In Conversation With
The Fuel & Lumber Company
The following interview was conducted in person in Birmingham, Alabama between Amy Pleasant, Pete Schulte and Tessa Granowski (B.C.E.) on March 4, 2022.
BCE: We are recording an interview today with Amy Pleasant and Pete Schulte (and Wilhelmina). I just have some questions about The Fuel and Lumber Company, what it means to be an artist and a curator, how those inform one another, about your individual practices and then also talk about the upcoming show in New York, which opens on March 26th.
First and foremost, how and when did The Fuel and Lumber Company start?
Amy & Pete’s dog, Wilhelmina
Amy Pleasant: We always say, “established Summer 2013”, because that is when we met. So, we established it in 2013 as an idea. But our first show was not until 2014. It was with Jiha Moon, who is a good friend of ours who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. And she did this great show with ceramics and paintings and a print in a room in Pete’s house in Tuscaloosa that we converted into a small project space.
And Pete had already been curating in his past and he was really interested in trying to do something like that in Tuscaloosa, where he was living at the time.
Jiha Moon Installation at The Fuel & Lumber Company - Tuscaloosa, Alabama 2014
Pete Schulte: We almost started talking about the curating immediately after we met just because this is what we both do. I curated quite a bit of stuff in my past individually and Amy was putting on independently curated events in Birmingham.
AP: Oh, that's right. I had started something called Rapid Fire. It was a gathering of creatives who maybe didn't want to give a lecture about their work, but could share images, exchange ideas and have a more casual environment to meet people they didn't know to share their work with. It was supposed to be about just looking at images and talking afterwards individually. So, I got a projector, and we used my home studio because there's a big wall without windows. And then we would project the images, and everybody would have a short period of time to share. And then we'd hang out and it was a really great way of creating community. My favorite part about it was at the end of each one, I would send a notebook around and then somebody who presented would pick somebody to present at the next one. And I loved that it wasn't me picking people and it was about this kind of growing community.
BCE: It was like tossing the bouquet.
AP: Yeah. You’d end up meeting people you didn't know and see work that you didn't even know was here in Birmingham. It just kept it really dynamic and interesting.
PS: So, we met almost nine years ago to the day. And I don't remember exactly how this unfolded, but Amy invited me to the Rapid Fire. And it was a great event of people getting together and it introduced me to a lot of people in town. I think from then I thought, well, what could we do together? So, we originally started off The Fuel & Lumber Company in the extra room in my house in Tuscaloosa, cleaned it up and turned it into a functional little gallery space. And then we were able to pair that up with the University—I teach at the University of Alabama—and we were able to pair that up with visiting artists coming through.
AP: And our second artist was Jay Davis, and he gave a lecture and presented a group of small paintings. William Downs, another friend of ours from Atlanta, came and gave a lecture and presented a full drawing installation … and it was great for students, too!
William Downs presenting his drawings at The Fuel & Lumber Company - Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 2016
PS: Yeah. And we did some shows in Birmingham at Amy's former studio downtown. But we kind of quickly realized that with our own practices and my teaching that we didn't want to be bound to a monthly program. I think initially I kind of had dreams that we'd have a gallery, like a traditional brick-and-mortar space. But we decided right off the bat that we were not going to be moneychangers. We wanted it to be about the work and the community. So, we really adopted a more organic and amorphic approach to it where it wasn't a brick-and-mortar space, but rather it was an idea, and we just made ourselves available.
AP: And then we started getting invited to do shows elsewhere, which was fun because, like Pete said, we were using my studio after he left Tuscaloosa. And it was difficult to make work at the same time as hosting a show. But in doing projects nomadically, it took us to other cities, and we were able to collaborate with other galleries.
PS: Yeah, I think we did just enough that way that people kind of knew what we were about and what we were doing. We hosted music events, food events, and then it was also kind of coinciding with a lot of activity in our own practices. And this opportunity at Brackett Creek is exciting because it's our first New York opportunity and our most Northerly as well.
BCE: Bring the South up North.
AP: Yeah. And one of our missions was that we wanted to be able to bring artists together from different geographical backgrounds and at different times in their careers. This show does that geographically, as we have three Southern artists and three artists from the New York-area.
