Q+Art: Artist Amy Reidel Confronts the Monster of Love with Glitter and Blood
St. Louis-based artist Amy Reidel is a ferocious new mother. Hunkered down in the conservative heartland, the multidisciplinary artist creates glittery paintings, drawings, and sculptures that belie the bloody and often brutal business of being a mother.
Reidel, a first-time progressive mother, turns the personal political by confronting the powerful forces pulling mother and child apart. Whether by government intervention, climate disaster, or devastating illness, the threat of separation looms large in her deceptively sparkly works. Reidel’s bruised, broken, and frightful female figures illuminate a truth rarely spoken but tacitly acknowledged by mothers and caregivers the world over: that true love is determined by a willingness to sacrifice—and that sacrifice comes with a steep cost.
By bathing her monstrous figures in rainbow colors and glitter, Reidel reimagines our syrupy obsession with happy endings and fairytales as a protective filter shielding us from the crushing realities of that sacrifice. Her intensive layering process suggests an aggression rarely assigned to maternal figures in patriarchal cultures. There’s a magical, elusive quality to her works, one that abandons piety and quiet suffering for the uproarious joy and razor-sharp pain of motherhood.
Reidel sees how this pain is often dismissed or passively accepted. “My work abstractly illuminates what many women and caregivers experience but are not encouraged to discuss,” she notes in her artist statement. In fact, Reidel creates a distinctly domestic setting for her characters to express their emotions. Decorative patterns evoke images of rugs, drapes, and scarves, while her use of glitter conjures a Disney-princess fantasy. In this safe, shared space, Reidel’s maternal figures find camaraderie and candy-colored hope—even if the taste is slightly bittersweet.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Amy Reidel discusses “the mess of loving another human,” crafting cardboard dollhouses with her daughter, and the satisfaction that comes with proving the art establishment wrong.
Which books, fiction or nonfiction, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Amy Reidel: Whatever they're into besides art! For me, it's cooking, so I have a decent cookbook collection. Art and Fear was always an easy one to come back to, in regards to maintaining an art practice. Wet: On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture by Mira Schor was like reading a compilation of art reviews the way they should have been written the first time…WITHOUT the skew of misogyny and the patriarchy.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
AR: Georgia O'Keeffe. I lived where she lived in Abiquiu, New Mexico, and would love to talk to her about her long-distance marriage, the Southwest, and painting.
What are you trying to express with your art?
AR: Erika Hess from I Like Your Work podcast said it best so far: "She shows us the underbelly of care, and the mess of loving another human…to love is to straddle a line between sorrow and joy, and she walks this line with precision, balancing the wide-eyed struggle of her figures with colorful, dazzling, sparkly hope." I couldn't say it better myself.
What person has most influenced your work?
AR: My mother. Our relationship has been the root of most of my subject matter for many, many years, whether abstraction or representation. Now, it's shifting a bit since I am a mother too, with a daughter. But the same caregiving/layered relationship dynamic is there.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
AR: That I'm almost 40 and I'm still making work. Nothing has stopped me yet. Not for too long anyway. We were told in art school how unlikely it was that any of us would be making work five years past graduation. Such a terrible way to set us up for success, but I do like proving people wrong.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
AR: It was from my friend Marie Oberkirsch, a printmaker here in St. Louis. I was in a state of anxiety about moving forward in life, career, possibly having a child, etc. Feeling like I needed to be making all of these huge decisions. Marie told me that another option is to do nothing. That life will happen for me either way. It was such a relief to hear that. And she was absolutely right.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
AR: My grandma, who barely finished high school (and maybe didn't?), told me that no one can ever take my education away from me, making it the best investment. However, the rates of tuition now, especially for a studio art degree without ANY prospects of financial security or success, are not exactly what she had in mind, I don't think. Being "worth it" is up to each individual. For me, it was. I knew I wanted to teach college art and you can't do that without an MFA. I also knew there was a lot I was missing in regards to art theory, history, and criticism. My graduate degree educated me on much that I was not prepared to seek out for myself. And provided me with a community of other artists to critique and grow from. People can certainly make these strides without the attachment of a school, but at the time, I didn't know how to do that.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
AR: The lack of support for women artists and those that are parents, especially. I felt connected to artists my whole life as kind of an outsider or semi-marginalized person at my high school, friend group, family, etc. I found a kinship with other artists. Then I decided to become a mother. Now I don't really fit in much of anywhere. The art world thinks I'm a mommy square and typical society doesn't get my unusual art life or personality.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
AR: I'm listening to the Unruffled podcast by Janet Lansbury about respectful parenting, I Like Your Work podcast, podcasts about living with endometriosis and healing your body, and indie rock from, like, 2006.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
AR: What practice? Just kidding. Kind of. My practice stalled out big time with COVID. All childcare was lost and my teaching had to be done virtually. During this time, I focused my energy on cooking (yep, I definitely did have a sourdough starter going), and making cardboard dollhouses and paintings with my daughter. When I made it back to my studio, I found myself only able to work on smaller works on paper and my ceramic sculptures. Painting has been very difficult for over a year now. More difficult than usual, I mean.
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will impact the art world in the long term?
AR: I think about this all the time. The work that will have been produced in response to COVID and all that entails—illness, death, isolation, the work that will be missing from artist-parents (AGAIN), the changes that will occur in architecture, design, and workplace demands. I hope the art world tastemakers and funders see just how close many artists are to poverty and losing everything on the regular even without a pandemic and make changes to ensure that artists of all backgrounds, not just the privileged, have a chance to be successful.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
AR: I'm most excited about my ceramic sculptures and the little rag-rugs I've been weaving. These practices that I am not trained in are usually those that I'm most excited about. Feels so experimental and liberating to not be weighed down by too much theoretical and historical baggage. I do, however, remain mindful to not negate the work that trained ceramists and fiber artists have achieved. But as a painter by trade and education, holy shit, it is delightful to just use my hands and invent the imagery freely.
This article has been edited for content and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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