Q&A with Amy Adler

We talked to the Los Angeles-based artist about her solo exhibition Audition on view at Night Gallery in LA.

Amy Adler, Shower Scene, 2023. Photo: Nik Massey. Courtesy the artist and Night Gallery, Los Angeles.

Q: What is the most affecting story you heard recently?

A: I listen to books while I work in my studio, so I’ve heard a few amazing stories lately. I’ll just mention a few that stand out. I recently read Hunger by Roxane Gay, The Pink Marine by Greg Cope White and Octavia Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred. They’ve all been around for a while, but I am just now getting to them. I was so blown away by each story. I have never heard any woman speak so openly as Roxane Gay does about her personal history, her awareness of her body, her vulnerability, and what the world she inhabits reflects back to her. The Pink Marine is a memoir about a gay Marine’s experience in bootcamp in the 80’s, pre “don’t ask don’t tell.” It was a point of view I had never heard before, as was Octavia Butler’s time traveling protagonist in Kindred. That book has forever changed me.

Q: How does your body feel when you make your work?

A: I sometimes work lying on the ground or standing on my tip toes on top of scaffolding and every level in between. It is very physical. My shoulders, back, hands and neck really feel it. But thankfully, I can recover and reset quickly by taking breaks. Also, since I have been working now for thirty-something years, my body is changing of course, and I have to adapt to variations in my abilities and approach. I tend to think about it as evolving rather than getting better or worse, and I try to stay in the present moment and let the physical changes reflect in the work. If I make a mistake for example, and make a random mark in the wrong spot, I am inclined to leave it there, as evidence.

Amy Adler, Extras, 2023. Photo: Nik Massey, Courtesy the artist and Night Gallery, Los Angeles.

Q: When do you feel most powerful?

A: In terms of my art practice, I feel most powerful when the work “opens up” and I can see inside it, in three dimensions. I think that’s one of the reasons I tend to make my figures life-sized, so when that happens, it’s as if I’m standing right in front of them. Then I can just sort of reach in and make the figures emerge from the canvas. It takes a while to get to this very rare state of mind, but once I’m in there, I see everything very clearly. Like in “Extras,” the actors are life-sized, so working on the piece I am literally standing in front of them, in their direct gaze, which hopefully transfers over to anyone looking at the picture.

Q: When do you feel most powerless?

A: If we are talking about my work, I usually feel most powerless when I first start working, in the morning so to speak, when I am getting started and I have very little hand-to-eye control. I will spend time, sometimes hours, or even days on inanimate areas, like grass or wood or a solid color before I can get into anything more complicated like the body or a face. If we are talking beyond work, I’d say I feel most powerless when I am in the ocean facing an approaching wave that is just way too big. I am in awe, however, of big wave surfers; I had a t-shirt made that read “Justine Dupont” (the leading female big wave surfer) and wore it to my opening at Night Gallery.

Amy Adler, Audition, 2023. Installation view, Night Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Marten Elder. Courtesy the artist and Night Gallery, Los Angeles.
Amy Adler, Audition, 2023. Installation view, Night Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Marten Elder. Courtesy the artist and Night Gallery, Los Angeles.

Q: Who is your ideal audience and what is their ideal viewing or experience setting?

A: The audience I imagine in my head are my artist friends who hold me to the highest standards, and I would never want to disappoint. And of course, I know the work will be seen in the context of the artworld. I do care that someone might have driven across town in LA traffic to see the work, and I always aspire to be respectful of that effort. I also do care a lot about people who aren’t artists and who look at the work, whether in person or online. I often find non artists ask really good questions and offer such interesting and unexpected perspectives. So, when I am working, I always consider the challenge of navigating that range of audiences.

Q: The word “cast” has several very different meanings, which one do you relate to the most?

A: There are usually people in my work but when choosing subjects I prefer the word casting to portraiture. Casting is of course the process of choosing the best actor for any given role. I do think of the characters appearing in my work as being cast for specific reasons relating to whatever the picture aims to be. So, I might cast myself because it serves a purpose, or I might use an actor or someone who is specifically anonymous. But it can also mean casting different contexts into the work, like casting a film still, a stock photo or an Instagram picture to play the protagonist. Casting also presumes that the director or producer is empowered to judge the way the actor looks and performs, and to me this resonates with how a viewer might scrutinize a painting.

Q: What is your process for transitioning from one medium to another?

A: Transitioning from one medium to another is a slow process for me that does not have hard edges. It usually arises out of a question within the work. For example, for the first ten years of my career, roughly from 1995–2005, I produced photographs. When I decided to change that process, it was because of how rapid changes in technology like the internet, cell phones, personal laptops and social media created completely different ways that images could travel, and this dramatically changed how artwork is most commonly seen. But while my physical medium changed, the way I think about the dynamics between lenses and originals and associated questions of intimacy has continued, developed, and expanded. In 2008, I went to film school so I could understand how cinematic images are produced and create my own.  “Audition,” my installation of five oil pastel works on canvas (on view at Night Gallery), is based on a scene from a short film I directed. In all the film stills I’ve ever used as source material for my work, this is the first time I literally am the director. The scene was eventually cut from the film and I thought that made an interesting premise for this series of (now) still images.

Amy Adler: Audition
November 11 to December 22
Night Gallery, Los Angeles

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