Exploring Luxury and Desire, One Light Fixture at a Time: An Interview with Amy Boone-McCreesh by Cara Ober

I tend to idealize flinty-eyed artists with shrewd, cool, uber-restraint; their work is perfect, nothing-but-the-essence cleverness and their editing process is brutal. They make such brilliant things! However, I am resigned to being the exact opposite kind of artist. Kitchen sink? Yes please, I’ll take three. Glitter? Why not? Poignant song lyrics by teenagers? Yes. Yes. Yes.

There are a lot of artists like myself who have no choice but to embrace exuberant maximalism, and I have huge respect for those who put the whole world into their work and manage to channel creative chaos into a visually cohesive form. Since she finished an MFA from Towson University in 2010, Baltimore-based artist Amy Boone-McCreesh has boldly embraced a “more is more” aesthetic, and it’s been fascinating to watch her work evolve to into unprecedented visual and conceptual forms (her work was featured on the cover of the BmoreArt Journal Issue 02). In her mixed media works and immersive installations, combinations of carefree and celebratory materials (think: Party City) coalesce into the loudest, most colorful visual cacophonies that pulse with a compelling rhythm and also offer a sly critique of the culture it envisions.

Lately Amy has expanded her mixed media works into immersive environments, spaces full of candy-colored faux decorative moldings and pastel linoleum floors inspired, at least in part, by Marie Antionette and Vogue. In her most recent solo exhibition, Objects of Desire, at Terrault Contemporary the artist partnered with designer and stylist Jess Hammer to collaboratively create a series of pendant lights and set the stage for a conversation about images of luxury goods, home decor, and the unrealistic desires they provoke.

“The work in this exhibition considers the commodification of beauty; often operating as a signifier of culture and taste while widening social and economic gaps,” reads the gallery statement. “Visual markers of taste in architecture, design, and history are utilized to poke at conceptions of luxury in Western culture.”

I met the artist in the gallery for a private walk through the show. We ended up talking about her home decor fantasies, art as guilty pleasure, how much we hate the internet, and Trump’s golden toilets. The following conversation followed.

Your show, Objects of Desire at Terrault Contemporary, is about luxury and desire because you have a love/hate relationship with these concepts. Can you talk a little bit about the best and worst aspects of luxury goods as you understand them and how your brain processes this concept ? I think this is at the heart of your obsession behind all the work that you do.

I think there is a part of everyone that wants to be comfortable and surrounded by beauty (whatever that means to them). The interesting part about that for me is that this is often contingent on exclusivity and access.

Luxury is and has always been presented as something that can be achieved through wealth or status. As a visual person I become so seduced by beautiful fabrics, colors, and an excess of objects but there has been a societal structure in place for a long time that informs us about what is desirable, what is good, and this is often dictated by access and expense. In my studio I really try to pull these things apart and upend the markers of taste and beauty and in a way, satisfy my desire to interact with these really lush spaces.

We live in this social media capitalistic world now, where it seems like the internet just exists to make us feel “less than” in order to sell us expensive things we don’t need. It’s a vicious cycle, but – in a way the hyper-frenetic energy of the internet mirrors the intensity and maximal aspects of your artwork. Do you have an answer for this gaping void in the work that you are making?? If so – what does your work suggest for those of us caught in a cycle of “wanting more”? Is it okay to want more and is there a right and wrong way to channel these desires?

The internet is so insane, I talk about this all the time with friends. It’s so perfectly integrated into our lives that I couldn’t imagine living without it, even though I did. I do think this has magnified the desire part, in terms of consumerism but also lifestyle.

The internet has also created this new aesthetic which is really bizarre. I don’t know if my work mirrors that but I do really enjoy walking the line of maximalism and being visually confronted with a lot of stuff at once. Figuring out how to formally organize lots of visual information at in a space is a fun challenge for me and often leads me to installation. I like being able to immerse a viewer in a space in a time when we are really screen oriented.

Before the internet was really going, as a kid, I was influenced by punk rock. Art school and punk rock go hand in hand in that they are hopefully asking you to question the systems in place around you. I don’t know anything about right and wrong ways to channel desire, but I do think it’s so important to ask about information being presented to you, regardless of content. For myself, I never want to feel like a lemming.

I think it’s part rebellion, part growing up outside of a lot of systems. Now that I teach college I try so hard to encourage students to really pull at the threads of ideas that have long been presented or just in their daily lives. The only way to break down stereotypes and ultimately, closed-mindedness, is to put people into the community that have the ability to trudge through the grey areas.

What inspires you and where do you get your ideas? Can you name some of the books, magazines, television, media, and/or film that has influenced you – both as a young kid and now as an adult?

