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Art AND: Amy Boone-McCreesh

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Amy Boone-McCreesh’s Instagram handle is @amytothemax, and I’ve never felt compelled to ask why because the answer is so obvious—everything she does is fully and maximally “Amy.” Visiting Boone-McCreesh and Zeke, her mini Australian shepherd puppy, in their third of a narrow Parkdale studio late last year, I felt like I was sitting comfortably in a Boone-McCreesh work in progress, albeit one that came with dog kisses and very good coffee. 

To maximize the walled-off section—not much larger than 15 by 15 feet—of the studio space she shares with artists Alex Ebstein and Jackie Milad, Boone-McCreesh was methodical. Several large flat files are stacked high in a corner, and an assortment of works in progress hang on the two-and-a-half remaining windowless walls. A cutting table is pushed against one working wall, and the final wall with the window has a couch under it where I, and sometimes Zeke, sat during the interview, one of us angling for a belly rub. On the floor, co-mingling with an assortment of dog toys, are colorful scraps of plastic and cut paper and something that glitters in the light, materials the artist uses in her work. In people’s studio spaces I am used to feeling their aesthetic strongly, but in this instance, with very little effort, it felt like Boone-McCreesh encased me in bright plastic.

A fixture at art openings around town since she moved to Baltimore to attend Towson’s MFA program in 2008, Boone-McCreesh’s fashion is always vibrant and often involves neon paired with fun sneakers. A friend told Boone-McCreesh that she does the opposite of the famous Coco Chanel quote, putting on one more thing before leaving the house instead of taking it off. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that her introduction into art-making was through fashion, and that, growing up in rural Pennsylvania, she made her own fashion books alongside her sister, Nichole Beard, with whom she still collaborates on her artist interview series INERTIA (Beard is the transcriber). INERTIA came out of Boone-McCreesh’s extroverted tendency to connect with other artists and learn about their studio practices. Laughing, she reveals that interviewing other artists has confirmed her suspicion “that yes, we do all have the same problems.” As another artist-interviewer, I cosign this assessment.

When she’s not in the studio or out in the community interviewing artists, Boone-McCreesh is a hard-working adjunct professor, currently serving as a senior-thesis advisor in MICA’s GFA and painting departments. In her studio, we chatted about the challenges of the shift from online learning back into the classroom last fall. Boone-McCreesh sees herself as a facilitator for her students. “I hope that part of my impression as a teacher is that if a student is having issues, [our shared goal] is to figure out the skills or ways to work around their issues, even if they have nothing to do with me,” she says. “What can we do to make this work? What are you excited about? If one person believes in them, it could mean a lot. I don’t know what their life is like. In the beginning [when I first started teaching college in 2011,] I was such a hard-ass and now I’m much more empathetic.”

 

Objects of Desire, exhibition view, Terrault Gallery, 2018, wall painting, framed works on paper, custom shelves and flooring, mixed media garlands, found objects, custom pendant lights, 12 x 10 foot wall (Photo by Jill Fannon)

Empathy is definitely a word that comes to mind when considering Boone-McCreesh’s latest body of work, which deals with window views as a representation of disparities in access and class. These large works, which combine elements of layered cut paper and Boone-McCreesh’s now-signature plastic garlands, draw more upon overt symbolism than the artist has previously used in her work. “If you have a view that says a lot about your life, actually,” Boone-McCreesh says. She began working on the series before the pandemic, but her relationship with outdoor and indoor space has changed with COVID, and now private outdoor space feels even more luxurious and rarefied. Working on the series has allowed the artist to have conversations about what makes for good taste, what is considered gaudy, and who gets to decide that. 

The subject of class frequently arises in the work of Boone-McCreesh, whose family had very limited financial resources when she was growing up. “Pretty good-looking passes as good design,” she explains. “It’s hard not to get sucked into that if it’s $12. It’s hard to also define your own sense of taste. I’m super interested in how much of our sense of taste and interest has been fed to us based on life circumstances, based on resources, based on financial availability. Like, if Target is where you can shop then [you’re] going to find what you like the most within Target. But if Saks Fifth Avenue is where you can shop, then that’s gonna yield different results. I also think it’s funny if you visit someone that has means and maybe you still think that their taste is really ugly or uninteresting.”

She continues, “How do you visually reference being poor? What does that mean? What does that look like and how do you do it without stereotyping?” Recently she has begun working with lottery tickets, pulling from them the rich colors and symbolism of a system set up to create very few winners and a whole lot of losers. Scraps of these in-progress lottery garlands are the glittery bits I noticed co-mingling with the dog toys, vehicles for Boone-McCreesh’s meditations on social mobility or the lack of it, which she summarizes as “capitalism selling the idea that you can win.

