Amanda Houchen is an artist I met at an art fair earlier this year. She happened to be on a gallery’s stand when I wandered past and was immediately drawn to the painting she was exhibiting there. I’d asked the gallery about the piece and they introduced me to Amanda. Meeting artists like that can be slightly intimidating – you’re on the spot and feel obliged to make a comment about their work. However Amanda’s work is so visually intriguing and Amanda is so approachable and affable, that we soon began chatting and making plans for me to visit her studio in Suffolk to see more work.
A few months later I found myself on the doorstep of a sun drenched house in Aldeburgh where she lives and works.
The thing that initially drew me to Amanda’s work was the paint. It’s not only vivid and bold, there is something indulgent about it, the way it’s been applied to the canvas – in places it’s smooth and deliberate, in others it’s gestural and abstract. There are multiple layers to the works – abstract backgrounds that weave in and out of the foreground. A balance of dark and light. You really get the sense that Amanda enjoys the act of painting. She confirms this when she talks about her process – she’ll start with an idea of her central character, but she’ll let the work develop organically and change, playing with the paint and its application.
Amanda is a story teller. Her eerie femme fatales appear to inhabit magical places of ambiguity and mystery. There’s a darkness there that intrigues me. Who are these strange characters with their mask like faces and misplaced eras? I like the way I can’t quite place who they are, where they are, what they’re doing. The artist drops hints along the way, like a Hansel & Gretel trail of breadcrumbs, but she’s deliberately misleading us, forcing us to challenge our own conceptions of time, space and identity.
Amanda is drawn to the overly stylised and contrived images of 1920s and 1950s starlets. She displaces them with neoromantic 80s references and cites film makers George Méliès, Hitchcock and David Lynch, and photographers Tim Walker and Miles Aldridge as influences. Add in geishas, sea urchins, cabaret, circus and burlesque and you’re halfway to glimpsing whats going on in Amanda’s head…
We spent time discussing the titles of the work, which for me is part of the story (I hate it when artists title their work Untitled I and Untitled II) – it’s another opportunity for Amanda to give the viewer a sense – or unsense – of the unearthly worlds her characters live in, with titles like ‘Snake Island’, ‘Moonshine’ and ‘Pantomime of Regret’. The title always comes last; its the finishing touch.
Amanda’s studio is tiny – a small ground floor room at the front of the house with bare wooden floor boards and huge windows. The works are so powerful, they need space around them, whereas we’re viewing 8 of them in confined space. Its hard to isolate each one and take the time with it that is needed. Amanda can work on multiple works at the same time – she’ll start a few together and then maybe focus on the one or two that start to develop the fastest. It takes about a month for her to complete each work.
A series of collage works are leant against one wall – these are part of a new work process. She fits different cut out images together, playing with the overall balance – the colours, the shapes, the ideas. This helps her to explore and push her boundaries and inform new ideas for paintings. I love the collages as works of art in their own right.
I’ve talked a lot in other posts about the importance of living with art in your home. I think Amanda’s work is visually striking and stylish of course, but more importantly for me, it takes me on a journey and sparks my imagination. The works are both enchanting and haunting with their dreamlike scenes and references to bygone eras.
Amanda’s artworks are available from £425. http://www.amandahouchen.com.