The paintings of vegan artist Amy Guidry come loaded with and abundance of powerful messages woven into their beautifully rendered and skilfully orchestrated compositions. Whether approaching us with subliminal suggestions or hitting us hard with her intentions, Guidry’s imagery never fails to leave lasting impressions which engage us both emotionally and on a deeply cerebral level. Mixing photorealism with the surrealistic language of dreams, Guidry’s highly effective and immensely personal symbolism is conveyed with sophistication, which elevates its potency and sensitivity. The character defining moral decision Amy has made, in attempting to live her life without harming our environment or the creatures who inhabit it, drives her creativity, and we would all do well to spend time appreciating her artworks and the wisdom they contain.
Amy Guidry is an American artist who was born 1976 in Jacksonville, N.C. and is currently residing in Lafayette, Louisiana. She studied at Loyola University of New Orleans where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts in 1998. She was the recipient of the Loyola University Art Scholarship, which is awarded to only one student per graduating class. Amy’s artwork has been exhibited in museums and galleries internationally and has found homes in private collections in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia.
WOW x WOW is incredibly honoured to have a brand-new painting from Amy in our current ‘Room of a Thousand Doors’ group show. The piece, entitled ‘Transformation’ (shown above) is available for purchase here. With this being Amy’s first time showing with us, we felt it only right to mark this special occasion by finding out more about her and her fabulous work. We hope you enjoy the following in-depth interview!
Hi Amy, thanks very much for making the time to have a chat, we really appreciate it. To get us started, can you give us some background on what has lead you to this point in your professional life, be it your formal training, hard work, serendipity, etc.?
I started out studying art at Loyola University in New Orleans. I thought I was going to do graphic design forever, which I did freelance design and illustration work for a while, but it really wasn’t my true passion. I had also worked as a jewelry designer for 11 years and it was during this time that I decided that I could either try to be a painter or just keep dancing around it, so I opted for the former. I knew no one on the art scene, locally or nationally, and tried my best to change that. I started painting seriously, which I had only done for fun sometimes previously, or for gifts, and made it a goal to have enough to submit to group exhibitions. So I showed up to local galleries unannounced, with my portfolio in hand. (Clearly I made some mistakes along the way.) I got into a show even though I don’t think the gallerist appreciated my popping in. I also submitted to juried exhibitions, and managed to get into a few of those as well. I should also add that I started reading anything and everything I could get my hands on that had to do with business. Even if it wasn’t remotely related to the art field, I still read it just to glean any crumb of advice possible. I sent my work to galleries via postal mail (back when they still required slides!) and sometimes I’d hear nothing, sometimes I’d get a mean response, and sometimes I’d get invited to show. It was the ones that were a hit that kept me going despite the rejection.
This process went on for years, and I eventually got my resume up to speed. I started doing enough shows that I would get invited to exhibit in others without even asking. This was probably around the time that social media came about, so I made sure I got involved on all the major sites. In addition to my own website, I found that the web was becoming more and more a resource for collectors. People were becoming less afraid to buy art online, sight unseen. Also having an online presence helped to validate everything I was doing, so people could keep up with my work and shows without physically being there.
I think school was just a small part of my art career. Aside from constantly pushing myself to be better at my work, I’ve learned more about being an artist by studying business and marketing. I’ve learned a lot just through trial and error. What works for some, doesn’t always work for me, so I have to pour my energy into what does work and cut bait on the rest. I’m seeing more artists focus on the business aspect of their careers as well. It’s not enough to just create anymore. Also, persistence is key. The art world is tough and full of rejection, but you have to keep trying. I’ve had the same galleries tell me no over and over, only to finally give me a yes. Bottom line, you have to keep trying.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community? Are these aspects of your existence that are important to your creativity?
I currently reside in Lafayette, Louisiana. What first struck me about this city is how friendly it is, and that was a large part of why I moved here. I like that it’s a college town, there’s a large emphasis on arts and culture, and there is a lot of green space here. The art community here is like a large family. It’s very supportive, it’s not competitive like some areas can be, and I felt welcomed when I came onto the scene. I would say having a community such as this is vital to your creativity because it allows you to share ideas, get feedback, and work through issues you may be having with your art or your career. It can be helpful to discuss these things with someone else that’s in there in the trenches with you.