Today, Boone-McCreesh is thrilled with the financial stability that she has been able to create with her husband Adam, who owns a slate roofing business, and their pre-pandemic life of international traveling adventures. She believes her childhood also prepared her for the constant rejection all artists face. “I apply for something and then it’s just in the ether. I don’t think about it. I don’t obsess over it,” she explains. “I think growing up with some adversity gave me a tougher skin and I don’t really take things personally. I just like to keep it moving.”

SUBJECT: Amy Boone-McCreesh, 36
PLACE: Woodberry
WEARING: Neon shorts (H&M), thrifted top, running shorts, Comme De Garcon and Nike collaboration platform shoes

 

Lottery Garland (detail), 2021, laser cut acrylic, fake flowers, cut lottery tickets, found objects, steel cable, dimensions vary (Photo by Jill Fannon)

Suzy Kopf: What is the most important book (or books) you’ve read or are reading? 

Amy Boone-McCreesh: For some reason, I found it much easier to read entire books in the first year of the pandemic. Staying home and taking a lot of life as we knew it out of the equation created a different mental space for me. During that time, two books I read and really enjoyed were Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses. Both are memoirs by Jeanette Walls—they are true stories of American poverty through generations via Appalachia and early Southwest. So much of my work is influenced by class structures and how wealth (or lack of it) manifests visually, so these two resonated. On current rotation in my studio: a book about designer Tony Duquette, and I just bought the catalog for With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972–1985 so I am really excited about that. 

What makes Baltimore a great and unique place to be an artist? 

I’ve been in Baltimore almost 13 years, and while it has changed a lot, I still feel that it has a gritty magic for creative people. The cost of living is relatively low and the geographic proximity positions us with easy access to bigger East Coast cities. This accessibility creates space for artists to do what they do best with less of the strain other cities provide. There are so many genuinely talented people here doing really interesting things. 

You’re currently an adjunct professor at MICA and have taught at many other area colleges and universities over the last 10 years. What’s your favorite part of working with college students?

I follow contemporary art pretty closely, so being able to constantly update and question the ideas around art and history with students is a big plus. Talking with students about their ideas, materials, and even fundamentals around color and composition always has me circling back to my own work and ultimately encourages me to ask those same questions of myself. Teaching college students is a tether back into what is happening now. Being an artist can be so isolating and we are so hyper-focused on the worlds we are creating, sometimes it can be hard to reconnect. I am also pretty extroverted, so I really like the social aspects of teaching. 

How did you know you wanted to be a professor and an artist?

This is so dumb and weird, but I used to go to Borders in my first car (a black Honda Prelude with a moon roof) after I got my driver’s license and I would look at all the New American Paintings and see all the CVs [of artists included in the magazine]. The common thread was it seems like people go to grad school. I studied that information. I was trying to model my life after other artists because I had no resources or examples. So I thought, that seems like a logical next step. I think I can do that. Part of the reason I chose Towson for graduate school is because you can get teaching experience and then go for free and you get a stipend on top of that. So I was able to be a TA and a gallery assistant for the Asian Arts and Culture Center. And then you actually get your own classes before you finish grad school. So it was a really nice pipeline into teaching as well as financially helpful. 

 

Yellow Garland (detail), 2020, laser cut acrylic, found objects, hand cut and painted paper, beads, steel cable, dimensions vary (Photo by Jill Fannon)
Completing a body of work or having a show or winning an award, it’s never the end, it’s just the next step. I think my job as an artist is to keep asking questions of the world around me, and so far it has led to some pretty cool experiences. 
Amy Boone-McCreesh

Growing up, did you know any artists? When did it become clear to you that this was a career you could pursue?

I didn’t know any artists. [When I was in high school], I went to an artist talk at York College for Jeff Koons because he also grew up there. After that I was like, oh, okay, wow, this is a world I didn’t know existed. It was pretty eye-opening at the time. After that, I just kept going to more artist talks in Lancaster and sometimes at Franklin and Marshall. I was always a creative kid. I would make fashion design books and my sister and I made a fake magazine and I thought I wanted to study fashion. I don’t know why it veered into visual arts specifically. I think I was also lucky that I went to a public school in Pennsylvania that was actually pretty good and had an art major. I had art five or four days a week instead of once. And I think that what also helped was that my art teacher was great. She brought in people from art schools, like, “Hey, this is an option.” And I thought, why would I go to a regular college? I think that sealed the trajectory.

