primarily paint with oil and gouache as I find they have great versatility and range.  I’ll use oil when I want elements of heavy texture and I’ll use gouache when I my time is more restricted as the drying time between the two is huge. I find that I complete a lot of commissions in gouache for this reason.

What feelings or messages do you hope to convey through your work?

My mood can impact on my colour palette and I often find myself using vibrant colours when my mood is low. I use colour as response to when I feel the world around me is dull or beige (I detest beige). So, when I paint using bright colours it makes me feel more uplifted and engaged and I hope others feel that way too when they view one of these pieces.  

Saying that, I switch to monochrome when I want to convey a memory or when looking retrospectively. Memories can be hazy, distorted and faded, so monochrome just feels like a better fit to me.

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amanda usher Irish Artmart Irish Artmart

Over your career, how has your artistic style evolved or changed? Are there specific experiences or phases in your life that have impacted your art?

I’m quite early in my career so I don’t think I’ve had much time for evolution as of yet. Come back to me in a few years.

Do you have any recurring themes or symbols in your art? Can you share their significance and why they are important to you?

Some of my recurring themes are still life, portraiture, memory, wildfires, colour and texture exploration.  I tend to cycle through these regularly, finding new references to guide me along the way. If I’m responding to an exhibition theme, I’ll try to find a way to respond to it while keeping these in mind.

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How has being part of the arts scene in Ireland influenced your work and career?

In 2020 I began working as an Admin and Membership Officer with the Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network. This role exposed me to other artforms that I hadn’t learned about in art school. It expanded my knowledge on what art could be and how it could be made accessible outside the gallery space. I also got to meet some amazing artists and arts workers along the way.

Can you tell us about a piece that posed significant challenges to you? What were those challenges and how did you overcome them?

I found ‘The Beekeeper’ to be a quite a challenge and it took me a long time to complete. I started it in late 2020, when I had no studio space and very little motivation to paint. I think it was my first attempt at painting in nearly 5 months and I found myself getting very frustrated as I couldn’t get into any creative flow. I walked away from it several times, but I finally completed it in 2022 when I eventually found myself a dedicated space to create in. I’m so glad now that I didn’t give up on the piece as I feel it’s quite strong.

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amanda usher Irish Artmart Irish Artmart

How do you handle creative blocks, and what strategies do you use to stay inspired?

I find that looking at other artists and their creative processes can really helpful with creative blocks. The Tate Modern has a tonne of informational videos on various artists over on their YouTube channel. Watching these videos and seeing how other artists work is a fantastic motivator to get your own mind working. Great Art Explained is another great channel to learn how the great masters worked. I also try to visit galleries and exhibitions whenever I can.

Do you have a favourite piece that you've created? If so, can you tell us the story behind it?

My favourite piece has to be ‘House on Fire’ that I created during my time in college in 2019. The piece captures the devastating impact of forest and wild fires. From a technical point of view, I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could successfully recreate the fluidity of fire and smoke via oil paint.  It was a very messy process involving a lot of white spirits, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it! I have since switched to eco friendly solvents as I try to be more mindful in my practice.

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How has the digital age and the rise of social media influenced your art practice?

I’m not a huge fan of social media but I do feel it’s a necessary tool for artists today. Platforms like Instagram be noisy and crowded spaces and they allow you to very easily to slip into a mindset where you to compare yourself to others. However, if you can stay true to who you are as an artist and focus on your own work, it can be a great way to showcase your art and even generate sales.

Do you engage in any other creative practices that feed into your art, such as poetry, music, or dance?

Music and film can often spark ideas. It could be an interesting composition of a scene or a poignant song lyric and I’ll start to imagine an accompanying visual image in response. The unfortunate thing is that I often forget these ideas as I’m not very good at jotting them down into my sketchbook.

Can you share what you're currently working on or any upcoming projects? What can our readers look forward to seeing from you next?

I’m currently returning to the wildfire theme after a three-year break. I have invested in some good quality eco-friendly white spirits to execute the technique I use with oil paint, and I’m also looking to recreate the technique using gouache.

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