MAKERS: Amy Casey
I remember the first time I saw Amy Casey’s work. It was at the SPACES 30th Anniversary Exhibition back in 2008. I see a lot of shows, and I can barely remember my phone number sometimes, but Casey’s world left a lasting impression. It’s a world of towering buildings, houses stacked upon houses upon houses, buildings swinging in fishing nets, precarious and chaotic, but simultaneously so inviting – the amount of detail lures the viewer in, and soon you find yourself lost in tiny alleys, ramps, windows, doors, wait, is that the Euclid Tavern?
Yes, it is. In fact, every single structure in Casey’s work is a real building. I knew that some were, because you will occasionally see a landmark, but all?! This bit of information blew my mind. If you have seen Casey’s paintings, yours might be blown as well.
In her Tremont studio, she has a large painting in progress hanging on the wall. And while my mind was still reeling about the realness of the buildings, she showed me the stack of photographs she had used for this painting – so far.
Each photograph depicts a single building, and she keeps them separated out so there are no repeats. I ask her where these buildings are, and she said mostly Cleveland, but other towns too (she picks new ones up when she travels, but the “Cleveland-flavor” of these buildings is apparent to anyone familiar with the local architecture). My jar drops further as she shows me her “building filing system”. Hundreds, maybe thousands of photographs are stored away in these cabinets, classified by number of floors. 3 = Three-story buildings, and so on.
There are also bridges, of course. I love that Amy works with hard-copy photographs, printed “the old fashioned way”, but am not surprised. Her painting technique is likewise fairly traditional – I asked what her favorite tool was, and she said, “I have a fondness for Winsor & Newton Series 7 paint brushes – so pointy and precise! I am not always kind to my brushes though, so I supplement with lots of lower rent brushes too…”
The other thing I notice is the variety of magnets – everywhere – Casey organizes her space primarily using magnets. “I’m addicted to magnets. If I could just completely sheet all of my studio walls in metal and magnet everything, I would.”
The space is pretty tidy, in that everything is within arm’s reach – and every metallic surface is covered with things stuck on by magnetic force.
There is another painting in-progress in the second room, this one vertically oriented, with a blue palette. I ask her if all of her paintings are planned out in advance: “I almost always have a plan as I begin a painting – whether it is a commission or not – though some plans are more complete than others. Whether or not the painting sticks to that plan is another thing altogether. I try to go with the flow if things aren’t working or seem to want to change. It’s helpful to be flexible.”
Compositionally, she uses sketches to plan the layout – I can see this without asking, as various configurations of the other large painting are tacked up all over the walls (as well as her “grey chart” – which shows several brands’ “Paynes Grey”, and how much they vary).
In the paintings’ early stages, Casey sketches out the buildings as stacks of blank floors – waiting for assignment. You can see that she is working from right to left across the composition, and to a very high level of finish before she moves on.
I ask her where she gets her inspiration, and Casey explains that inspiration for her work “comes mostly from the real world around me and a little bit from anxiety dreams and news from the world at large. One painting often ends up informing the next. I find public transportation is a place I come up with lots of weird ideas. (some more useful than others). Nothing like staring out a grimy window at the streets to get my brain working. I have been trying to get an art reading/looking habit going again (I have a bad tendency to get a little disconnected) and lately I’ve been looking at and digging Rousseau, Bill Traylor, Morandi, Martin Puryear, Laura Owens. I don’t think that is particularly reflected in my work though.” I agree. I don’t see so much as a hint of Laura Owens, but I do see a kinship with Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famous Tower of Babel. In fact, I thought this back in 2008 at SPACES – so I’m happy to see that she has a postcard of the painting on the wall.
A friend gave it to me, she explains – she didn’t even know of the painting until the friend pointed it out. I love that her work is a product of her imagination, and honestly, I can’t think of anything like it. This is probably why Casey has enjoyed so much success. Cleveland artist and critic Douglas Max Utter counts Casey “among the most accomplished painters of her generation currently showing anywhere in the US,” and predicts that “her career will continue to progress on a national and international level.” And it has. Her work has been shown across the country, she is represented by Zg Gallery in Chicago, and right now she is in Finland for a residency. Finland. Not to mention she has garnered tons of attention overseas in print. She shows me a binder overflowing with clippings, and in some cases entire magazines – here’s our favorite. Free hugs indeed.