Soul Searching: An Interview with Amy Clay
By: Anita Solick Oswald
July 1, 2020
We are speaking with Amy Clay, Boulder artist, teacher, blogger, and traveler, about her art, her travels, and her inspiration.
Amy creates evocative works that take you beyond the images on the canvas. Her work is a gateway to a previously unimagined world and future. Combining motifs of mysticism, nature and sacred geometry, Amy’s paintings awaken one’s knowledge, rousing deeply held feelings and inspiring dreams to become experience. Whether the viewer is at home or away, her paintings nourish the imagination, transporting you to far flung locales, both real and fantastic. Enter Amy’s world and be captivated.
INTERVIEW WITH AMY CLAY
Q. Tell me about yourself and what you do. What’s your background?
A. I come from a small town south of Boston, and my parents were straight up middle class working parents. But they had other creative pursuits on the side – my mother was a fiber artist, and my Dad was a singer/actor in the regional theater/chorale.
I was always drawing and painting since I was a kid, but I loved to design clothes, so eventually studied art and fashion design at Syracuse University. That led to a career in fashion design that took me to jobs in London and New York City through the 80’s. But I realized that I needed something more meaningful, so I cashed it all in and went on a soul searching quest, traveling the world for a year and a half, mostly by bicycle.
When I landed in Boulder, CO, I began to explore my path as a painter, studying a more contemplative approach with my teachers at Naropa University. I was well into my 30’s, and by then was a single mother – so it was a challenge at times!
Now my greatest love is to combine art and travel by living as an artist in residence in countries around the world! To date I’ve done over 20 residencies in 14 countries globally. You could say I’m a bit obsessed. I even created an eCourse about artist residencies on my website ( www.amyclay.com/learn ) , to share with others who want to know more about what they are and how to attend one.
A. It’s really not even a choice to be an artist, it’s just who I am. I’m insatiably curious about life and art and have a deep longing to express myself. And I’m an explorer by nature – always seeking new ways to expand beyond my own world. So, it all comes naturally.
A. I’m an intuitive painter – I never know what I’m going to do before I begin, or even while I’m painting. I listen deeply for clues about how to proceed, and just allow the impulses to direct me.
I’m mostly an abstract painter, but I also do various kinds of printmaking, and have even done a few hand painted animations. I love writing as well and blog regularly on my website www.amyclay.com/blog about art and travel and the creative process.
What’s a typical day in the life of you look like? How do you organize your day?
When I’m at home in Boulder, I am weirdly very routine in my morning habits. I wake up and start journaling, meditate to clear space in the yakkity yak of my active mind, and then eat the exact same breakfast. I get out into nature every day, so either bike or hike, usually in the morning. I try to get in the studio by about 10ish every day.
I’m at my most creative in the mornings so I paint for a few hours, then spend the afternoons with some painting and admin – marketing/website updates, applications, blogging, etc.
I supplement my income with seasonal part-time clothing design for various companies, and this helps finance and support my lifestyle, so I make hay while that sun shines too.
In the evenings I often connect with friends, or wind down with a good Netflix binge like everyone else. I’m not a night person so rarely paint in the evening.
Q. What role does the arts have in society?
A. I can only speak for myself, but I feel that art in all its many forms is about speaking universal truths. It’s part of the human longing to respond to beauty in all its infinite varieties. And I do feel that beauty is the antidote to violence. As the poet John Keats wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth, beauty. That is all there is on earth and all ye need to know.”
Q. What has been a seminal experience for you? Tell us about your favorite artist-in-residence experience.
A. There have been so many! My first seminal experience was living in London for a year as an exchange art student back in 1980 at the height of the punk movement. My whole preppy Boston persona went right out the window! It was a coming of age time and my whole world expanded 10 fold on every level. I never was the same again.
