For May’s installment of In Depth, I am proud to present an artist with such innate talent and thrilling promise that I can say ‘I knew her when’.
Accepted into some of the most prestigious MFA art programs in the country (including Columbia, RISD and CCA – which she will be attending in the fall), I’m just ecstatic this artist, wife, mother and long lost friend had time answer my relentless requests for an official interview.
Junkyard fans, I enthusiastically give you Amber Fawn Keig.
(Red Rose 2 (mater divinae gratiae), 2010 Etching, softground, and drypoint, 22”x26)
Junkyard Arts: Tell me a little about when you realized you were an artist? Did it happen when you were younger or was it something that came to you as you were an adult?
Amber Fawn Keig: I don’t think there was ever a moment when I realized that I was an artist. I’m always hesitant to claim such a title! However, I have always loved drawing and making things out of whatever I could get my hands on. My father was often drawing at home and usually had one or more jobs involving art. He drew portraits for people (usually of their children), did wedding and portrait photography, worked as a developer at a Kodak film-processing lab and was a commercial printer for a few different companies.
JYA: Do you think seeing him do all that was a catalyst for your own career?
AFK: I was around all of that quite a bit, especially because he often took me to work with him. When I was twelve, I moved across the country to live with my mother. She loves to make things as well. She was always sewing and creating different craft items and at one point was selling things at craft fairs. Right now she paints decorative murals in people’s homes. I think both of their influences come through in my own process.
Ascension, 2009 Lithograph, 30”x22
JYA: How was your talent cultivated? Did you have the normal high school lessons like we all did or were you able to focus on it at all?
AFK: I didn’t really take much art in high school. I took ceramics in 8th grade and freshman year and made dishes for my mom and step-dad. I focused on academic classes for the most part. I also took a lot of classes geared towards child-development and homemaking. Parenting, baking, nutrition… The high school I attended (in Iowa) had a pre-school run by the students of the child-development class. I imagined I would be a kindergarten teacher and finished my Early Childhood Education requirements in Junior College. It wasn’t until the last semester of my Associate’s Degree that I even took a formal art class.
JYA: Which was?!
AFK: Oil painting. I loved it! So I took Painting 2 and my professor (Erik Shearer at Napa Valley College) encouraged me to become an art major at Sonoma State University, where I had already been accepted as a Hutchin’s major.
JYA: And so started your artistic journey. I am pretty shocked, actually, that it took you so long to really focus on art – considering that your abilities are obviously innate and while powerful and obviously technically fantastic, it has only been really focused on for a few years at this point. Tell me a little about how and why your focus turned to printmaking?
AFK: Printmaking is what really taught me how to draw. I think the struggle of fighting against unfamiliar materials somehow forced me to forget whatever I thought I knew about the act of drawing. I remember the first time I felt any success in making a print. It was close to the end of the semester in my intermediate lithography class. I had been trying so hard to work with what I thought were important ideas and concepts, but not executing them very well… My professor, Nathan Haenlein, suggested that for the next print, I should “just draw”. So I did. It was a totally sentimental portrait of my daughter (then almost two) holding her bear. But I worked so hard on that thing… I remember when I pulled the first good proof from that stone… It felt incredible! That was when I really fell in love with lithography. Later, I had a somewhat similar experience with etching, but it was a much more difficult process for me to contend with.
Devotion, 2010 Lithograph with graphite, 22″x30″
JYA: Do you prefer one to another?
AFK: I love them both, but in different ways. Printmaking involves a lot of specific processes and rituals of sorts, which I not only enjoy, but also relate to the conceptual ideas I have addressed for the last few years.
JYA: So printmaking has an element of catharsis for you. I’ve heard many artists talk about the process as being far more important, to them personally, than the final product of ‘art’ – or that the process IS the art. Interesting to see this idea in action.
AFK: My work is motivated by a desire to make. By drawing, painting or sculpting an object (or figure), I am able to gain exclusive intimate knowledge of it through a thorough examination of that object.
JYA: Where do you find your inspiration generally stems from?
AFK: I prefer to draw from my own photographs whenever possible (after fully exploring the subject in it’s 3-dimensional state). This is playtime, whether or not I manipulate the object before photographing, I almost imagine it as a sacred artifact and determine how best to honor it.
I have used photographs of my family, close friends and myself for all of the figurative elements of my work. This is partially out of convenience. We’re usually available and always free. Otherwise, I enjoy the use of performance in order to express a particular emotion. Often, I search through old family photos or recent iPhoto archives looking for a picture that will work for a specific idea. Sometimes I get lucky. I also like the idea that any event or object in our daily lives can become a part of a work of art. If I go out and buy something for the sake of drawing it, I have to spend a lot of time with it first. I have trouble feeling sincere about using props that don’t mean anything to me.
JYA: What are some themes that you have been working with, or do you find yourself attracted to?
AFK: I like to include items that have both personal significance and the potential for greater, more universal symbolic interpretation. My selection of symbols represents a visual vocabulary, which I hope to expand over time in order to create a loose narrative that seeks out the relationships between cultural systems (like domestic hierarchy and religion) and biological functions (like consumption and reproduction). Basically, I have a lot of thoughts about what religion and other moral codes do to sex and other relationships and vice versa.
JYA: By working with photographs of family members, are you actively not using current people in your life, or up until this point have they not been your main source of inspiration?
AFK: Recently, I photographed a couple of artist friends for some new drawings and lithographs. I’m almost done with the first litho and I’m really excited about the change. I think what I needed was to become really sure of what I was trying to address in my work before I could comfortably invite someone else to become a part of it. But I’m ready now.
JYA: What is some of the best advice you have received as an artist that you can share with the readers?
AFK: The best advice? “Just draw.” Really. Whatever you do, don’t think about it too much. Think about it when you’re doing other things, like laundry or driving. When you’re in the studio, just make stuff and make it as well as you possibly can.
Possession, 2010 graphite, 50″x38″
JYA: Anyone in particular you find as a source of inspiration?
AFK: I don’t know that I’m confident enough to start comparing myself to my heroes beyond graduate school applications haha. Anne Sexton once said, “Poets will not only hide influences. They will bury them.” I’ll give you a clue; she’s one of them.
JYA: Fair enough. I guess we will just have to keep ana eye on your work and find out.
SAME QUESTIONS WE ALWAYS ASK (SORT OF)
Favorite work of art: How can I pick just one?!
Materials most often used: Litho crayon and limestone.
Favorite place to visit: It’s not really the place, because I’m not a huge fan of Florida, but I’m always happy to see my grandparents. I’ll sit and drink tea with my Gram over any other activity. And anytime I can get back home (Massachusetts), I end up asking my husband if we can stay. Believe it or not, I still crave the sight of lightning storms and the feeling of steamy summers.