The Cover Interview by Melanie Sykes
London based Artist Amy Judd (born 1980 in Margate) has been painting her signature obscured female figures for over tens years. Inspired by Mythologies and folklore her pieces capture surreal stories of women and nature. Her work always strives to be striking, beautiful and feminine.
For the last 4 years she has happily juggled studio time with Motherhood, turning 40 in lockdown and returning to painting has given her a new vigour for her work.
Hey Amy, thank you so much for being our cover star!
How has lock down been for you?
As a pretty private artist I feel like I have been training for isolation my whole life, sometimes locked down in my studio for days at a time! Then over a year ago I went on a long maternity leave with my second daughter and hid in a baby bubble enjoying cuddles and tiny feet, not joining any baby clubs and staying in my PJs till noon! I have appreciated and enjoyed having a new born so much more second time around and found it hard getting back to work. So I have grown accustomed to some sort of lock down, all be it a more pleasant one!
I dipped into my work now and again over the last year but I had not fully immersed myself in painting for months, so when lock down was announced and my husband said he was going to be home more, I jumped at the opportunity this strange time has given me and started back at the studio. I am able to work most days and have a new vigour for my work, this has kept me sane and the baby brain has almost been replaced with something more creative.
So despite the crazy scary situation we are all in its not so bad in our small world.
When did you realise that painting was going to be your world?
Like many creatives at school I struggled with academic subjects but I could draw and paint and loved it, and from an early age it became obvious that it was all I wanted to do. My earliest memory of painting was at my junior school, I was asked to do a mural depicting the myth of Pandora’s box; coincidentally mythologies were to become a big inspiration in my work.
In my teenage years I was a child among adults at an evening life drawing class and I soon gained confidence and an understanding of the female form that has stayed with me my whole career.
I knew for certain that I could make painting my life when I could quit my part time job at a wedding dress cleaners, and paint full time, my gallery gave me the confidence and support to do this and I haven’t looked back.
Are you from a family of creatives? Who were your mentors?
My parents have always had a home full of books, my mother was a librarian and my father a history teacher before retiring, so as well as a mountain of Vietnam war books which are not really my cup of tea, we also had enough art books to sink a ship! My folks are my mentors and biggest fans, they would take my brother and me to international museums and art galleries, and introduced me to the world of art at an early age, more importantly they were always enthusiastically supportive and gave me the encouragement and confidence to believe this could be a way of life.
How and when did you develop your style?
It’s been an organic progression over the years, from life drawing throughout my studies to self portraiture for my Masters, I have always painted the female form, but it wasn’t until I saw Swan Lake at Covent Garden that my work shifted. This was a game changer, I was captivated by Odette’s transformation to and from a swan, it was a sublime idea.
Within folklore, mythologies and literature stories have been told of a magical relationship between birds/animals and humans, I soon realised I could conjure up my own “myths” within my paintings. I was drawn towards more avian themes at first, the feathers and plumage of birds were a joy to paint and they had a certain spirituality, they captured vulnerability and strength simultaneously. My new flower paintings, inspired by the goddess Flora, have the same qualities; In painting the flowers larger than life the fragile petals become sculptural gaining a strength and abstract quality, the blooms become beautiful suits of armour, helmets, masks or headdresses for the statuesque women. Although the Roman Goddess Flora was the initial inspiration, the figures are modern and timeless, they become less Muse and more self assured, poised women.
All my figures are anonymous they are often obscured by birds, feathers or flowers, giving the viewer space to create their own narrative, often I paint my women with “familiars” animals or birds that seem to engage the viewer on behalf of the figures, creating a sense of ambiguity and intrigue. I see the combination of the female form and nature as organic and harmonious. My work is a contemporary reimagining and revision of traditional mythology that celebrates this relationship.(More than anything my Floral collection gives me a great excuse to buy beautiful flowers, especially now as its peony season!)
Do you use models or are these women a figment of your imagination?
I work from gathered imagery and my own photos, Also taxidermy and Museums are a good source for studying feathers and Fur. Then composition is constructed in sketches and often manipulated in Photoshop exploring further positioning, lighting and subject ready to transfer onto canvas. This process of using different sources like a collage, gives my work its surreal quality.
How were you discovered?
