THE PAST BECOMES PRESENT IN HER AWE-INSPIRING ART
Story by Odessa Paloma Parker
Originally from the West coast, Montréal-based artist Amber Albrecht creates the kind of images that come to you as a child listening to your favourite fairytale, and re-appear whenever you let your mind wander just a little bit. Plaid caught up with her to learn a bit more about her craft.
What’s your earliest memory of art? Did your interest start in childhood, or later on?
My interest started quite early on. One of my earliest memories of art and of attempting to make very carefully detailed art involved the unicorn paintings from an agenda calendar that my cousin Sage used to have up on her bedroom walls. I used to copy these pictures extremely carefully when I was about seven or so, using thick watercolour paint. I also used to copy the elves from Elfquest, a cult comic from the 1970s peopled with a great many buxom and free-spirited little people. I definitely learned through mimicry amidst an abundance of fantasy-type inspiration and of course many amazing children’s books.
What lead you to Montréal to study?
I wanted to go a fair distance from where I grew up, as part of my general wanderlust and in order to try something completely new. I was also trying to get away from the source of my very broken young heart at the time. I wanted to go to an art school that was also a University, so that I could take Arts and Science courses, history and philosophy and so on. When I visited Montréal the first time, to check it out as a possible place to move to and study, I had no idea that a city in Canada could have so much age and charm (being so used to Vancouver). I’m quite surprised to still be here, although I love it a lot, I thought I would have lived in more places by now.
It’s interesting that you’re now in such an urban setting but your work infuses so much natural beauty into the subject matter; from where/what do you draw inspiration?
I go camping and on road trips, on day hikes, week-long hikes, international trips, trips to the Montréal Botanical Gardens, to the vast Montréal cemeteries, to the old villages and spooky drives of Vermont, to cottage country, the library, back to British Columbia every summer, and I completed a farm internship this past spring. I wish I could do all these things a lot more than I do now. I don’t foresee living in the city for too too much longer, but it seems like it would be a bit of an isolating choice to go live in a hut in the woods by myself at this point, as tempting as it is. I might try to do it short-term next summer.
How do you conjure the images of the characters seen in your work? Is it difficult to draw a person without having any tangible memory or vision of them?
For me its difficult and I don’t usually attempt it. I normally use bits of images from magazines, old black and white portrait photographs, and my own photographs to draw people. They end up looking different in the end. In any case, they say when you draw portraits that you’re always drawing yourself, and people often say that the girls in my drawings look like me. I make my roommate pose for me when I need to draw hands or feet.
Your use of colour is quite unique; it very much lends your pieces the folkloric quality for which you’re known. How do you go about making a piece – does the colour selection come last, or is it a part of the whole process?
When it comes to serigraphs the colour choices and degree of opacity are very important and these decisions are made during the printing process (with lots of deliberation, making the printing process a lot longer than it necessarily needs to be). Each colour/layer, as it comes out impacts what the next colour will be, so I can’t really plan ahead completely when it comes to the colours. I find it a very tricky business and will often print one piece with one colour and then change my mind, scrape off the ink, change the colour or opacity, print again, change my mind again, and then after I’ve printed all the copies, I’ll sometimes wish I`d gone with the first colour that I’d tried. The last silkscreens I made didn’t have any black in them and I was trying to get the colours to be more transparent and come through each other more, and also be a little different then my usual colour schemes. For drawings I use Ecoline inks, mixed in smaller quantities, and will try to stick with just a few combinations that I`ve decided on at the outset of the drawing.
Was there a moment when you definitively decided you were going to make art that collects from the past, rather than trying to push the boundaries and create something “modern”? Or does that just come naturally?
It comes very naturally. I`ve always been into collecting old and weathered objects and imagery. I do consume a lot of contemporary film, literature, art and music, but probably far more from the past than from the present.
You’ve been commissioned by different sources [The Walrus, Ascent Magazine]; what do those collaborations involve? How much input do you have?
I always have a great deal of input, maybe too much sometimes. Generally the collaborations are extremely positive and I always really hope that I’ve done a good job and that the other party is satisfied (since I’m often unsure how I feel about my own work for at least a year afterwards). Clients are usually great at communicating their needs and wants and providing useful feedback.
What do you enjoy about doing commissioned work?
I like being given a very specific theme once in a while. This gets me going on a different path than I might usually find myself going down. Its also nice to receive feedback from new people in order to get new perspectives on my work.
This year you showed in Belgium, and you have previously shown in Germany as well. How do the audiences there respond to your work? Is it any differently than in Canada? I ask because Eastern Europe is obviously so steeped in folklore, and I’m wondering if their appreciation of your art is different than from audiences elsewhere?
Those were pretty low-key group shows, I don’t actually know how the people who saw those shows responded to my work. I think my print work is quite different than a lot of the print work that is made over there. I would like to be in some more involved shows in Europe.
Is there anywhere else you’re particularly interested in showing?
Pretty much anywhere. I would like to show in some of the Print Centres in NYC and elsewhere in the States. It would be amazing if I could show one day at the Drawing Centre in NYC. I would really like to do more residencies, I should try to go somewhere outside of Europe for a change but of course I would really love to go somewhere in Eastern Europe.
Do you have any specific future goals with your work (illustrate books, for example) or are you happy working the way you do now?
I would definitely like to do some book illustration in the future for some of the bigger publishing houses. I would like to get out of my studio cave a little bit and expand into more collaborative work with others or into some art activities that are a little different than my current two-medium 2D world. I’m not being very specific but right now it’s just a feeling I have that things need to change and expand a little.