How have you defined success for yourself as an artist? Has this definition shifted at all with time?

Success is a moving goalpost in my opinion. As I grow, my goals change and I think fundamentally artists are always interested in what comes next—what happens if I push this idea further, what happens if I try this new material, etc. Completing a body of work or having a show or winning an award, it’s never the end, it’s just the next step. I think my job as an artist is to keep asking questions of the world around me, and so far it has led to some pretty cool experiences. 

Do you pursue any hobbies in addition to your work? Do you think that these hobbies have any influence or impact on your work, or do you view them more as stress relief or a way to unwind?

Haha, I always ask other artists this as well. For a lot of us, we don’t have the luxury of making art as our full-time job, which means it’s the second or third thing we do—so how much time does that really leave? I believe in the idea that you can only do a handful of things really well at any given time. I guess, that being said, a constant in my life as stress relief would be exercise. I like running and physical challenges. Running allows me to tap into a brainspace that is really unique, a lot like being in the studio. I think it really helps my mental health.

Music was and is a big part of my life—I used to go to a lot of shows and parties and clubs. I love dancing. But the last two years have basically eliminated that (at least in the way it used to exist) and that has left a big gap for me as an outlet. I can’t wait to be losing my mind out on a dark dance floor again. 

Do you have a favorite local restaurant or a go-to order? What is it? 

Oh yeah, great question. The role of food has really been amplified for me through the pandemic. As there was so little to look forward to, I started to find takeout or nice outdoor dining to be a real treat that I took for granted before. My husband and I get takeout a lot and were loving eating outside when the weather was better. In heavy rotation right now: ramen from Mi and Yu, Dooby’s, Noona’s, Dutch Courage, Soup’s On, Artifact (near my new studio). I’m a coffee freak, so outdoor coffee meet-ups and walks have been another great pandemic pastime.

 

Dream Sellers, exhibition view, Dinner Gallery, NYC, 2020 (photo courtesy Dinner Gallery)
Neighbors are Watching, 2021, mixed media and collage on paper, beads, 42 1/2 × 32 1/2 × 1/2 inches (Photo by Jill Fannon)
Interior Décor, 2021, mixed media and collage on paper, 45 x 43 x 2 inches (Photo by Jill Fannon)
Our art is so shaped by our lives at any given time, and that includes our peers, friends, current events, etc., so to think we make art in a pure vacuum is silly. 
Amy Boone-McCreesh

In the time I’ve been aware of your work, it seems to have moved through a couple of stages and is becoming more installation-based or three-dimensional. When did you start bringing in the three-dimensional elements and what role do you hope they are functioning in?

I think I was always working simultaneously in 2D and 3D. Sculpture is so hard to figure out, especially if you don’t have a real functional base. I’ve always been interested in installation but I guess it took me longer and I’m still figuring out how to refine it all together. Even the works on paper, I think of them as objects. So I’m moving towards understanding how things can exist in more of an environment together and less as singular pieces.

Most of the work is made of paper, but then you bring in plastic elements as well occasionally. Could you talk about your relationship with plastic? What attracted you to it as an art material?

I started using plastic and acrylic maybe less than five years ago. I think I started by laser cutting acrylic or maybe hand cutting thinner plastics. I wanted to have more variety in the materials and the surfaces and I liked what they did with light. And then when I did my installation at Facebook headquarters in D.C., I had the luxury of a bigger budget and I had the problem of needing it to be permanent. So I was able to really figure out how to laser cut acrylic and different shapes. And then I started using the steel cable with crimps and more heavy-duty materials. 

I also think about plastic as being like a junk material. For a while I was using a lot of found plastics and rolls of stuff—just whatever weird translucent stuff that I could find. I’m interested in cheap materials. The root of my work is this idea of what is good taste and what is bad taste, and plastic is often seen as a cheap or a throwaway material. And so I liked that aspect of it, although it’s not always cheap to work with!

One of those eternal questions I get from students is how do you know something is done? Especially in your case, where we could say you’re a maximalist, how do you stop yourself from overworking? 

I just feel like I know when it’s done, and I usually work on multiple things simultaneously, and I’ll take a beat on something when it is getting close. I’ll go like 80% or 90% and then I’ll let it sit for about a month if I have that luxury of time. And then it will probably become clear to me, if I thought it was done, if it is or isn’t. I feel like time and space gives clarity on that second look.

You share a studio space currently with artists Alex Ebstein and Jackie Milad, whom you’ve been friends with for a while. Do you all share influences at this point?