Following my MA at Wimbledon school of Art I found a tiny studio near by with no windows and the occasional pigeon visitor! That year we had an open studio and Jeff Hicks turned up and asked if I wanted to be in a group show at his gallery, Yes! Of course. I sold all the work and the rest is history, I have worked with the lovely Hicks family that run the Gallery in Wimbledon for over 10 years. They have shown and sold my work here in London and internationally.
Since then I have a larger studio with Windows!
You paint women. Do you paint for them with them as buyers in mind?
This is a good question, I have never been asked this before, I paint for me and I am a woman, but my buyers are both men and women equally.
I see them as feminine images, not just because they are of women, but perhaps because I adorn them with the beauty of nature, delicate but strong feathers, juicy but architectural peony petals, soft but statuesque rabbit heads. The images are ambiguous, open to interpretation and contradiction. Singer and song writer Laura Marling reclaimed Virgil’s misogynistic phase “woman is an ever fickle and changeable thing”. I personally would like to reclaim this, as although not fickle I am certainly changeable and I see this as a strength not a weakness.
“I feel good at 40, just a little more tired
and I have a lot more potions by my bed.
But life is all that my 30 year old self
would have hoped for. I am still
enjoying painting more than ever, some
days the time I spend in my studio is
almost meditative, I believe this is a
contributor to my positive mental
I bought my painting to seeing it an art fair. I wanted all of your work! They are achingly beautiful.
When you set out to do a series, how does it come to you?
At the moment I am revisiting past themes and carrying on with the Floralia collection, inspired by the goddess Flora, I am combining and playing around with ideas, there is no strict narrative at the moment as I am finding my groove after being on maternity leave. It feels like a good time to do this as normal life is on hold and the world is in a strange limbo, I hope to have a show after lockdown and perhaps that will give me a focus. I have started collecting ideas and will try and get a body of work that will sit well together in the gallery.. watch this space!
What is your routine, if any, around your work?
My new normal is to look after my two little girls in the morning, (how often can you give your children Coco pops for breakfast?! ) then I head to my studio after lunch, I set certain days to research, compose, photograph, and then finally paint.. If I know its a painting day I skip to the studio, I still get a thrill when a painting is going well and I’m enjoying my own company, I admit it is nice to have time to myself especially at the moment. When I arrive I plug in my laptop ( I finally treated myself to a new Mac, its not too covered in paint yet!), get Spotify up and running, I play my music loud, or recently I’m loving a podcast. I answer any emails, ignore social media.. knowing I should be better at it! I paint until it comes to an organic end, stop for a snack, often a crisp sandwich and chocolate biscuit, My body is a temple! I can stay till late which is a luxury after years of having to rush home for the nursery pick up! So I crack on till I get hungry and go home to my wonderful husband who cooks me a late night dinner!
Who or what inspires you as a person and then your work?
I have previously mentioned how the Ballet Swan Lake has informed my work, I am interested in Costume design within theatre and cinema, in how designers create imaginative beautiful solutions to make stories come to life. I continue to be inspired by the more creative side of fashion, specifically designers inspired by nature. Alexander McQueen’s designs are ruled by nature almost in a spiritual way, they sit beautifully with Philp Tracey maginative and surreal head wear that often dramatically hides the wears face. Both designers use materials found in nature, feathers, flowers, skulls, or directly inspired by them.
There was a female Italian designer of the 1930’s called Elsa Schiaparelli who was connected with the surrealist movement, her dresses and hats were beautiful with a surrealist edge, from lobster dresses to shoe hats.
I like anything that is beautifully surreal, “Judex” (1963) is a black and white French film by George Franju, the opening scene is marvellous, a man in a bird head walks through a masked ball, then begins to do a strange magic show with white doves, firstly poor birds, but it is such a decadent but disturbing scene. This is what inspired the masked killer in the recent TV series “True Detective”. I binge watched this in two days!
Max Ernst (1891-1976), part of the surrealist and Dada movement created collage illustrations for Une semaine de bonté, he rearranged images to create a dark and surreal world where people had the heads of lions, birds, shells or lizards; they are both funny and disquieting.