What’s your first memory related to art?
I remember I was at an antique store with my mom- I must have been 5 or 6 years old- and came across a framed print of Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’. It was the first time I’d ever seen this work of art and I was utterly captivated. I just stood there and studied it while at the store, and when I got home I drew the piece from memory. It was a cute drawing, I wish that my mom still had it but it was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
You tend to work on your images in series. How clear is your direction for each series before you start creating them? Have you ever been surprised by where you have ended up or by the revelations afforded to you through the creative process?
I’ll have the general concept for a series worked out beforehand and usually several individual paintings sketched out. I’ll build upon that as I go, and use what are usually just thumbnails and fragments of ideas to create the rest of the paintings. Once I get started, I’ll just continue with the series until I feel like I’ve said everything I need to say. Since the general premise of the series is worked out already, I’m never surprised by that, but I’m sometimes surprised by the process by which some paintings come to be. I’ll have the concept, but not always clear on how I want to execute it. There may be one thing that’s just off and I’m struggling with how to make it the ‘right’ image. And that’s when I’ll just keep sketching variations of it, some of them very similar, others wildly different, and I may do nearly 100 sketches before I settle on the right one.
Where does your love of nature stem back to? Do you remember the event which resulted in the tipping point for you to make the decision to go vegan?
I’ve been fascinated with nature since I was very young. I would hang out with my dog all day, play in the woods next to my house, and check out all the frogs, tadpoles, and minnows living in our ditch. I loved coming across wildlife in the forest or that wandered into my backyard.
As for going vegan, I actually started off as a vegetarian for a few years before making the transition. But just to go vegetarian was a huge decision for me that I fully researched beforehand. I was writing a paper for an Ethics in Biology class, and while in the library I came across some information on factory farms. I was horrified and thought it had to be a fluke. So I sat there and kept looking through more books. One after another, they all gave the same story, and more accounts of animal abuse. When I looked through books for an opposing view, they didn’t have a leg to stand on. Their arguments were severely lacking and didn’t actually refute such claims. I literally decided then and there to become a vegetarian. That was actually really easy. I kept reading and researching, though, and found that I was still supporting slaughterhouses, and discovered that ‘dairy cows’ and ‘egg-laying chickens’ were still enduring abuse, living in inhumane conditions, and their lives did not end well. So I made a slower transition to veganism, thinking it would be difficult. It wasn’t as hard as I thought, and nowadays there are so many vegan restaurants and vegan cooking items that weren’t even around then.
Being a vegan, can you talk to us about some of ways this moral and selfless choice has impacted your subject matter and creative decision making in general? With veganism becoming more prevalent in the public consciousness in recent years, has this had any impact on how you’ve been approaching the delivery of your message? How have you seen your subject matter evolve over the course of your career?
I’ve always incorporated nature into my work, from the time I was a child. That being said, I do feel like veganism, and my general concern for the environment, is what helped lead to my current body of work. I always want to up the ante when I move from one series of paintings to the next, and I felt the need to fully flesh out the ecological concerns I had in a way that I didn’t before. There are so many issues that fall under this umbrella that I have yet to cover and am not sure if I’ll ever be done with this series. I’ve been working on more climate change pieces as of late because I feel like this is one of our most urgent matters. My work is surreal and there is a lot of symbolism, but occasionally I’ll do a piece that is a little more direct than the rest just because I feel the need to get the message across, loud and clear – and quickly. As for veganism becoming more prevalent, I can’t say that it’s had a direct impact on my work, but it has changed how I’ve gone about presenting it. I’ve approached more ecology-focused and vegan-focused websites and magazines in order to combine our efforts. I feel like my paintings can help visualize the state of our planet and its possible future in a way that may be hard for people to envision otherwise. I think people are more likely to take action and preventative measures if they can see what the future could be.
