Artist Amie Cunat on “pulling a viewer in like a homing beacon” in her new solo exhibition
Interdisciplinary Brooklyn-based artist Amie Cunat talks to us about her new solo exhibition Petal Signals, on view at Dinner Gallery in New York from September.
- Joey Levenson
- 23 August 2021
From first glance, you’d never guess that Amie Cunat’s work contains a myriad of horrific elements and inspirations. Bright, captivating colours and a tactile materiality initially engage viewers, drawing them in to observe the piece close at hand. Then, they begin to notice the unsettling forms that appear abstract, representational and uncanny – almost science-fiction. “It’s hard to remember a single event that first excited me about art,” Amie says on her beginnings. “My biggest hurdle was not in finding excitement with art, but having the confidence that I could contribute to an ongoing dialogue in the field.” It was eventually in school that Amie found a couple of mentors that inspired her to pursue painting and sculpture in New York. “Their guidance, encouragement and support have been invaluable over the years,” she says. Now, Amie is more than confident in contributing to the dialogue. When asked on the subject of honing a signature visual style, she refrains: “I identify myself as an artist, more than a historian or critic, and would prefer to use ‘hand’.”
So what, exactly, is Amie’s ‘hand’? “Whether sculpture or painting, I pay a lot of attention to the edges of form, and the implicit expressive qualities that this interaction generates,” she tells It’s Nice That. In her paintings, Amie uses an accumulation of paint from the multiple coats of matte Flashe or gouache to create textured edges. “I used to think that my hand was exclusively present in the drawing; the overall ‘wobbly’ quality of its appearance,” Amie explains. “As a result of this ‘wobble’, things that resemble churches, buildings, flowers and weeds take on a biomorphic tendency making it harder to designate exclusive references.” What is most clear about Amie’s paintings, is how she sees them as “chromatically charged” with narrow and reactive ranges of colour. Essentially, Amie creates an “event” in her paintings, letting the viewer take up all information at once in the shallow depth of the contained space. “An event is happening at the moment, where all potential variables of a certain occurrence arrive at once on canvas,” she describes.
Most of all, Amie looks for influences from other painters and artists, concerning herself with “what’s being made and how work changes over time.” Depictions of nature in American painting and decorative arts have additionally informed her more recent paintings. “Anywhere from colonial renderings of trees and plants, to awkward japanning finishes, to Shaker gift drawings, to the curvilinear features of Arts/Crafts or Art Deco embellishments on furniture and architecture,” Amie says. Another visual cue we see across Amie’s paintings are the Japanese yukata (a casual unlined kimono), as Amie tells us she enjoys the “impactful colours and patterns” of the garment. Of course, as aforementioned, Amie’s love for horror and science fiction movies gently compliments her artistic influences. “I love the construction of suspense that horror and science fiction movies generate,” she says. “The wild props before CGI was a common tool in movie making, where the creatures, limbs, blood, artefacts were all tactile materials, rather than simulated.”
In her latest solo exhibition, Petal Signals, Amie’s work is curated together with a cohesive vision. The exhibition’s title came from a trip to a sunflower farm in New York, where Amie, her husband, and her daughter, noticed “how all of the sunflowers in the field were bent in the same direction, as if they were a population bowing toward some deity or in a gesture of collective, melancholic duress.” In this isolated floral moment, Amie found herself curious about the behaviour of such flowers. “I was interested in their signal, or what was being signified by the behaviour of these non-sentient lifeforms, such as what they are expressing,” Amie says. “In my work, a ‘flower’s’ capacity to signal is contained, and limited by, a viewer’s preoccupation with what is familiar.”
This idea ties in to how Amie wanted Petal Signals to feel: looming, aggressive, confrontational. In her research, Amie found that her exhibition evoked the traits of this scientific phenomenon. “The physiology of a flower’s blossom is a means to attract bees in order to be pollinated,” she describes. “After reading this, I began to consider how my work is also pulling a viewer in like a homing beacon.”
Amie Cunat: Rampion Arms (Copyright © Amie Cunat, 2020)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.