“My mind leads me to speak now of forms changed into new bodies,” writes the Roman poet Ovid in “Metamorphoses,” his text on transformation. Following the emergence of our universe from its initial state of chaos, Ovid shows people turned into birds, fish, insects, flowers, trees, rivers, springs, islands, mountains. Boulders become people. Ants, too, are turned into people. Men are changed into women and women into men.
“Art is about ideas rather than methods or materials,” Amend has written and would perhaps tell the long dead poet, explaining that he has given his life to the discipline and practice of learning to draw. “… and while every drawing falls short, still every drawing is a small victory … I have little interest in recreating visible realities … I seek to make visible my own meanings and my own realities.”
In “Images from Isolation,” Amend does just that. Using mostly graphite pencil and gouache, he metaphorically renders his experience of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Grouped into six series of drawings made since October 2019, the images present a disjointed narrative of isolation and the need the artist felt to keep working even when he feared humans might be forever divorced from our former lives. If we are to be other, Amend’s work asks, what will other be?
The first of the six series, “Untitled,” presents aspects of physical being that have been disconnected from one another — an upturned face and a nearby hand, a body with gaps between the parts so nothing coheres, an arm separate from a torso. Other drawings, filled to overflowing, show the competing claims of several bodies at once, each trying to put itself back together — metamorphosis begun but not completed.
Amend’s second series, “Aviary,” includes 10 images of birds with human hands, some clinging to perches, one carrying a flower, another with hands emerging from behind its wings, holding its own legs as if to urge itself forward. Several wield what appear to be paint brushes and one, “I Shall Be as I Shall Be,” is painting itself or a companion into existence.
In Ovid, if the gods intervene to change us, it’s done. Daphne becomes a laurel tree, Callisto a bear, Coronis a crow and Arachne a spider. In Amend, things are pulled apart but only partly put back together, halfway to some new form, retaining allegiance to both what was and what will be.
The series “Nocturnes” includes three sleepers Amend describes as “floating in blissful slumber.” I’m not so sure. Seen in conjunction with the other work, these sleepers appear less than blissful. And they aren’t quite floating. The first lies face down in space with one arm extended to the earth, index finger touching the surface and apparently keeping the sleeper from falling. The second, “Tethered Sleeper,” rests face down at an upward angle. This sleeper might fly away but that one end of a string is tied to its big toe while the other end is tied to a ring that has been hammered or screwed into the ground. The third nocturne’s subject, the “Floating Dreamer,” seems to have escaped. The index finger points at the earth but doesn’t touch it. Still, it’s unclear — the body is rolled in on itself as if trapped in a transparent globe. Bliss?
Amend’s remaining series are “Outliers,” “Toy Story” and “Drawing Blanks,” the last a group of graphite pencil drawings about drawing. In several of these, a pencil with no directing hand is creating the drawing as we watch, again conjuring up the unfinished. One image, “Thrice Removed,” shows the artist facing the viewer but looking down slightly as if at the drawing of himself he is working on. His right hand covers his mouth and holds the pencil with which he works. A similar pencil guided by an unseen hand outside the frame is drawing the hand the artist holds to his face.
“Art needs to challenge, to discombobulate, to confront, to instruct,” Amend has written. It should “… continually wage war on complacency, upon aesthetic and intellectual laziness … surprise us into new levels of perception … provoke more questions than it provides answers.”
That’s what Amend’s new exhibition does.
Studio Wyoming Review is supported in part by generous grants from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, a program of the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources and the Wyoming Arts Council with funding from the Wyoming State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.