Widely known as the talented producer and amusing host of the popular podcast Pep Talks for Artists, Amy Talluto uses the tagline “shuffling along the artist’s road.” We were curious about Amy’s own path in the studio, which has recently moved away from her beautiful, award-winning, landscape paintings to something more idiosyncratic and surreal. The following are excerpts from our email exchange.
Two Coats of Paint: Hi Amy. When Two Coats first became aware of your work, your paintings were beautiful, deep woodland scenes that you have said in interviews are related to your experience as an unhappy teenager growing up across from a vacant lot. The patch of land became the subject for a series of drawings and paintings. Now you have expanded your practice to include ceramics, and the sculptures have become quasi-figurative models in your paintings. Can you talk about how the transition came about?
Amy Talluto: I’d say the transition was set in motion by the pandemic and collage. Stuck at home during the lock-down, I started cutting up failed paintings and re-combining them to make strange new spaces filled with landscape fragments. The work that was generated by that chaotic collage pile of scraps felt so mysterious and evocative, and the abstractions and new space I discovered there made it impossible to go back to the old way of working. Making the collages was sort of a “jump the track” moment for me. All of a sudden, my train was barreling off into this phantasmic surrealist world and the purely representational painting was receding in the rearview mirror.
Right now, my studio mantra is “Surprise is the Prize.” I’m on a path right now of discovery and reinvention that began with representational landscape painting, then moved to abstracted landscape through collage, and is now finding those abstracted landscapes peopled with characters. These characters can also move between mediums and works and can act out little narratives. It’s like writing a novel in some ways, in that the protagonist and story can take on a life of their own despite the author’s original intentions. In this new way of working, images and scenes come to my mind unprompted (vs before, when I would purposely search out a place to represent). It’s important to me also to allow a spirit of play and humor to come in too.
Because my newer work is character-driven, it can choose to take 2-D or 3-D form interchangeably. Characters can be combined or grouped too. For example, what if a specific tree got put into different situations like becoming a Staffordshire spill vase decoration or cloning itself into multiples to form a ring, and then later jumped into a painting? Or, what if an abstracted face shape in a collage became a sculpture, or grew legs and walked around in a painted cloudscape? Related sculptures and paintings can also be installed together as an installation. It’s all one big fenceless open floorplan universe.
I should mention that, with the exception of one ceramic piece, the sculptures are actually made from Super Sculpey clay. They are made with aluminum foil and wire armatures, covered with a thin, ½ inch skin of the polymer clay, baked in the oven at 275 degrees and then painted with matte medium, oil paint and linseed oil. I love working at home with Sculpey because it’s fast and it’s easy to get ideas out quickly…without having to depend on a kiln. I’m also a painter at heart, and I love the materiality of paint and how it transforms the objects and cures on the surfaces
TCOP: What have been the biggest influences on your art practice for the past few years?
AT: I loved visiting “Matisse: The Red Studio” at MOMA in 2022 because of how the curators allowed the paintings and sculptures and the paintings of paintings and sculptures to move between real life and representation in the room. For example, there was that little brown clay figure, “Upright Nude with Arched Back,” that was pretty rough-hewn and had truncated limbs. It was installed on a pedestal right in front of the famous “Red Studio,” and you could see an image of it inside the painting and how Matisse had made it come alive there in a languorous way (lengthening the arms so that they rose up and bent behind the body in paint). It was exciting for me to see an artist blending sculpture and painting together in that way. It felt like portals.
Another big influence on my work is the “Portrait of (Pauline) Princess Albert de Broglie” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres at the Met. It’s a powerful painting that seems like a living being to me, and I’ve always been fascinated by it because it has the aura of my mother. In school I made many copies of it, but hadn’t thought about it much until this summer when I was startled to discover it popping back up in my work in the strangest way. One of my collages of a forest waterfall had an abstract fragment with some blue painted lines on it in the bottom right corner and it seemed to have a figural presence. Lo and behold, it overlays perfectly as an abstract rendition of the Princess’s face. It was the Ingres! I affectionately refer to this abstracted Princess as the “Blockhead” Ingres, but I also like the idea of using the famous painting’s non-abstracted face in future works.
Victorian Staffordshire spill vases and their vermillion esophagi are a big part of my work as well. Spill vases were mantel piece pottery vases made to hold coils of wood for lighting candles from the fireplace before matches were invented. They even figure as the solution to an Agatha Chrystie mystery! I love how weird they look with their central tubes painted a scary fiery red-orange inside and then some sheep or cows or other idyllic scene are sculpted around them to pretty them up. I have collected them for years, but lately it’s been fun to try my own spin on them in painted sculpey.
A lot of the “spill vases” and sculptures I make reference a specific dead tree that I found one day on a hike Upstate. It was smooth and bleached white, looked a bit like a rearing cobra, and had grown straight up from some bluestone rock rubble. The top of it was diamond shaped with a central knot in the middle and it had a little side flap of remaining bark, like a hand. This soon became a character in my paintings and sculptures and can be seen portrayed in countless scenarios. The actual tree has since disappeared from the trail and I think sometimes I make these works to honor its inexhaustible eerie magnificence.
I’m also very into Marsden Hartley’s backlit clouds; Betty Woodman’s ceramic installations; Judy Glantzman’s work (including her Super Sculpey sculptures) and studio philosophies; the collages of Dada artist, Hanna Hoch; the tragicomic feminist photomontages of German-Argentinian artist, Grete Stern (about whom I want to do a podcast episode soon); and of course, all the inspiring things artists tell me on the podcast.
TCOP: Since we first met during a Two Coats of Paint Conversation with the crew at LABspace, you have gone all in with conversation projects — on Clubhouse, and now you host the popular Pep Talks for Artists podcast. And you have just announced a monthly column for Art Spiel. Will the podcast continue?
AT: Pep Talks for Artists, the podcast, is still alive and well! I absolutely love making it and don’t plan to stop any time soon. New episodes will come out each month this year and I can’t wait to share them. Since I have been podcasting over a year now, I have a sizeable archive of shows “in the can,” as they say. Many are solo “audio essays” that were scripted to be read. Etty Yaniv kindly invited me to start a column on her blog Art Spiel and re-issue twelve previous podcast episodes as text, with illustrations. “Whisperings from the Wormhole with @talluts,” will come out the first week of every month in 2023 on artspiel.org.
TCOP: Thanks Amy. We’re looking forward to all of it.
About the artist: Amy Talluto, originally from New Orleans, currently lives and works in Hurley, NY. In 2018 she was awarded a NYFA/NYSCA Artist Fellowship in Painting and has participated in residencies at the Saltonstall Foundation (NY), Ucross Foundation (WY), Provincetown Dune Shacks & the Byrdcliffe Colony (NY). Her work has been included in shows at Jeff Bailey Gallery, the Berkshire Botanical Garden, the Samuel Dorsky Museum, Geoffrey Young Gallery and Wave Hill Gardens. Her 2018 solo exhibition at Black & White Gallery (Brooklyn), “The Grape of the Air,” was selected as a Critics Pick in Artforum. Education: BFA, Washington University in St. Louis; MFA, School of Visual Arts in New York.