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See Your West 1. Work by Amy Thompson.

Playing with scale: Monumental work by Amy Thompson

By Diane Bond on February 13, 2013

Amy Thompson is back in town.

After taking a road trip out west a few years ago, the Ottawa-based artist and illustrator has returned with two separate exhibitions, Monument and Bookish, at the Ottawa Art Gallery’s (OAG) Art Rental and Sales and town.respectively. Through collage and mixed media, Thompson’s latest work reconstructs vintage postcards, photographic plates, and other reference materials (including library index cards), that play with elements of scale and take pleasure in the details.

I fell in love with Thompson’s work years ago, when she held a space at the Enriched Bread Artists studios, and have been following her work ever since. We recently exchanged words over email, where we discussed the evolution of her work since travelling through the American landscape, what she collects when on road trips, and the importance of paper in her artistic practice.

Apt613: How did the work in Monument develop?
Amy Thompson: I actually started both series in Portland. I wanted to make something different from my other work and I was experimenting with the images from Monument while I was making the library cards. The library cards are linked more closely to some of my older work, like the series Have a Good Time where I use flash cards and old images to create a narrative. So this work felt like something familiar while the Monument work was more of a departure.

What did you bring back with you to Ottawa, from out west?
I definitely brought back a love for the west coast landscape! I had never been out to the west coast before, I found the scale was so impressive – the size of the old growth trees, the flowering shrubs (that are house plants here), it really makes you feel connected to the landscape.

What is it about the American landscape that interests you, in terms of your artistic practice? 
Generally, I will discover images or materials that I respond strongly to – usually its an instinctual thing – I’ll find an image, or a book (or a book of wallpaper) that strikes a chord with me immediately. I may hold onto it for a while before coming up with how it needs to be worked out or it may happen instantaneously.

While the work at the OAG are National parks from the Western US, what interests me more than the specific places, is the time in which they come from and the tone it creates. I feel even though these landscapes are of specific places and are situated in the west, they provoke something from our unconsciousness. Forests and parks are something most of us grew up with (here in Ottawa) and have a special place in our memories, creating a nostalgia for something you may or may not have experienced. I’m attempting to create a feeling of idealism, something you want to hold onto. It’s more about the journey than the destination.

You have a talent for building up surfaces, integrating elements for collage from specific periods of time (vintage wallpaper in Up To No Good and Gloria series, for example). Where did your source your materials from for the work that makes up Monument?
I found a souvenir album from the 40’s called “See Your West” at my local Goodwill in Northwest Portland. I had also found a bunch of old Saturday Evening Post magazines from the early 60’s in Seattle and used the car/camper ads with the circles cut out of the landscape pieces to make a sub series (I call them Road Trip).

Installation view - Monument series. Work by Amy Thompson.

When you’re on a trip, what do you collect?
I’m always on the lookout for vintage or specialty paper. I poke around in any shop that looks untouched for a long time. Old office supply stores or junk shops that carry old books and ephemera are always a good bet. In Italy I loved collecting the bookbinding paper they make by hand, in Berlin I found an amazing antique shop that carried old ticket stubs to the zoo and bahn and war stamps.

The drawings in Bookish are delightfully precious. What do you enjoy about working small?
I’ve worked small for many years, it’s really due to the fact that most of the images I find are a specific size to start with (small!). So that really dictated the work as I would generally use the original images. There is always something very intimate about working small. You have to draw the viewer in close if you want them to actually see the detail, the line work, and it’s the same feeling when you create something small. There is an intimacy to the creation process.

Hare, from the Bookish series.

When did you start working on library index cards?
I’ve been using images of children in school settings for many years, and this lead to me collecting a lot of school-related items. I was given a handful of cards by a family member (who is a teacher) and I fell in love with the kids’ handwriting combined with the narrative of the book title, they really spurred my imagination. I have really fond memories of the library, especially in grade school when I would find all these magical books. My first cards were using images of kids in school that I did for a group show in LA. When the gallery owner asked me if I would do more for a solo show I decided to focus on images of animals. I always loved books on animals as a kid, discovering all these strange/beautiful creatures.

What is your favourite material to work with/on?
Paper of course! 

I ask because I imagine that your studio is filled with all kinds of printed materials: books and paper of all different types of sizes, colours, and patterns. I’m curious to know what materials you gravitate towards.
You imagine right, though I am very particular about what I keep. My studio is filled with old books, catalogues, magazines, encyclopaedias,  Japanese paper, vintage wall/wrapping paper, printed paper napkins. I try and organize them by size/material to make it easier to find things.

Monument will be on display (and for sale) until February 23 at the OAG’s Art Rental and Sales gallery.
Bookish will be hanging at town. indefinitely.