Amy Jean Porter grew up in Oklahoma and Arizona and currently lives outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Porter has drawn more than one thousand species of animals for her ongoing project All Species, All the Time. Individual series within the project include North American Mammals Speak the Truth and Often Flatter You Unnecessarily, Tiny Horses Say What and Freaked Out Monkeys in the Trees. She has presented solo exhibitions in New York, Chicago, San Antonio and Paris, and her drawings have been published in Cabinet, Flaunt, McSweeney's, The Awl, and elsewhere. Her first book, Of Lamb, a collaboration with poet Matthea Harvey, is being published by McSweeney's in May 2011.
Age: 35 Hometown: Edmond, Oklahoma & Tempe, Arizona Currently live in: New Haven, Connecticut Favorite clothing brands: I tend to wear things to death - right now it's a pair of MiH jeans (thank you sample sale) & lots of colorful tees. Web Address: www.amyjeanporter.com
A snapshot of your life as an artist - childhood memories, schooling etc. How did you arrive at the place you are now? I've always loved to draw. And actually, I come from a long line of women who have painted birds and other animals. When I think of it, I've been looking at their mallards and bluebirds my entire life. So drawing and painting were always just a part of daily routine - a shared habit. I took a couple of drawing classes in college, but it was really after college that I began to get obsessive. I started drawing these little bird drawings in 2002 when I moved to Brooklyn and lived in a basement. I really dug in and ended up drawing all 508 birds of North America (they were all the wrong colors and misquoting hip-hop - not quite my grandma's bluebirds). Once I did that, I felt like I needed to draw all the mammals. It's kind of gone on from there. I think with each series I've learned to see a little better, move the color around the page better, make a simple black line a little smoother, sharper, more compelling. I'm still learning.
What's with the animals? John Berger has an essay called "Why Look at Animals?" There are many perfect arguments in there. When we look at animals, they look back - but we see ourselves reflected in their wild little eyes. They provide an interesting vantage for thinking about human culture. We recognize them and they are familiar but also completely unknown. This is why I like to pair them with things like language and architecture.
What kinds of tools do you use? I'm very loyal to Holbein gouache, though I prefer Turner for white. I don't use a brush larger than a size 1 and all my ink lines are with a very thin liner brush. Arches hot-press watercolor block has a lovely felt-y feel to it.
Describe your work space and the daily routine of your working life? I have a home studio with drawers full of images - things I've cut out or picked up - lots of food packaging for some reason, pictures of furniture, lots of botanical books and field guides, a stuffed squirrel, a desk full of small books and rotting acorns, buckets of markers I don't use, a picture of Sean Connery that I really need to take down. When I'm feeling stuck, I always hope that if I look around a corner or out the window, I'll see something I've forgotten about and see it in a new way. I have two small kids (one and three years old) who are endless fountains of absurdity as they discover and reconfigure objects and language. If I can work for 3-4 hours in the morning and 3-4 hours at night, I'm fairly happy. I get antsy if I don't have that time. I heard once that Louise Bourgeois threw a cooked leg of lamb out her window one evening before dinner in exasperation (she had three boys). Apparently, one of her sons went out and picked it up, brushed if off, and they sat down and ate it anyways. Art! Life!
How do language, words or lyrics play a part in your work? This is all made up - but I think in everyone's mind there are two brains - one likes words and the other prefers pictures. When words and images happen all at once in the right combination, there is a lovely jolt of energy. I try my hardest to find those right combinations.
Analog vs digital in your work, how do they work together if at all? I'm kind of a painter painter in that I'm not very good at making pictures digitally. I'm much more comfortable with a brush. But of course digital is essential - I take photos, look at them on-screen, do research online, scan pictures and post them on the web. Also, it's such a crazy magic trick that any strange thing that pops into my head can almost immediately be found online in some form.
Some things that are inspiring you right now:
I love Radiolab. And in general I like to listen to talk radio or podcasts while I'm drawing. In the past it was baseball games or CBS 880 - which is strange because it just repeats itself and tells you about the traffic in Queens. But somehow I found that soothing. I just started listening to an intro physics class through Yale's open courses and even though it mainly goes over my head, it just seems to open up worlds of possibilities.
Some thoughts on the pieces you did for (capsule)?
Well, the ladies are foxes! And the men are *wild stallions.* At first I tried to make the men miniature ponies, but there was an uproar. It just shows you how much we project ourselves on animals (and how much of a hold My Little Pony has). But the looking-out-for-you vibe in both of them makes me happy, and there are other little narratives and words underlying them - the story of the fox and the grapes, and the saying "you can lead a horse to water." It's always fun to have a few secret layers for yourself and other eagle eyes.
Upcoming projects or exhibitions: This summer is exciting - McSweeney's just published my first book Of Lamb, a collaboration with poet Matthea Harvey. It's a crazy retelling of Mary and her little Lamb, inspired by an erasure Matthea did of a biography of Charles Lamb. I made more than 100 paintings and many unexpected things happen - Lamb sprouts man hands, he and Mary think about having children, they go a little mad. There's a show of the original gouache paintings at P.P.O.W. gallery in Manhattan in June/July. Beyond the summer, I have a few ideas for new bookish projects and some things are percolating around insects - but it's too soon to say.