What are your biggest concerns about our impact on the natural world? In your opinion where are we going so badly wrong and what would be the first thing you would love to see change?
My biggest concern would be that we do something irreparable. Nature is this complex, multi-layered system in which everything is interconnected, and that concept is taken for granted. People just assume that they can keep cutting down forests, putting up shopping malls, using up natural resources, and pumping chemicals into the air, water, and earth, and that it won’t have any repercussions. Or if it does, they won’t be around then anyway, so it will be the next generation’s problem, and maybe they’ll invent something to solve it by then. This pass the buck attitude is a huge part of the problem. That, and greed. Trump’s backing out of the Paris climate agreement is the perfect example of this as well as where we’re going wrong. It’s a selfish, irresponsible move and says to the rest of the world that we don’t care. We’d rather keep using outdated, unsustainable forms of energy that destroy the planet just so we can make a dollar.
I would love to see everyone move to a more plant-based diet. I know some may think I’m just biased, but it’s actually a fact that raising livestock for food has a huge impact on our carbon footprint. More so than driving automobiles. These animals are large in size and in numbers, and require a lot of space as well as huge lots of land to feed them all. It’s a huge drain on our environment and it is without a doubt, unsustainable for the planet’s ever-growing population. We have well-exceeded its limit, and more and more people will go hungry. As we cut down forests to create ranches, we continue contributing to climate change, creating drought in some areas while others receive too much rainfall, thus unsuitable farmland. It’s a vicious circle. One documentary that discusses this in much greater detail than I have here, and I would highly recommend watching, is ‘Cowspiracy’.
What has been the most memorable or unexpected interpretation you have received about your work?
There was a woman looking at my paintings in an exhibit in Austin, Texas and she was literally moved to tears. She was asking about my work and was studying it for a while before tearing up. She was a bit surprised at her own reaction, as was I, but I was flattered as well. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one who’s memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
Probably the biggest turnaround in my personal life occurred when I was 10 years old. I was at school, and the details are a bit fuzzy, but the school counselor came to my class one day and was giving us a speech about how we can do anything if we put our minds to it. That’s the gist of it, there was more, but I don’t remember it now. Anyway, I was probably the only student that hung on his every word, but I absorbed that speech like a sponge. It was as if he was only talking to me and no one else was there. I should also note that this was the first time I’d ever heard such things and was not getting that at home- that’s about as much as I’m willing to elaborate there. Up to that point, my grades in school went from mediocre to bad. I didn’t pay attention in class, I didn’t do my homework assignments, and I had no interest in even trying to do better. I was moved to what the other kids referred to as “the dummy group” which just made me feel bad about myself and that I really was a failure. So once I was in 5th grade, I attended junior high school for the first time, and that’s when the counselor came around giving this inspirational speech to my classroom. From that day on, I did a complete 180. I got straight A’s in all my classes that year. I won the Most Outstanding Achievement Awards for Science, Math, and Art (Science and Math were previously my worst subjects). I was then placed in the Honors Program the following year and continued in Honors and Advanced Placement courses up through high school.
I have no idea what would have become of me if I continued on the path I was on. Maybe I would have been okay, but I highly doubt it. I definitely wouldn’t have had the grades needed to get into college. I was always drawing, so I at least had that, but I don’t think I would have taken it to the level that I have. And I wouldn’t have had the work ethic needed to be a professional artist. And I probably wouldn’t have believed in myself. Not that I don’t still have moments when I question or doubt myself- I think that’s just part of being an artist- but I definitely didn’t have the confidence then. I think about that day often. I don’t know how many kids even paid attention that day, but I did, and I am forever grateful.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
That’s a really hard question. I think maybe Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. Aside from being beautiful, I would love to have it just to study it every day. I think I see something new in it just about every time I look at it, and that’s just online and in books. To see it in person would be amazing.
What’s next for Amy Guidry?
I’ll be showing as part of the ‘Familiar: The Spirit Animal in Contemporary Art’ group exhibition at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco, California this November.