Big time. I feel like Jackie and I have so much in common in terms of process, the way that we work, the layering and the cutting away, and then recycling our own imagery. We both scan imagery and then reprint it and then bring it back in, and we both are kind of messy and intuitive. We share a lot in the process of making and lack of preciousness. Then Alex and I are interested in a lot of the same artists and ideas, like domesticity and the way daily life impacts art making. We have also done curatorial and exhibition ventures together—she has a really great eye and sensitivity to the connections a lot of people miss. It’s so hard as an artist to not have what is around you seep into your work. But I do think that our art is so shaped by our lives at any given time, and that includes our peers, friends, current events, etc., so to think we make art in a pure vacuum is silly. 

We have all been friends for a long time and of course we talk about art all the time. I think it’s interesting, looking back at artists that were working as peers at the same time and looking at what was happening in the world at the time. To me, that’s an inherent part of art, what is happening in your life at the time and who else is around and it’s kind of a reflection of that. Artists are mirrors of the worlds around them. 

 

Abundance (detail view at Facebook, Washington DC), 2019, acrylic, wood, steel, paper, latex paint, mixed media, 26’ x 8’ x 6” (Photo by Nancy Daly)

Do you believe in astrology and if so what insights can your signs give our readers into your personality and mindset?

Haha, well, I am a Gemini and so is my husband and a lot of my closest friends—so can someone please tell me what that means 🙂 

Who are your art or career heroes and what do you look to them for? Do you have anyone whose work you’ve always admired or whose career you’d like to emulate or just someone you think would be a cool person to have coffee with? Why were/are they the coolest? 

Oh yeah, I love Alex Da Corte because I feel like he does a great job of being critical of the world we’ve created for ourselves but delivers it in a really visually pleasing way. And I like that he still lives in Philadelphia. Right now I am also loving Wendy White, she is a real advocate for women and her fellow artists and a sincerely nice person. Also, Casja von Zeipel’s new work is really interesting and super cool!!

What are the last three emojis you used? Have you given up emojis?

I am pro emoji: smiley face with cowboy hat, the lady with her arms in the air (IDK) and crying laughing 

What have you learned the hard way?

Hmmm….. Where there’s smoke there’s fire—if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, etc… however that saying goes. I guess what I am saying is trust your instincts, if something doesn’t add up, there is a reason why. The art world provides a lot of smoke and mirrors and a lot of questionable people. It took me a long time to understand and figure out things like trust funds and generational wealth—I thought I was missing something about how to make it work—but really we are all just starting at different places and some journeys are longer than others. 

You started your interview series, INERTIA, five years ago now as a way to foster community with other artists living on the east coast of the United States. How would you say it and you have grown since?

First, thanks to Cara Ober and BmoreArt for helping me get INERTIA off the ground! I think as artists, we experience this really isolating lifestyle because we spend so much time alone in our studios and it’s not that easy. And as time goes on and you’re like, am I crazy? Is this what we’re doing?

Inertia is a downward trajectory and as artists we are constantly fighting against that. And so I started INERTIA as a way to learn about other people’s processes. I started interviewing other artists and it became very clear that yes, we do all have the same problems. It’s such an up and down and a rollercoaster and people have all different coping mechanisms and ways of working. Running something else (like a website, gallery, etc.) outside of your studio practice is a lot of energy and I thought that it would detract from my own studio practice and was nervous about how much it would take from me. But I actually often walk away from those conversations feeling really inspired and comforted, like we’re all in this together. 

Meeting new people and interviewing them, you get to see a lot of great art. Have you started collecting or trading with anyone? How important do you think it is for artists to collect other artist’s art?

Yes, I am working on my art collection! Trade or buy—whatever you can do. I look at so many artists I have interviewed, even a couple of years ago, and wish that I had purchased something because so many of them have really blown up! It is really nice to see external support and validation of that work though, and it is comforting that good work doesn’t go unrecognized forever. Supporting your artist friends in any way you can is important. That’s how I think of INERTIA too—there aren’t many press outlets for art in Baltimore anymore (outside of BmoreArt of course) and it can be really tough to even be seen or have your work archived. Some evidence that you were here working at this time is so important. So I hope at the very least providing a platform for artists is a helpful form of support. 

 

Garden View with Upholstered Window Seat, 2019, mixed media and cut paper, beads, found objects, 35 x 27 x 1.5 inches (Photo by Jill Fannon)

Portrait photos by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt Issue 12: More is More. Art images by Jill Fannon, except where otherwise noted.

This story is from Issue 12: More is More, available here.

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