As far as a favorite artist residency – it’s hard to say because they are all so different. I loved Cill Rialaig in S. West Ireland because it’s so remote and on a cliff by the sea with the wild Atlantic weather! I also loved Fundación Valparaiso in southern Spain – it was free at the time and the studios and accommodations were fabulous. Although now I think they charge a substantial fee.
Q. How has your practice changed over time?
A. My practice really hasn’t changed much over the years, except that I have much more time now than I did when I had a family! My time is my own, and I often wonder how I managed to do so much back in the day with all the other demands.
I’ve also explored many different mediums over the years – encaustic, oil, collage, printmaking, hand painted animations – but it’s still always the same intuitive practice – listening, trusting in the process.
Q. What art has influenced you?
A. One of my biggest art heroes is Robert Rauschenberg. I also love the epic bleak vision of Anselm Keifer, and the fluid lyrical quality of Helen Frankenthaler. But there are many current artists I follow on Instagram that inspire me on a regular basis.
Q. Tell me about a real-life situation that inspired you.
A. My freedom is paramount to me, and I feel most free when I’m on the road making art, exploring new places and people and landscapes. My first year of doing artist residencies back to back in 2009 was such a magical experience that it set me off on the path of combining art and travel that continues to this day!
By the way, your readers can download my free eBook The Far Shores of Being about my first 2 years of residencies on my website at www.amyclay.com.
A. I really don’t get lonely very often. I have a great group of friends and see them regularly, and when I’m traveling to artist residencies there are always new people to meet. But honestly, I never have enough time to myself to do my painting and all the other project ideas I have! For those who need more connection with other people, there are many group artist studios to rent, or they could do collaborations etc. In this time of COVID-19, people are connecting via Zoom etc. There are so many options!
A. I think arts funding is critical. So many artists don’t sell enough of their work to make a living, and it makes exploring more innovative work impossible. I haven’t applied for grants as much as I should, but there are many of them out there. But most artists need to have some other source of income. I think it keeps you free from depending too much on selling your work – which might alter the direction your work takes. My design work has kept me sane over the years for that reason!
A. Boulder has been my home for 29 years – I love it here. It’s a beautiful lifestyle (although it’s become increasingly crowded and expensive). I love the mountains and that it is a liberal, creative community. We have so many artists here and our Open Studios every year is one of the best in the country. But I am often restless and need to go beyond what I know and love. So, for now I love Boulder as my base, and when we are able to travel again, I will hit the road!
A. I love music and I sing and play the guitar, so I often thought of having a career as a musician when I was younger. But I’m not really one for the spotlight and am uncomfortable on stage! So now I just warble and noodle around on my guitar at home for the fun of it.
A. As mentioned, the Open Studios Tour is a fabulous community event in Boulder. I’ve been part of it for 20 years. It’s a great way to connect with those interested in my work, and to get to know others in the art community. I also donate paintings to various local charities for their fundraisers and support my local art groups/museums with financial donations.
A. I’m really drawn to northern landscapes and cool, dank weather (I know, I’m in the minority!). So, one of my dreams is to do a month long residency in a lighthouse in the North Sea – maybe off the northernmost coast of Scotland or Norway! Aaahhh – crashing waves, winds and sea – heaven!
Anita Solick Oswald
About the author
Anita Solick Oswald is a Chicago native and author of West Side Girl, westsidegirlstories.com. Her essays have appeared in The Write Place at the Write Time, the Faircloth Literary Review, The Fat City Review, and the Avalon Literary Review. She studied journalism at Marquette University and holds degrees from UCLA and the University of Colorado- Denver. Anita lives in Niwot, Colorado, with her husband, Ralph, and their two cats.
Her book, West Side Girl, chronicles the adventures of a ragtag brigade of migrant and immigrant children finding themselves in rapidly changing community, Chicago’s West Side in the 1950’s and 60’s. All royalties from book sales go to Off the Street Club, www.otsc.org, a Chicago nonprofit that supports at-risk youth. Founded in 1900, the organization serves more than 3,000 kids in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country, West Garfield Park, where Anita grew up.