Interview with Amanda Louise Spayd

Amanda Louise Spayd’s Origins of the Forest opens this Friday from 6-9pm at mph, so we took some time out to ask about her intriguing figures and the idea behind this show.

When did you start creating the figures you are so well known for?

I started making little tattered dolls or plush toys in different forms when I was in college, probably around 1999 or so. But their current incarnation (glass eyes, human teeth, bunny-like ears) has been around since about 2007.

What is it about creating 3 dimensional figures that appeals to you more than working in a 2D medium?

I think it’s the “realness” of the object in space. When something is sitting right in front of you, you can reach out and touch it, and see all the sides. You can interact with it, and it’s interacting with you in a way, just by being in the same space. Many senses can be employed to see, touch, and smell the object. I make art that is meant to be interacted with – posed, played with, held – so I want to get it off the wall and into people’s hands.

Your figures look like they have rich histories behind them. Do you usually think of a back story for each figure that you create?

I don’t really have specific backstories for them, but I love the idea of history. I am a collector of antiques, and the history of an object – whether or not you really know what it is – is a huge part of the charm for me. I mean yeah, that sort of sepiatone wash of time that old objects all have is aesthetically pleasing and cohesive, but the mystery of where it came from is really intriguing. Who touched it? Who used it? What kind of children played with it? Who wore it?  In a way, I want people to wonder the same things when they first see my work, to wonder where they came from, who made them, and what they were for. I don’t want to create the histories, because I want people to ask these questions and experience the joy of wondering about an unfamiliar and unusual object.

How would you describe your work to someone who is unfamiliar with it?

“antique playthings from a history that never was”

Where do you find the materials used in your work?

Much of the fabric and trim I use is repurposed from vintage and antique clothing and linens. Anything from ancient coats to mens’ trousers, ladies’ lace collars, wool jackets, grain sacks, tablecloths and baby clothes. I think the strangest item I ever used was this pig-feed bag I bought at a barn sale, that had really terrifying and dubious stains all over it.

When you’re lacking inspiration, what do you do to jumpstart your creativity?

I usually go shopping! I live kind of out in the country, so there is no shortage of antique and resale shops to poke around in. I also get a lot of inspiration from color combinations, and have a real passion for color, so I might also hit the library or thumb through my embarrassingly large backlog of Martha Stewart Living issues.

Most of the creatures I’ve seen you create have long ears similar to rabbit ears, but I haven’t heard you define them as rabbits. Are they rabbits or are they creatures of some other origin?

Ha ha, you know, I always just call them “bunnies” or “guys”, just because I don’t know what else to call them! Some of them are obviously rabbits. I’ve made a few stags. I’ve made bees, and bats as well. But yeah, there’s also this really common shape that I make with no defining characteristics. I have no idea. Perhaps they are just mutants, or not particularly blessed by genetics 🙂

Teeth are usually very prominent in your work. Is there a story behind this?

No real story, except for the fact that I’ve always been bizarrely obsessed with teeth. Even when I was in high school, I drew teeth on everything. I actually have very good, straight teeth, but I’ve always thought that was rather boring. I think crooked, wonky, or snaggly teeth are really visually appealing, and much more interesting than the “perfect” smile.

What have you learned about yourself or about the creative process from making your figures?

I’ve learned how much I really like playing dress-up with them. Even though they all start out as kind of a similar shape, by the end of the process they’ve all got such different personalities. I only have some control over that too – variables such as fabric weight or a slight difference in face shape can change the entire look of the character. It’s a lot of fun to see them evolve.

Who in the art world do you find inspiring or whose career do you follow closely?

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but I’m actually rather a recluse when it comes to my peers in the art world, and don’t always know what’s going on in the art scene. I’m a big fan of stop motion animation, and have a large DVD collection that includes Jan Svankmajer, Brothers Quay, Jiri Barta, etc. Film has always been a bigger inspiration to me than anything (and I’m a child of the 80s, so my early years were drenched in puppet films and fantasy) – from set design to creatures, costumes, and prosthetic effects, I find a lot of wonder and creativity in film.

How was your experience working on the short film, The Maker?

Intense, exhausting, and extremely rewarding! I could not be happier with the result; the film is amazing! The director, Christopher Kezelos, has such an eye for his craft, and created a world that fit my creatures’ aesthetic so well, I am extremely proud to have been a part of it!

Can you tell us more about your upcoming show at mph and the idea behind the title of the show, Origins of the Forest?

Growing up in northeastern Ohio (and frequently visiting relatives in rural central Pennsylvania), I have always been surrounded by trees. My backyard as a child was a large wooded area, and a source of wonder, safety, inspiration, and comfort. I feel truly at home when I am in the forest. This show is sort of a love letter to the woods, showcasing the colors and textures of a wild place and its wild inhabitants.


Thanks so much to Amanda! Come check out her work in Origins of the Forest this Friday, September 7 from 6-9pm.

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