Nocturne Installation, Brackett Creek Editions NY, March 26 - April 23, 2022 - curated by The Fuel & Lumber Company
PS: One of the things, too, I noticed after arriving in the South eleven years ago to accept a teaching job, was really the surprising amount of high-level, adventurous artists working down here, especially mid-career artists. I think we so often think of the Zeitgeist happening with the youth in bigger cities, but I was just really excited by the number of people who had either lived in New York or L.A. or Berlin or some other big city and had relocated down here, whether it be for a family concern, an academic position, or just worn out by the city.
AP: Maybe even looking for a cheaper place to live...
PS: Yes, whatever the case. And in Birmingham, we’re within two to five hours of all the major cities in the South. So, we really adopted this idea that our artistic community wasn't a single point on the map but was access to this entire region.
AP: Putting that in a larger context is what we often want to do too.
PS: Yeah, and just in terms of the functionality of it, Amy knows tons of people because she's been down here for so long. I knew a lot of people from going to school in Iowa City. So, we each knew a lot of people that we would introduce one another to, and then all those people would just introduce us to their friends. And as we've moved through the region, whether to give a lecture or even just drive through someplace, we're meeting artists and going to their studios.
It's been really invigorating to have access to this strong region of artmaking. I think we are also mindful of where we are and that diversity in many ways has been part of our mission, whether it be people of color, gender-orientation, or different age groups. We have been working with artists who are just at the onset with their careers and then working with artists in their 70’s and 80’s. We find that to be very important to put those artists in conversation together. And it's just been so exciting to see those exchanges when we get into a space and start moving work around and see how these works can inform each other. So that's been a singular focus. And, also too, we don't just focus on artists from the Southeast, but we try to put those artists in conversation with a broader context.
Nocturne Installation, Brackett Creek Editions NY, March 26 - April 23, 2022 - curated by The Fuel & Lumber Company
AP: And to clarify from earlier, three Southern artists in this upcoming show are ones that are living in the South, not necessarily from the South. Emily Weiner, for example, moved from New York to Nashville, not long before COVID.
BCE: Got it. So where does the name “The Fuel and Lumber Company” come from?
PS: The Fuel and Lumber Company is a name I had kicking around for a while… I'm from the Midwest, right on the Iowa-Illinois border. And there was a very influential jazz musician from there named Bix Beiderbecke, who was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. Miles Davis acknowledged the influence and there's recordings with him, but he was living in the Dixieland Era, and he was white, which meant that he was not allowed to share a stage with many of the best musicians of the era. He and Louis Armstrong, for example, were incredible friends but they could only play together in hotel rooms after-hours. He’s kind of like a Hank Williams figure, died of alcoholism at 29… It's a brutal story. Anyways, his parents owned a business in Davenport called the Davenport Fuel and Lumber Company, and I just loved the ring of that name. Most towns in the United States had what was called a Fuel and Lumber Company. It was a place to buy and sell basic goods and services for in the town. And we believe that Art and Culture is a basic necessity for the survival of any community.
BCE: Yeah, I love that. Did you work together prior to The Fuel and Lumber Company, or was The Fuel and Lumber Company a way for you to start to share an active dialogue about the art and artists you're interested in?
AP: Exactly. That really is what The Fuel & Lumber Company was.
PS: There are some real obvious distinctions. Amy's work is almost totally contingent on representation in of the figure, and mine is not. But we felt like we were moving toward the same thing from a very similar direction. A lot of the same artists were important to us. And so that was part of our coming together on a personal level, this dialogue we were having about art. And so, we really feel like as our relationship was established, The Fuel and Lumber Company was established with it because they are inextricably linked.
BCE: And how did you guys meet?
AP: Well, I went to graduate school with Trenton Doyle Hancock, and he was coming to Birmingham to give a lecture at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. And they knew that I was friends with him, and so they were like, why don't you come out to dinner with us after his lecture? And when we were in the lecture, I saw Pete in the auditorium. I didn't know who he was because he'd only been in Alabama a couple of years. But we went to the restaurant afterwards, Chez Fonfon. It was February 28th, and we were introduced by some fellow artists in town. And then we became, well, I guess we saw each other at events a little bit after that…
PS: So, there's more to this story. I had never met Amy, didn't know anything about her backstory, but I had followed Jeff Bailey, who's a great dealer in New York, who always had a good program, and she was in his program. So, I had seen the work at some point, probably just a website reproduction, but I'd made a mental note of it. And after I moved to Alabama, I was doing a show at the University of Alabama Birmingham and I was invited by the director, the interim curator at the time, a guy named John Fields to do an exhibition there.
