Amy-Leigh Bird

Amy-Leigh Bird

 

“My cabinet pieces aim to reconnect people with a sense of the past, place, and nature, in a way which they may have lost sight of in a time of rapid change and disposability.”

 
 

Tell us about your background, where did you grow up and where did you study art?

I come from a working class background. For most of my childhood I lived on a council estate just outside of Farnham in Surrey, which ironically is a very wealthy area, but I lived a pretty polarised existence from the majority of people there. I don’t like using class as a defining feature of myself, but it has undeniably had an impact on my identity and artistic practice.

After my A-Levels I wanted to move as far away as possible, so I went to study at The Glasgow School of Art. Initially I struggled with the transition from small town girl to city dweller, but upon reflection I appreciate having explored my practice whilst transforming from a teenager to an adult. This was quite overwhelming initially but now I have a strong affection for the city. I will always be grateful for the community that stuck by me during my time there, especially the close friendships that I formed with friends and technicians across the school. This has been vital to my practice up until now.

How has your practice change over time?

Initially I painted a lot at college. This was partly due to the shape of our curriculum and my perception of what professional art should look like. During my time at GSA I quickly realised that painting was not the medium that worked for me anymore. I started working more with printmaking and here I found my most natural artistic expression: this was chiefly in etching. Photography had always been a passion of mine, but when I learnt that the two mediums could be combined with photo-polymer plates it was an epiphany moment in my practice. I finally started to work with a clearer idea of my artistic process.

What is your artwork about? Tell us about your subject matter.

This is difficult to answer because I have many concepts which I’m interested in and they all feed into each other in different ways. I am a multidisciplinary artist working in printmaking, painting, sculpture and installation. Nature is one of my main inspirations, and also how that intersects with human society, especially when confronting the terrifying truth of the Anthropocene.

Another main thread in my work is the psychology of collecting, which is a topic I am exploring further in my studio practice. I collect and give life back to objects that have been disregarded or lost. I love using humble and decaying materials. In some ways, I would describe my work as rustic. I play with the juxtaposition between the pristine white cube of an art gallery and the materiality of decay and rust. My work celebrates the mundane, both natural and manmade, and I enjoy displaying my work in a way which feels accessible to people’s everyday lives. The cabinet does this, as we all curate our own lives with the objects that we choose to surround ourselves with. I am interested in art within the domestic setting: memorabilia, collections, and souvenirs.

As part of my MA and current on-going practice I am examining the psychology of collecting. I want to understand why we collect and whether it may have been the first form of art. My work sees collecting as an essential and intrinsic part of the human experience in that it allows the individual to express their identity through the selection and presentation of objects. My cabinet pieces aim to reconnect people with a sense of the past, place, and nature, in a way which they may have lost sight of in a time of rapid change and disposability.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you or effected your work?

A hugely influential artist in my practice is the work of Richard Long. When I was 14 years old I went to his retrospective at Tate Modern. This was one of the most revolutionary moments in my artistic outlook as a young girl. Long’s work helped me to understand art as something more than just the traditional forms which I had been educated with. It gave me an insight into creative processes which used different materials. I find his work builds a relatable link between the intimate and primordial aspects of the human condition. His use of these basic materials like mud and rocks struck a chord in me, having spent most of my childhood playing with these same things.

Perhaps this experience simply speaks for the earlier real-life situations that influence my practice. A focal point of my childhood was taking these long walks on the beach near Aberystwyth whilst on holiday with my Dad. The entire time I would be filling a bag with the rocks and pebbles that caught my eye. By the end of our walk he’d be forcing me to lighten the load but I would keep finding more booty on the shore to take home. These two experiences sit side-by-side for me in importance. They inform each other, with the Richard Long exhibition showing how my own childhood fascinations could be translated into a meaningful project.

Can you tell us about your approach to a new project? How do you find a starting point?

My work tends to originate from photographing or scanning collected items. I’ll use academic texts to help inform my concepts and then use printmaking to explore visual outcomes.

I like to use my 35mm camera to document objects. The process behind developing an image is nearly as complex as creating a print. I quite like labouring over one image and exploring all it’s avenues. Because I’ve never been a particularly strong drawer, I find within print that I can translate my ideas through the initial inspiration of photography. I have never really worked with a sketchbook and I am much more hands-on, consistently looking for an immediate end product. In a way, my practice always starts with collecting, and I have no set space or place or time limit to this. I like to explore a specific landscape and collect objects which catch my eye, a bit like a magpie.

Tell us about your studio and your routine?

As an emerging artist who is not from a financially stable background, my time in the studio is dependant on when I have the money. I pay an open access rate at Thames-side Print studio and I try my best to get in once every week or fortnightly. I will manoeuvre between etching and screen-printing normally alternating each week. During my degree I was able to use the print studio constantly, spending almost every day in there. But luckily, my practice also revolves around being outdoors and collecting from my local environment. I could never be entirely sure if this has arisen from my financial needs or from a natural inclination, but it helps to have some kind of an output whenever I can’t access the studio or the resources that I need to.

Name some artists you're inspired by, and why?

As I’ve already mentioned, Richard Long is a consistent influence.

Mark Dion and his project ‘The Thames Dig 1999’ has been influential and holds many parallels with my own work. I love the fusion between art, science and archaeology which is something that Dion embodies.

I could list off hundreds, but a few to name are: Cornelia Parker, Michael Landy, Eva Hesse, Rachel Whiteread, contemporary artist Shaun Fraser, Olafur Eliasson, Jannis Kounellis and Kurt Schwitters.

Do you have any news, projects or shows coming up?

Yes! I have two solo shows coming up this July. The first will be held in my hometown of Aldershot at The West End Centre on the 1st of July and the other on the 23rd of July at the Anise Gallery in Shad Thames.

The first exhibition involves me revisiting the work I made for my degree show and exploring it further. Expect a lot of rusty etchings. My second exhibition will feature works made about objects I have collected from the River Thames. It will explore the psychology behind collecting as both a hobby and an obsession.

Evi Pangestu

Evi Pangestu