In her latest series, Nuclear Family, artist Amy Bennett explores family relationships in the context of suburban life. Having recently relocated from New York City to a town not so different from the fictional ones found in her paintings, Amy says the move forced a change in her perspective. “I have painted scenes of suburban home life in the past, but they were more related to themes of isolation and voyeurism,” she tells It’s Nice That. “But, this series is more concerned with the vulnerabilities and anxieties of parenthood and marriage.”
A mother of two herself, Amy says her own experiences of raising children with her partner have informed her most recent work. “There is so much joy in having a family. It is boundless love, connection and energy. But there is also ongoing struggle and conflict. Hopefully the series and the title captures this ambivalence,” she explains. “The vulnerability of parenthood is overwhelming. The job of a parent is to make an independent person who will at some point, eagerly walk out the front door and fend for themselves. Parenting is holding on tight and gradually letting go. This is the tension I aim for in these paintings.”
Depicting scenes that bounce between everyday moments such as reading the paper on a Sunday morning, to more dramatic happenings like a “problem-child” setting things alight in their room, Amy shines a light on the stresses, strains and complexities that take place behind closed doors and outside of them. However, from a technical standpoint, the light is artificial and the doors belong to miniature model houses.
Discovering the world of model making some 15 years ago, Amy has painted from them ever since. “I construct model houses and interiors using cardboard, foam, wood, paint, and glue. I use and re-use models, repainting and reconfiguring/reconstructing as needed,” she says. “The model gives me complete control over lighting, composition, poses, colours, etc. and allows me to view the scene from all angles before choosing a vantage point from which to paint.”
Using them as still life and a stage on which she develops narratives, Amy projects the details of her construction onto tiny canvases. Some as small as only three inches wide, she says the size encourages intimacy. Working on a consistent scale, with figures measuring about an inch tall, the size of the painting is dictated by the space around the figures, interiors being only a couple of square inches while landscapes are necessarily larger. “The small scale reduces the detail to the essential expressions of the poses and the relationship between the figures,” she explains. “It also establishes a more intimate connection with the viewer, who must get close enough to become a fly on the wall.”
Nuclear Family will be on show at Miles McEnery Gallery in New York, 11 July – 16 August.
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