BCE: Was that at AIEVA?
PS: Yeah. AIEVA didn't exist then, but it was a big gallery right around the corner from what later became known as AIEVA. And he asked me to do a show there. At the time, I was doing these installations where I was showing the drawings, but I was painting the entire space, and it was very labor-intensive, so it ended up taking a while. And he just let me crash on his couch for a day or two while I was working on the install. And there was a drawing on the wall in his house that looked familiar to me. After a day or so, I was like, tell me about that. And he looks at me like I should know something that I don't know. And he's like, oh, that's Amy Pleasant. And I'm going through that mental rolodex because I know that name. And I said, this work is familiar. I'm like, what? And he's like, she's from here. And I think I said, oh, she shows with Jeff Bailey. And he's like, yeah, she's from here, she lives here, she's cool. You all should meet. And that was just less than a few weeks before we met. John was the one that introduced us.
AP: And they show up at the restaurant because his show had just come down. I knew his name, and everybody had been telling me about his exhibition, how great it was. I was out of town during the show, so I never got to see it. So anyway, we exchanged business cards and we connected on social media. We were just connecting as artists, neither of us knew. And then we tried to meet up once or twice. But then on May 3, we eventually met at an opening.
PS: … and we kind of have never been apart after that.
BCE: That’s great. Ok, so, this is a question from Matthew Chambers. He shared with me that he finds curating a way to look at other artists and their work noncompetitively. Like, it doesn't make him feel better or worse about himself as an artist because he's wearing a different hat, the curator hat, and he looks at the work from a different perspective. Do you all find the shifting roles satisfying? And is there a larger holistic approach to being an artist by also being an educator and organizer as opposed to just being a studio artist?
PS: I think the words that really jumps at me there is holistic. I think this is probably because of my background where there’s no art frame-of-reference for me. So, I kind of had to invent it as I went along intuitively. And I think it was maybe my early discomfort with even being called an Artist. But as I grew more and more comfortable with that, everything became part of my practice, whether I'm in the studio nudging something around on the floor or drawing or curating or even teaching. Obviously, there are differences between them, but to me, it just helps me live a creative life.
AP: And we always talk about how all of it is kind of one practice because so much of, I think, any artist’s studio practice comes from looking at and understanding other artist's work, and over time, you then put your work in the same kind of narrative or conversation. And for me, those have been some of the richest shows too, even though our solo projects with other artists are great, the group exhibitions like Float… Fly… Transcend…. That show was an amazing experience because we were able to bring together artists with totally different ways of working into one idea.
Float…Fly…Transcend… Installation, The Fuel & Lumber Company at the Alabama Contemporary, Mobile, Alabama. Previously on view from January 21 - April 18, 2021.
PS: I really struggle with the notion of these kind of “star curators” who think that they're the artists. But there is an aspect of when you're putting a show together, that you're making something. My former mentor and really one of, I think, the most incredible artists in this country, David Dunlap, would always question the nature of your object. And I think the way that I craft drawings, the mindset is not much different from the way we're crafting exhibitions.
And you're always trying to find this moment of resonance. I heard Hank Shocklee from Public Enemy once give an interview where he's talking how they were crafting the sound, and he said “…we were looking for that moment where the whole room kind of stands up and hums.” And that's what I'm trying to do within my work, or what we're trying to do with an exhibition, where you want to find that moment where it all just kind of stands up and hums and gets in sync. A lot of that is intuitive, too. That's why I love this. It's not language.
AP: But also, I have to say, language is often very much part of it. Sometimes it's a poem, sometimes it's a song, like Float… Fly… Transcend… came from a Terry Allen song.
PS: Well, that's a point of origin.
AP: Yes, but language and words do very much make their way into the work as well.
