Yes Please Thank You
August 10— September 8, 2018
Melanie Flood Projects is pleased to announce 'Yes Please Thank You' a solo exhibition of new paintings by Portland based artist Amy Bay. The show will open Friday, August 10 and run through September 8, with an artist reception held on Saturday, August 11 from 12pm to 3pm. This will be Bay's first exhibition with the gallery.
The paintings in “Yes Please Thank You” are something of a departure for Amy Bay, though they are rooted in ideas she has been pondering for several years. These rich and evocative works, with their myriad layers of references and gender coding, were born from a deep interest in the conventions of the “feminine,” as proscribed in art and in society. In her imagery and in her titles, drawn from poetry, from samplers, and from the discourse of politeness, Bay explores ways in which women have claimed a space in a painting tradition that has favored the male artist.
Bay’s training and practice involved sculpture, drawing, photography, and site-specific installations. While she had some experience in painting, she did not study it in any depth. As a mature artist, she was intimidated by the weight of its history and her relative ignorance of the medium. But a few years ago she began making gouache renderings of fabrics—she had experimented with textile surface design by taking a few classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology-- and also thinking about the importance of the grid in modern art. She looked at work by a range of women, from the austere elegance of Agnes Martin to the gestural strength of Dana Schutz to the rococo flourishes of Florine Stettheimer. And slowly, she started to paint, moving from gouache (which she curiously considered a drawing medium) to oil paint. What first evolved were abstractions—interwoven lattices of color that play with notions of space, depth, and texture—a kind of reimagining of the grid, with its power to command and control a surface.
In 2017, Bay turned her focus to flowers—specifically, to the traditions that have assigned flowers to femininity—and to challenging those traditions. She delved into the ways in which flowers have been depicted in everything from classical still life paintings (in western culture, a genre thought suitable for women) to folk art, including theorem paintings: the art of using stencils to paint on velvet. She looked at embroidery, Golden Books, wall coverings, textiles, and the overly saccharine worlds of greeting cards and giftwrap. She reread Rozsika Parker’s The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the making of the feminine. She thought about the negative associations of “decoration” and the thin line that divides the lusciously beautiful from the grotesque. And she considered flowers, not as botanical specimens, but as colors and as abstract shapes. In so doing, she removed them from the realm of the feminine and resituated them in a modernist context.
Bay’s paintings are subtly overwhelming and assertive. They evoke the celebration of natural beauty and the messages of mortality encoded in early still life paintings, while also nodding to abstraction, and to kitsch. The addition of marble dust, glitter, and graphite powder animates her paintings, where passages of impasto alternate with thin layers of oil paint.
In works such as Rest Your Head and You Worry Too Much, she loads the surfaces with an array of flower shapes, changing the still life convention into a visual overload, made even more dizzying by the addition of checkerboard and lattice patterns. Here, you are looking not so much at a composition as at a cropped section of one, in which shapes are deliberately cut off: there is simply too much for the painting to contain. A Letter Was Nicely Sent is one of a series of quieter, small paintings. The title suggests its source in a greeting card, which its size (7 by 5 inches) also alludes to. In a larger work such as Xanadu (Now We Are Here), the silver flashe ground references wallpapers of a certain era: Bay likes its reflective and intransigent qualities.
Seen together, the works in this exhibition mark the ways in which Bay is, as she puts it, “pushing back at some of the associations with flowers and femininity, such as delicacy, frailty, obedience.” While there is no overt political reference, they are paintings with questions imbedded in them: in particular, questions about the roles of women and the idea of the “feminine” in our contentious era.
–Text by Prudence F. Roberts
Amy Bay (b. Elkhart, IN) is a painter based in Portland, OR. Bay holds a BFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from Winchester School of Art. She also completed the London-based Turps Banana Correspondence Course for painters. Bay's heavily worked paintings use motifs and imagery that draw from decorative sources. She values the subjective, the emotional, error and mishap. She is interested in the mutability of the picturesque and conventional feminine imagery. Bay has exhibited her work at venues in the Pacific Northwest including UNA and Occasional Gallery as well as throughout New York City at Peninsula Art Space, The Painting Center, The Drawing Center, Printed Matter, Brooklyn Public Library, and The Bronx Museum of the Arts. She has shown internationally in group and solo shows and has been awarded grants and projects from the Regional Art and Culture Council, The Lower East Side Printshop, Dieu Donné Papermill and Women's Studio Workshop. She teaches at Portland Community College and Village Home Education Resource Center.
Prudence F. Roberts is an art historian, writer and sometime curator. She recently retired from Portland Community College from her positions as Professor of Art History and the Director of the Helzer Art Gallery. From 1987-2000 she was Curator of American Art at the Portland Art Museum. She has written on a number of Northwest artists, including James Lavadour, Lucinda Parker, Kartz Ucci, Ben Buswell, Terry Toedtemeier and others. Roberts is a board member of Crow's Shadow institute of the Arts and a committee member of the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition.