Getting to know Amy Tavern

Amy Tavern is an artist from the United States. Her work is based on memory and, although autobiographical, refers to shared experience and universal themes. Amy has exhibited nationally and internationally with solo shows in the US, Belgium and Sweden. She has taught and lectured across the US and in Europe and her work as a metalsmith has been included in numerous publications, most notably, the cover of Metalsmith Magazine. Through the creation of objects and spaces, Amy strives to make the fleeting more permanent, preserving her memories and connecting with her audience.

Q: Where are you from and how did you end up where you currently are?
I’m from a small town in Upstate New York called Richfield Springs, population 1250. I graduated from highschool in 1992 and have moved many times since then. I have also traveled abroad and lived for extended periods of time in places like Iceland and Belgium. In 2013 I moved home after about 20 years to live with my parents because my dad had Alzheimer´s. I wanted to spend more time with him and help my mom with his care. During this time my work was beginning to undergo big changes. I could feel things shifting within and it felt huge. All these thoughts lead me to wanting to go to graduate school so I began the application process in 2014 and just moved to California. I start school for sculpture, installation, and interdisciplinary art in the fall at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

I chose the Bay Area and California for many reasons and in particular because of the varied landscape and close proximity to the ocean. Place is important to me because it affects me, and my work, on a very base and emotional level, and also quite deeply. My surroundings influence how I live and they influence my mood and attitude. Place is a challenge that can be channeled in a special way, in ways that one cannot comprehend until experiencing it first hand, and maybe not even then. I’m looking forward to exploring and learning about my new home and to seeing how it affects my work in the coming months and years.

Q: Tell us about the work you create, are there any upcoming projects you are excited about or in the throws of?
My work is autobiographical and based on memory and emotions. I choose to illustrate my personal experiences and things that are intangible, both good and bad, as a way to share, communicate, and connect with others. My experience is unique to me but is also universal, and can bring me closer to my audience. Contemplating my life as I work allows me to understand my experiences and draws me closer to people and surroundings. It heightens my sensitivity to the human condition and ties me to others through commonality.

Over the years my work has moved from formal production designs to one-of-a-kind, sculptural jewelry; from abstract narrative pieces about memories, to complex, multi-dimensional works combining jewelry, objects, ritual, arrangements, and installation. I use a variety of media to create my work and believe anything can be a material–from light to video to emotion. Everything I use must have meaning, and does have meaning, even if it isn’t apparent in the beginning. Every choice I make for my work is rooted in my personal history; it all comes from somewhere within me. If I think deeply and work through questions that arise, I can find meaning. I like using simple forms, repetition, layering, and accumulation to convey my ideas. I like things that are uncomplicated and quiet yet make an impact through their subtleties. I like things to be both intimate and monumental and I like pairing opposites. I’m also interested in using memory to create experiences rather than objects.

Right now I’m working on a sculpture for my upcoming solo exhibition at Sienna Patti Contemporary in Lenox, MA opening in October. The piece is made with a variety of pearls both real and fake that were sent to me by people from all over the U.S. and abroad. I’ve been requesting contributions for a few months now, asking anyone interested to send me a pearl. It can be real or fake, white or off-white, round or baroque. I love pearls for their luminous quality and the many shapes they come in, but I also love them for the way they are formed. A pearl begins with some kind of irritant, usually a parasite, and over time, layer upon layer of iridescent calcium carbonate builds up around this irritant as a defense mechanism. I see pearls as glorified callouses or scars, forms of protection. They also represent years of hard work and tenacity, and when complete, they are a rare, beautiful thing. Pearls as a symbol of the experience of life.

The piece I’m making will develop slowly over the next few months as I sew together all the pearls I have received, along with my own, into an abstract form determined by the materials and process themselves.

“I see incredible beauty in everything I encounter…”

Q: What do you find inspiring on a day to day basis?
I find the simple act of observing to be inspiring. I find ideas and feel that drive to work just from looking around me, from the simple and mundane to the unusual and complicated, from the tiniest element to much larger landscapes. I love looking at abandoned buildings and stark environments, peeling paint and rust, natural patterns and manmade textures. I love watching light and shadow, the way the sun reflects on water, and subtle movements caused by air currents. I see incredible beauty in everything I encounter, from a breathtaking moss-covered lava field in Iceland to a derelict factory in my hometown, from suffering through a break-up, to watching my father with Alzheimer’s forget my name. I find inspiration everywhere.

Q: Do you have little rituals you partake in or things you read or look to for influence?
I mediate every day when I first wake up and walk almost every day, too. Mediating sets the tone for the day and helps me to be present as I move about. My walks are for exercise, of course, but are more for giving my mind some room and allowing my eyes to observe freely. I usually take pictures while I’m walking and use the time to think deeply about my work. I solve many problems and answer lots of questions when I walk. I read daily as well, books on my side table and in my studio on all sorts of topics. There’s usually some fiction, a book on Buddhism, and a number of non-fiction books on art, favorite artists, and memory or other topics I’m researching for my current work. I also visit a number of online sources almost daily like The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Psychology Today.

Q: What artists are you currently into? Whose practice or creations at this moment are you loving?
Ólafur Elíasson for the way he uses atmosphere and light; Ragnar Kjartansson for his ability to create sculpture out of sound; Sophie Calle for her keen observation of daily life; Sol LeWitt for his belief that the idea is paramount; and Dario Robleto for his sensitive manipulation of found objects. I’m also looking at Jasper Johns a lot these days, his process and current work is fascinating to me. And then there´s Björk…her music, her process, and the way she lives her life are a constant inspiration for me.

Q: What do you find most interesting in this time/era in the world?
I’m very interested in how small the world is made via the internet, how it really does bring us together. It seems we all have friends and networks around the world now. We can participate in the lives of those in our community even if miles and miles apart so much easier and more often than before. I’m also thrilled by the availability of information. I can read about anything or look at pictures of anything at any time of the day wherever I am. Knowledge seems to be more accessible than ever and I find this very exciting.

Q: What music inspires you currently?
Lately I cannot get enough of Fleetwood Mac and, especially, Stevie Nicks. Her second record, The Wild Heart, is so good and I also love Buckingham Nicks, the album she made with Lindsey Buckingham before they joined Fleetwood Mac. I’m also listening to a lot of electronica and artists who use synths either alone or paired with a beautiful voice: Thom Yorke, Young Galaxy, Good Moon Deer, Amon Tobin… and I’m always, always inspired by the music of Björk, as I said earlier. Her new record Vulnicura was such a gift when I was making my most recent piece, an embroidered, abstract self-portrait in the shape of an imaginary island.

Q: What is your favorite Prairie Underground style that you have in your wardrobe?
Right now I wear my Denim Girdle jeans a lot and my “go-to” top is the Hemp Hi Lo. I also love the Two Ways Shift, which I wear as a dress or over jeans, or unzipped as a jacket.

“I also like to wear things made by people I admire, clothing designed and make thoughtfully, and conscientiously.”

Q: What do you look for in apparel design when you are picking your wardrobe? What is your every day go-to outfit?
As I’m sure everyone else does, I want to feel like myself in my clothes, I want what I wear to reflect who I am and what I’m interested in. I like to wear things with a subtle edge, with asymmetrical lines, unfinished edges, exposed seams, interesting details, and yet remain uncomplicated and minimal. I want to be comfortable so I tend to dress in layers and I like my clothes to fit well. My “uniform” is Prairie jeans and layered tops and my vintage combat boots. I also like to wear things made by people I admire, clothing designed and made thoughtfully, and conscientiously.

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