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Amy Bay: Blush
March 6, 2021 - April 10, 2021Free
Melanie Flood Projects is proud to present, Blush, a solo exhibition of new works by Portland, OR based artist Amy Bay. An in-person opening reception will take place on Saturday March 6 from 12-2pm in the gallery and will be open to the public by appointment through April 10, 2021. This will be Bay’s second solo exhibition with the gallery.
In the midst of a year of deprivation, Amy Bay indulges us with abundance. Her floral compositions are frequently described as “lush,” and with good reason: the oil, wax, graphite, and marble-dust flowers are bunched so densely that there isn’t a center or single focal point. Her massed foliage spreads to the edge of the canvas, where it’s cut off, evoking an unruly, expansive garden rather than a stand-alone bouquet. Despite her subject matter, the term “still life” doesn’t apply to Bay’s work; she doesn’t paint from observation, and the overflowing configurations feel agitated and restless.
These works originated with wallpaper patterns. The artist drew and redrew the original designs, adding, subtracting, adapting, so that the paintings in this exhibition have underlying genetic relationships. They are interpretations of an interpretation, each tangled profusion is related to the others. At times, the lustrous colors seem stereotypically feminine: soft, powdery pastel pinks and lavenders alongside saturated vermilions—the colors of blush and lipstick. These are undercut, however, with bright acidic chartreuse and lemons, and often clustered in bunches with melancholic blue-gray, or the dark blues and purples of bruises, or a heavy, visceral, liver red. Bay’s hues seem less connected to hothouses and gardens than they do to the human body—to its complexities, frailties, and possibly its cosmetic enhancements. This mélange, achieved with both thick paint and glazing, cannily pushes her arrangements of blossoms, blooms, and foliage to the edges of a conventional vernacular of beauty.
Beauty is tricky. Its effects are often achieved by what amounts to deceit: concealer to hide a facial imperfection, foundation to look youthfully dewy, or wallpaper to cover the cracks in plaster. To be attractive or make something alluring, whether on the exterior of bodies or the interior of houses, is still designated as a stereotypically female pursuit. It’s no surprise, then, to learn of Bay’s interest in folk art, particularly in domestic forms such as textile and wallpaper patterns, and the needlework that comprised the bulk of a girl’s education in early America. It’s also no surprise to remember that this explicit connection to the feminine is exactly what makes these art forms—what makes the idea of beauty itself—seem frivolous and dismissible. Yet in the last five years, Bay has embraced the decorative unapologetically: “Beauty is a big concern of mine, but I’ve struggled with my relationship to it,” she tells me. “It’s liberating to think I’m just going to bombard the viewer with flowers.” And bombard she does. The greenery in these canvases is massed so that it creates a hungry, lavish wetness, like a burgeoning garden after late-spring rain. It’s not so much floral—being a representation or likeness—as florid, a re-interpretation of the affective connotations of what we do with flowers: make things pretty, say thank you, I love you, I’m sorry, forgive me, congratulations, feel better. Bay’s foreswearing of moderation also says fuck off with flowers. At the end of a presidential term characterized by misogyny, in a year when more than two million women buckled under the strain of caregiving and left the labor force, Bay’s reclaiming of this defiant form of beauty feels deeply, and perhaps perversely, satisfying.
Bay is process-oriented, making decisions about depth, color, and texture as she goes. With thick smears of densified paint, she builds the petals and then scrapes them down again to create flowers with a fleshy, sensual viscosity. There’s a distinct intimacy in this—one must get close to the works to really understand their tactility. From a distance I see flowers and the way that they communicate social, emotional connections between people; but when I look closely, the sound I hear is not the rustle of greenery in a damp breeze, but the scrape of a metal blade against the canvas. It is a noise apropos to the last year of our lives. I think of women, and how life carves them. I think of the constrictions of clichéd femininity, its curvy softness, its artificial blushes, how it takes up space and apologizes for it at the same time. I can imagine a viewer walking into the gallery exclaiming, “How pretty!” I want them to know that this prettiness was created with a knife.