PS: Yes, maybe a more poetic expression than a literal expression. I think that's where Ben Estes’ works are so remarkable. Through language, they present something that is just this beautiful, contained world. And with Float… Fly… Transcend… I think it's important to point out that the song that that was taken from, was expressed in the negative, as in, “I did not float, I did not fly, I did not transcend.” But when we put that show together during the Pandemic, we wanted something…
AP: We wanted something to make you feel that you can try to flip it and find this hope.
PS: Something new in the midst of all that, that we can try to float, fly, and transcend. And that show did for me… it was pretty magical.
AP: And we did that one at the Alabama Contemporary, which is in Mobile, Alabama. It’s the biggest show we've been able to do.
BCE: And because y’all don't have a brick and mortar and you're constantly working with these new spaces, that's probably also part of the fun of it, solving that piece of the puzzle, no?
AP: It is. And that is very much a part of what Pete’s work has been for a very long time... he has always been interested the site-specific nature of exhibition building.
PS: Yeah, that's totally true. But I think site-specificity in contemporary art is too often confused with merely responding to architecture. And there's so much more. There's a lot beyond the visible world or just the walls of the space that you can try to tap into. And so, it's not just, how are we responding to this corner or the height of the ceiling or the texture of the floor. It's also, how does the space feel? This something I've been talking a lot with students about. There's a lot in this world that we don't see, but we know is real. How do you draw that? How do you make that part of the experience that you're creating or use that as source material?
That's why the forthcoming show at Brackett Creek Editions is interesting, because it's a very tiny space, but it's a unique and weird space. I think it's going to provide challenges for us, but we're kind of always up for that. Rather than seeing those things as a limitation, it asks, what can we do with that space? I approach every exhibition that way, even for my own. It's not just a matter of hanging product on the wall. How does this feel in the space? How do people move through the space? How does it change over the course of a day?All those things.
BCE: Yeah. And I found in curating shows in the Chinatown space that that exact nuance is so important. As soon as you think that you're probably done and ready to hang the show, it's the point when you actually step away from it and feel it instead.
PS: Yeah, I think about Robert Irwin staring at a painting for 11 hours and then adjusting a line.
AP: Exactly. I feel the same situation in my own work. Jered Sprecher, who is a good friend of ours, a painter who also showed with Jeff Bailey, was part of a group show that we did in my old studio in downtown Birmingham. But regarding one of my works, he was like, you just don't even realize that inching something just a slightest bit over or rounding the shoulder just a little bit more can completely change a piece. And most people don't recognize that about my own personal work, that the shapes really can shift over the course of making one of the paintings.
Amy Pleasant, Elbow II, 2022, oil on canvas, 12 x 14”
PS: And that goes to the curatorial aspect, too. That eighth of an inch can have a radical effect on the way you perceive a painting. And so, there's always those kinds of nudges. And sometimes that can get a little maddening, too. The Barb Smith piece in Float… Fly… Transcend…, was this massive island of pedestals with around 100 objects…
Float…Fly…Transcend… Installation, The Fuel & Lumber Company at the Alabama Contemporary, Mobile, Alabama. Previously on view from January 21 - April 18, 2021.
AP: And we installed it over FaceTime. Really, she was the eyes of the installation, and we were the hands. It was very complicated, and I had never had an experience like that before, but it was incredible. And she would say, well, can you shift that one just a little bit more the left closer. I think at some point she was even worried that she was asking too much.
PS: But we totally get it.
BCE: And so, an extension to Matthew’s question is, do we have a larger societal role or responsibility outside of being an “object maker”? And when is being an “object maker” enough?
PS: I think artists play a vital role in the culture, but it's not divorced from “object maker”, if you want to call it that. My feeling is that artists are the ones that set the bar and show the culture what it's capable of—the good, the bad and the ugly. And I think part of that the reason is that we get to defy logic. The engineer has to make sure the bridge can stand up or the architect has to make sure the building won’t fall on somebody. We don't have to concern ourselves with those things. And I think the role of the artist and the culture is always to show the culture of both what it is and what it is capable of. And that's why so many cultures are defined by the arts, not by the politicians. At least when you take a longer view.
AP: Also, it asks really hard questions. I think we're living in a time where this is very apparent... where we don't want to talk about certain things, and we don't want to have to think about certain things. Like maybe you'll stand in front of something that you're just repulsed by, and think, I hate that. But then you ask yourself, why do I want to just walk away? Often, I'll come back to that work in a year, and be like, wow, I love that. It'll become something you'll understand in a totally different way.