Right now I am looking at a ton of interior design, researching markers of success or luxury over time, status symbols in architecture. (This is why it was important to me to change the floor, create lighting, and paint the walls in Terrault.) High fashion and the way it trickles down to everyday consumers. Dutch still life paintings are always in my mind, this idea that only the wealthy have access to fresh flowers or fruit is still so relevant. There’s something so bougie about having fresh flowers and a bowl full of produce, which is kind of ridiculous considering their origins on the earth.

I would say I am looking at more contemporary art right now, but in teaching I am always circling back to art history, which has a clarity about the way it reflects the time in which is was created. It makes me think about how we will look back at this time. I really love going to the movies and try to see as many at the Charles Theatre as I can.

When I was younger I was obsessed with Vogue, I think it was one of my first interactions with a visual world that ran counter to daily life. I really loved, and still do, the idea of a collection. Having many pieces in a fashion show that are all related but a little bit different in details and tone is something I still think about when making a body of work.

I think this show, Objects of Desire, and desire in general, is about guilty pleasures. What are your greatest guilty pleasures (in art and in life) that you’d be willing to admit publicly? 

I think there is some truth to that – why can’t I fill this space with color and over-the-top decorations!?

Maybe my work is my guilty pleasure? Using colors and textures and imagery that we have been told don’t go together or are too feminine or too much. I like fashion, good food, traveling. TV is great – I don’t know what determines what we should feel guilty about, I suppose it should be an internal guide. It’s a strange time to be alive – I think a lot about Marie Antoinette and even celebrity now, what’s the line of being so detached that you no longer have guilt or you only have pleasure that comes from only your own consumption? I guess in a way this is no different from any other time in human history.

There is a humorous quality to your work; it’s serious work but has a sense of humor about itself that appeals to me. Do you see this irony elsewhere in the world of luxury, wealth, and richness?

Yes, I see it all the time! The other day I saved some images that I saw online for a holiday event that took place at Barney’s in New York.  It was all about “making change.” There were standard photos of celebrities partying for the good of the cause, something with childhood education I think (which is great) but the party favors were these pink macaroons with fondant images of pennies on top of each one. It’s just such a weird visual – trays and trays of pink macaroons with pennies on top for rich people to eat!?

Can we talk about Donald Trump’s golden toilets??? Are you pro or against? To clarify – not pro or vs Trump, just those toilets. Would you want them in your house??

I saw the images of his apartment long ago in a magazine and have since revisited them. I mean, it’s just such a desperate attempt at saying, “I’ve got it all.” It’s in the same vein as Versailles, which I love, but goes back to this question of taste and beauty and that they don’t go hand in hand. They are great to look at, just the existence of these types of places.

I think if anyone wants a gold toilet they should be able to have one. I’d really like a pink or minty one, still waiting for the market on colored toilets to come around.

Decadent fantasy: If you could live in any environment or time period and be fully immersed in a sensual, material-rich, beautiful environment – where and when would that be?

Tony Duquette’s Dawnridge Estate or one of his interiors. He is a real inspiration to me and I believe he was a real artist. That, or somewhere in nature, because how can man compete with that??

How do you feel about merging the worlds of home decor with fine art and the way artists are doing this currently? Who are some of the artists you are looking at who may be leading you in your next, more maximal and immersive direction??

I’m into it. I think there should be more crossover. I think many of the art and design worlds are still so separate. I think ceramics and textiles are interesting because they are often made with the intention of living in a home, but can also exist as part of a larger story.

I like the idea of artists being more in charge of a grand idea, a visual language rather than just creating a piece that hangs on a wall or sits in a room. For this exhibition I collaborated with a friend, Jess Hammer on the Mesmerism Pendant Lights you see in the show. She is a stylist, does props and set design. We come from similar backgrounds but exist in different worlds day to day. She is constantly working in spaces that need to change quickly, for a photoshoot, for TV, etc.

It was so refreshing to work with someone that could solve problems and so quickly have a visual impact. As artists, we are in our own heads and studios for so long that sometimes it’s hard to get the work out until it’s “go” time. Jess and I have are high energy and have matching work ethics. We are both also really into that crossover space between art and design.

We took the idea of my garlands that I have installed a few times, and elevated them by changing materials and context. Using laser cut acrylic, copper, fabric, stones, and beads, these became the new garland systems we used with the pendant lights. We created seven for the show and plan to continue to think about how and where these types of objects can exist. It’s very freeing to work a little bit outside of the art world that I know and push the boundaries around where and how we can change the visual landscape.

 


 

Objects of Desire​: Amy Boone McCreesh (in collaboration with Jess Hammer) at Terrault Contemporary up through January 24, 2019. Closing reception Thursday, January 24: 6-8 pm.

Photos by Jill Fannon.