On this week’s episode of Art on the Air I spoke with Amy Pleasant, whose exhibition “Echo” is currently on view at Laney Contemporary. Although the works in the show appear simple, they are steeped in a deeply developed philosophy and artistic practice that the artist began exploring as a graduate student at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.
“In graduate school I started making these paintings that I called storyboard paintings.” Pleasant told me, “It’s a way to think out a scene on paper. So you would have like a grid where you’d draw scene to scene. And I was really interested in looking at a particular narrative or a particular scene from multiple perspectives. And how that could kind of break up the traditional way of making a figure painting.”
These early images concentrated on “ordinary, mundane” activities, focused on “how our bodies move when we’re not in a public space.” Pleasant’s subject matter included things like a figure moving through an interior space, or someone making a bed: Repetitive activities that we all do, but uniquely.
“I’m interested in how every single person has their own unique handwriting,” she added, “And just the fact that somebody makes a mark on a paper is then a documentation of a very specific moment in time. It’s like an ‘I am here’ kind of thing, just like cave drawings or cave paintings.”
The works in “Echo” distill this concept down even further, depicting the minimal detail necessary to communicate a distinct movement, to where they “start to look like symbols or pictograms.”
“I’m interested in how much can I simplify it but it still read as a figurative form,” she said, “and also you can get a sense of a specific gesture or the way the body moves, or you can maybe sense how the body moves.”
Despite the simple imagery, it would be a mistake to call the work straightforward. The paintings, drawings, and sculptures are all highly crafted. Pleasant incorporates a number of easy-to-miss details, like subtle paper dyes and gesture variations so slight that only careful engagement with the work rewards the viewer with a recognition of the differences between one and the next.
“In one sense I want to slow down that people are reading the work or experiencing the work,” she explained, “So when you approach something that you think you understand or know, you’ll start to recognize that the one next to it is not the same, it’s just slightly different.”
The pieces, including the sculptures, aren’t “sketched out and filled in” in advance, instead following the instincts of the artist.
“I can start with a very particular image [in mind], but it evolves over time.” Said Pleasant, “It evolves with each time that I make the mark on the paper.”
Continuing, she added, “You can’t draw the same thing twice. You can’t write the same thing twice. No moment is the same as the next.”
Laney Contemporary will be hosting an artist talk and book signing with Amy Pleasant on March 20th from 6-8pm. The gallery is located at 1810 Mills B Lane Blvd in Savannah.
Be sure to listen to my entire conversation with the artist here. The audio includes bonus Field Note interviews with Tamara Garvey, as well as Ben Tollefson and James Labuschagne!
Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org. Next week we’ll have Erin Wessling from W Projects in the studio, plus a Field Note with Dana Richardson from the Jepson Center talking about her new #art912 mural project!
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show “Art on the Air.”
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.