PS: In a culture that's lacking empathy in almost every single way, what Amy is describing, is essentially developing the capacity for empathy to approach that which you don't understand. And to meet it on the same terms.
PS: And having students who are constantly being asked, what are you going to do with that art degree? And, why does this matter? And we can see what a failure of imagination and lack of empathy do to a culture because we're living in it right now. So, I think while the act of making something and creating something in and of itself is an affirmation of life, the broader things that we do as artists and makers and people who live creative lives is that we serve that function as well.
AP: And just feeling the power in expression… that we can value individual expression no matter what that might look like.
BCE: I recently watched this movie about the building of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, called Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center, and it followed mainly the relationship of architect Richard Meier and artist Robert Irwin, who was commissioned to design the central gardens there. And just kind of what you're speaking to about this lack of empathy and lack of understanding of the arts, Richard Meier told Robert Irwin at one point, something along the lines of, “You're just an artist. You can do whatever you want, and it doesn't have to work, and it doesn't have to matter.” And he was totally missing the point.
PS: I want to be clear, though, when I say that it gets to defy logic, it's structural logic. I think it does have to work. I mean, I can create a space on paper that couldn't be built. And I just think that sort of use of imagination is important to the culture. But does one drawing change the world? I don't necessarily believe that, but I think that collective enterprise is important.
BCE: Certainly. So, I was going to move on to more individual questions.
Pete, I just wanted to talk a little bit about how you present your drawings. We did this in Montana, and then you've set up your drawings here for me to visit. Do you find that the act of presenting works on a table, you're acting as kind of your own curator, and how does that maybe feed into your curator practice?
Pete Schulte, Presentation at Brackett Creek Exhibitions, June 2021
PS: Well, that’s interesting. I always act as my own curator, but I don't do that to the exclusion of other voices. So, when I'm working with galleries, they know their spaces well, and I want the benefit of their experience. And just like my dialogue with Valerie at McKenzie Fine Art, she's got a good eye, and is in that space every single day. So, we would have a nice back and forth about how that works. But yeah, I see myself in that role with my own work as well.
And presenting works unframed on a table is something that I've done for years. Really, since the drawings have developed, I don't get to show them that way very much. With that experience in Montana, it was very powerful for me because the space was so beautiful. The table was beautiful. The room was beautiful. It was kind of like that Eames movie, Powers of Ten, where they zoom out from that point. And I just love that community of people there that were able to experience that work and what felt like deep looking and a sensitive and open approach to the work. And presenting work like that, which is just not always possible in that way, especially unfettered—not under a vitrine or not under glass. I just think it's such an intimate way to see the works, and it takes it off the wall art space and puts it down more into the human space. It was literally on a table that we dined on a few hours later.
BCE: Yeah, and even one of the drawings you made in response to the table, right, of one of the squares?
PS: Yeah, exactly. I try to really be responsive and there’s kind of a feedback loop within the work. I might experience something that generates a drawing, and then the drawing is almost indexed by other experiences that I have. And so, yeah, I just think there's a greater degree of intimacy with the drawings like that. And I think the drawings really call for that in a lot of ways. I don't think seeing them under glass, whether it's on a wall or in a vitrine, it is not the ideal viewing situation. I think the situation you saw them in a way is probably much stronger. But there are practical issues.
BCE: There are blustery days.
PS: I talked to Valerie about wanting to do something like that, and she called her insurance company, and they were like, absolutely not. You cannot do that.
But in Montana, I liked that there was very little documentation of that. A few of us took pictures, but the in-real-life factor is very important. You can't distinguish the real scale or the surface or the nuance or the subtlety in a photograph. And I also like that it was for this group of eight or ten people. And it was for that space and time. And now the only place that it resides in is in our memory of it. I think that kind of viewing experience, like the tabletop viewing experience, is really in tune with the work. And it's what I want the work to be. And I know that's out of time with our culture where it's fast, loud, Instagram-able, scrollable, screen-able. And I'm not lamenting those things. They're facts in our culture. But that's just not the way I want these works to operate.