On a lighter note! One of my favourite magazines, as well as Frank of course, is Elle decoration, I adore interior and architectural design. I will watch grand designs all day and lust over peoples homes on instagram, I see the stillness and limited palette in my work perfectly suited for a domestic setting, some images giving drama to a space others creating a sense of calm.
How does it feel to part with your pieces and how did it feel the first time?
The first piece I sold was a small ink life drawing, at a local art gallery in Sandwich Kent, where I grew up, I was still at school, and it was about £150, I was thrilled!
I don’t often think about the life of my paintings after they leave the studio, but when I see a photo of one in situ its lovely, a reminder that people actually have my work in their home, becoming part of their lives. This makes me so chuffed and gives me a weird feeling of pride, more like a mothers pride as they are out in the wide world making people happy!
How long does each piece take?
I use thin oils on canvas, and typically I work on several paintings at a time, as I need to let the paint dry after each layer, so a piece will develop over a month or two. The ideas and composition often take longer, and perhaps I will return to ideas I started months ago.
Before having my second daughter I did a commission for The Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane in London, it was the largest painting I have done and I had to go and raise a drink to it with some of my girl friends!
Which other female artists do you admire?
There are many women I admire, for very different reasons; I am in love with Mary Cassatt paintings, a female impressionist, her scene of domesticity are just beautiful, perhaps I appreciate them more as a mother?In stark contrast to Mary Cassatt Paula Rego’s often dark menacing scenes are just so strong and unapologetic. I have a physical response when I witness them in the flesh like no other painter, I am in awe of her story telling and raw emotion.
Since I was little I have enjoyed Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers, I would make studies of her work when I was young and perhaps that’s why I have ended up painting flowers now? She often uses skulls within her paintings something I have for a long time wanted to incorporate in my own work.
Recently I went to the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A museum and my long term admiration for this almost legendary woman was confirmed, I love her for her story, strength and surrealism.. and not least for her sense of style and use of red lippy even on her death bed.
How do your children feel about your images?
They are only little, but Mia, 4, has seen some pieces, She thinks they a beautiful and she likes the “Easter bunny heads”! We will see what they think when they have grown and have teenage friends; “what? your mum paints boobies?”
Are they showing any inclination towards painting themselves?
Yes Mia loves drawing, she draws everyday, mostly family portraits, but she does a mean parrot too! I hope they stay creative, Mia is so imaginative right now and I wish I could bottle it!
Do you think your maturity brings more to your work every year?
Absolutely, every year I strive to make new work and my craft seems to be second nature to me now, almost like a muscle memory, I guess this is out of practice and love of what I do.
So I hope I have my best painting years aheads of me!Having children definitely hits every parents career especially women, I haven’t seen it as a sacrifice but a change of life and a hiatus in my work. I am lucky I can come back to work when and how I want and once the kids are in full time education I can get back to full time painting! So I believe my more mature self will be on some fierce painting mission once the nappies and milk bottles have been chucked away!
You just joined the 40 club how does it feel?
Yes I turned 40 in April whilst in lockdown, it was not really celebrated, just an extra fish finger and cupcake with the kids dinner! I have decided to skip this year and so I will be 40 next year!
My husband and I had to cancel our big Great Gatsby themed birthday party due to Corona Virus, all our friends have 1920’s outfits so we have to make it happen after lockdown!
I had planned to get a tattoo when I turned 40! Many people are walking around with tattoos of my paintings on their bodies, not put there by me! It is an art form I am in awe of, I would never have the nerve to paint something so permanent on someones skin. I always wanted one and thought by 40 I’d have decided what to get, but I still haven’t.. perhaps by 50!
I feel good at 40, just a little more tired and I have a lot more potions by my bed. But life is all that my 30 year old self would have hoped for. I am still enjoying painting more than ever, some days the time I spend in my studio is almost meditative, I believe this is a contributor to my positive mental health. Its hard being a mum and this quiet alone time is a luxury I know many parents don’t have. Becoming a mum has been the biggest change over the last decade, which has been the hardest and the best thing I have ever done, giving birth is the most amazing thing I have been through and my girls are my world.. after this so many superficial worries are banished and you’re given a new perspective on the world.
I feel like my career and personal life are well balanced and moving forward. I have always been a pretty contented person and at 40 I take joy from simple pleasures and home comforts.. and I know the grass is hardly ever greener.