BCE: And then in thinking about your practice, I also think about how music plays an important role… like how you build a record collection or listen to records. I don't know if I'm stretching this, but that also seems like a highly curated process, no?
AP: So, I know this question is for Pete but I want to say something. Pete picks records for us, especially Sunday mornings. We've been calling it “Classical Sunday Morning”, and he'll go down and he'll pick us out something or whatever the moment is when we're sitting in the living room here.
PS: I don't want this to sound like I’m being dictatorial though.
AP: But he'll curate our sound.
PS: Yes. I don't want it to be like, it's only my choice.
AP: I usually ask you to choose. I love it.
PS: And if I ask Amy, what do you want to listen to? She won't usually say a specific thing, but she'll say … something mellow, or… I want horns!
BCE: Yeah, I'm kind of curious about the whole listening experience. Is this also something that informs your work?
PS: Without a doubt, music was my way into the Art World. It was my frame of reference for pretty much everything creative. I remember being a kid in the 70’s and my parents’ car with just an AM radio and just being completely suspended and held totally present by whatever was on the radio. Somehow it didn't matter really what it was. So, it's always been that space that for me that I would now define as the art experience. And just like, why does this make me feel like this thing that I can't hold, that I can't touch, and it has this sway over me completely. And I guess that hasn't really changed.
It's not defined by anything genre-based at this point, but rather that it holds me in that space of presence. It is curatorial in a sense, too. I always had these things pinned up on the walls so I could see these relationships that curate the space, starting in grad school. And there was a point there where I was really thinking of the idea of a frame not as a frame around a drawing, but a frame around the space. So, anything that was happening in the space must be the art activity. It might be what music was playing, who was sitting in the space in relationship to the art.
But I love it when I have studio visits because I get to pull out all the drawings and see them that way. When you were coming over to the studio, Tessa, I had a good problem with a lot of stuff going out of the studio lately, so I just don't have a lot of new work. But then I started going through the drawers and pulling out works I hadn't seen for a while and looking at those next to the things I just made, and all of a sudden, I felt like they were alive again.
Pete Schulte, Studio - Birmingham, Alabama
AP: We also have a group of friends that are into music, and they make some incredible playlists.
PS: They take a long time. I can spend hours and hours on one playlist. When I just keep myself in the state of making something, it’s somehow about enriching the way that we move through the world. It’s not just limited to music. It's all of it. I do think that just comes down to trying to live a creative life. And it reminds me of being like eight or nine years old in my room with a boombox, trying to record stuff off the radio. I'm doing the exact same thing. It was the only place I wanted to be.
BCE: So, Amy, from being in your studio, hanging out with your family, being in your childhood home this week in Birmingham, I’ve learned a lot about you. If I remember correctly, you were around twelve when you first started making oil paintings, and painting with your father, who is an artist as well. Was that your first sense of a creative community? And do you always kind of return to that? Do you still talk with him about art or paint with him?
AP: Yes. My dad was making art pretty much my whole life. My mom will lament that she never got her garage because my dad turned it into his studio and he was always drawing, always painting. So, I would see him in his own creative space, right outside the window. He had a nine-to-five job, so he really can only do it at night or on the weekends. And we also had an artist who lived next door and her studio windows face our driveway.
BCE: That’s right! What's her name again?
AP: Her name is Dixie Porter. I remember watching her through the window in her studio… so I was really surrounded by art growing up. And when I was in the first grade, I started taking art lessons with this woman in her house after school. And my dad was always painting, and he was part of the Birmingham scene. He was in a group called Times Eight, and they would do exhibitions in empty warehouses in downtown Birmingham. And I remember going to those when I was in middle school and all through high school. And I just thought they were the coolest people. So, when I was about twelve, I would go and sneak canvas and materials from my dad, which I'm sure he knew…
BCE: Instead of stealing the booze. *laughs*
AP: Exactly. And I started making oil paintings. And then when my brother moved out of the house to go to college, and they turned his bedroom into a studio as a surprise for my birthday. It had old carpet in it, so they let me paint on it. I had one wall that I could pin unstructured canvas up on and work on, and it was great.
But yes, it was always a part of our family experience. On holiday, if we went to the beach, my dad always took art supplies and draw people or paint watercolors. He's an amazing watercolorist. And if we went to my grandparents’ house in the summer that's on the Lake, he would be painting outside. And then he would want me to paint with him. So sometimes we'd work together and then he was always getting us to sit for him when we were growing up, too.
And for a while he worked close to downtown Birmingham. So, when I was back between undergrad and grad school, I had a studio downtown and he would come on his lunch break, and he would draw with me. He still comes and talks to me about the work.
BCE: Was it more the action of the painting that was the shared experience, or did you guys also talk about art a lot and share inspirations with each other, all of that?
AP: Really just all of it. He’ll still send me pictures of things and say, what do you think about this? Or, did this change? You think this is better?
My dad had a ton of art books around the house, and I used to look at art books all the time. I got really obsessed at one point with the Picasso Retrospective book that my dad brought back from New York. He would visit New York a lot because my Great Uncle was an artist there.
And I was like twelve years old, totally obsessed with Picasso. So, then I started making reproductions and I even painted one on the back of my bedroom door. I should have showed you.
BCE: *laughs* Wow. And then I wanted to mention another kind of community aspect. We were walking around the neighborhood, and you pointed out this place called MAKEbhm. It sounds like that space got you involved in a new medium, which is your clay work. How long has that been going on? Have you met other people there that have kind of inspired your practice?
AP: I decided I really want to start playing with clay in 2014. I grew up going to Lake Norris in Tennessee, which is a TVA- controlled lake. The water goes up and down and in Fall and Winter, it exposes the lakebed. And we have a history in our family with that lakebed because that's where my grandmother used to ride on horse and carriage up to her grandfather's farm. And then that whole Valley got flooded. As kids, my brother and I would play out there on the Island. We would build little rock castles, and some of the rocks that get exposed to the water look like fossils or parts of statue. And I think that's always kind of been in my head and thinking about making a series of clay works that kind of look like those rocks that get exposed and that are figurative but very abstracted. I feel like we're always kind of looking for ourselves in nature and seeing those figurations.
Amy Pleasant with her sculpture, Head #35
So, I started this idea, and started taking a lot of photographs. I think you saw some in my studio at the backs of people's heads in the Greek and Roman Galleries at the Met. I was just drawn to them as objects and the fact that you never saw a face. I thought, well, I'm going to make these clumpy, raw, unfired clay busts that are the backs of people's heads. And as you walk around them to look for that, it's always the back of the head.
That’s how I came to making my first flat sculpture that stood at a 90-degree angle. Those sculptures always had the intention of going back into the ground. I eventually took them back up and placed them on the lakebed in Tennessee and took photographs of each one through winter with the snow on them and everything. And then they were completely covered with the water again, and they're part of the Lake. But then at that point, I wanted to get into doing a rolled slab, and essentially creating drawings in space.
That's kind of how I was thinking about them, these surfaces that were three dimensional, that were drawing surfaces as well. So back to your question, a friend of mine had wanted to start a space in Birmingham where you could pay a membership and use the facilities, one of the facilities being the ceramic studio. That was where I started really getting into working with clay and experimenting with rolling slabs. And as I started working with clay, Emily Weiner, who will be in the F&L show in New York, and her friend, Fawn Krieger, an artist who actually has a show right now in New York at Hesse Flatow, they co-curated a group of artists for a residency at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts. And they wanted to pick artists who worked with clay, but it was in the periphery of their other practice. All of us were there to just kind of experiment and play. And it was the best group of artists, which is how we met Barb Smith and Keiko Narahashi, both artists that were in Float… Fly…Transcend.... And it has opened me up to this whole community of artists.
And Emily Weiner is going to be showing her paintings that are surrounded in clay frames. So, yes, clay has really expanded my creative community. And it's something that I tell people all the time. Clay is so time-consuming, and you really can't walk away from it. Painting is the same way. And I feel like for the last couple of years, I haven't been able to paint as much as I wanted to. So, I'm taking a break from ceramics so that I can focus on painting.
Emily Weiner, Reveal, 2022, Oil on linen in stoneware frame, 10 x 13 ′′ from Nocturne at Brackett Creek Editions, NY
BCE: And does the ceramic practice kind of reinforce your more two-dimensional work? Has it changed it?
AP: Yeah. I don't know that it's changed it. They were an extension of the works on paper. I was making folded works on paper years ago. And it's so funny when you start doing something, you never know how it's going to develop later in your studio. But I was making these paper folded, cut out sculptures. And then these folded drawings. So they've all kind of been interacting with each other now.
Amy Pleasant, As They Touch Installation at Brackett Creek Editions, NY
BCE: So, one question for both of you. Do you want to talk a little bit about the upcoming show and artists that will be in the group show at Bracket Creek, New York?
AP: Well, I'll start by saying I'm really thrilled to be able to include work by Susanna Coffey because she was my professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago when I was very young. And she just meant so much to me and her classes and our dialogue. She really was one of the early big influences on my work and using the figure. And so having her in this show is really special to me. And then Emily Weiner, invited me to this ceramics residency, and now I get to invite her to be a part of this show. I love how artists are able to support one another in that way.
PS: We've touched on some of the artists already, but this project has been conceived on long road trips to Montana and back and forth to New York. We talk about artists who we want to work with. And we're now actually working with people that we've worked with maybe a time or two before, too. So, we don't represent artists and engage in that kind of thing, but they're just people whose work that we really like and want to with a work with again in a different context. Like David Onri Anderson.
David Onri Anderson, Ripple II, 2022, acrylic and graphite on raw canvas, 16 x 13”
AP: He was part of an artist-run space in Nashville where we both did exhibitions, which is how we met him.
PS: Yeah. David's part of a group of younger artists who are doing amazing work out in Nashville. He’s a great painter. Ben Estes is somebody that I've known for many years now who I originally met as a painter and visual artist. He's become, I think, as well known as poet and a book publisher who runs an innovative press called The Song Cave. It’s kind of hybridized his practice, at least in terms of the work we're showing now. He's making these text-based ceramic objects, platters with fragments of poems on them that are wonderful. And I think they're going to be a nice compliment to the other works in the show.
Ben Estes, Balloons for Moonless Nights, 2022, stoneware platter, 10.5 x 10.5 ′′
Ben Estes, Cloud Commune, 2022, stoneware platter, 10.5 x 10.5”
AP: And we included his work in the show we curated at whitespace gallery in Atlanta.
PS: Yes. This is the second time we’ve worked with Ben as well.
AP: And then Anne Herbert is from Alabama.
Anne Herbert, Omie Wise, 2021, Acrylic on muslin, 23 x 27 ′′
PS: Yeah. Anne Herbert is a Birmingham-based painter. She teaches at the Alabama School of Fine Arts here in town. And when I first arrived at UA, she was a grad student there. She is as an interesting painter who has been working at a high level for quite a long time. This is our first opportunity to show her work, and we're showing a wonderful painting of hers based on the murder ballad of Omie Wise.
AP: Carl D’Alvia is an artist that I've been a big fan of for a long time and met him through Jeff Bailey Gallery, and we've become friends with him and gone up to visit his place in Connecticut. And this piece that we're going to be showing of his I think is fantastic. It's called Huddle.
Carl D’Alvia, Huddle, 2017, Resin, paint, 15 x 16 x 7 ′′
PS: It's a two-part sculpture that's just extraordinary. He's somebody else who will be familiar to the New York audience, as he's been showing there for a long time.
And so, being able to put Anne's painting in conversation with Carl’s sculpture is going to be really special. And we’re not discipline specific in any way. I think that's one of the things with these group exhibitions that we particularly like, is seeing how people work with in a variety of modes and methodologies, and how their work can resonate on a level that's beyond material or any kind of expectations in that regard.
BCE: And the title of the show, Nocturne… Where did that come from?
PS: It emerged when we were working with another idea. I think there's a literal idea to this kind of sense of evening with more of a metaphorical nod to where we are in our culture right now. The sun seems to be going down.
AP: It's not negative.
PS: Yes. We touched on this earlier about what we feel like the role of art in the culture is and how maybe in this dark moment, art can act as a light.
AP: And function as a contemplative space.
PS: I think that the title is meant to function on a multitude of levels. There's a poetic sense… There are many layers for interpretation.
BCE: Yeah. I like those answers. I think that’s a nice way to end the interview. The setting sun, or rising moon. Thank you, Amy and Pete.
Amy & Pete at Brackett Creek, Montana <3