The Work of Artist Amy Guidry

The rude question posed to Amy Guidry – a jolt rivaling the avant-garde disposition of her portfolio – isn’t easy to absorb, eliciting a laugh born from disquiet not humor. As the forced chuckle fades, a brief uncomfortable silence permeates for a couple of breaths.

“Was I a weird kid growing up?” the Lafayette artist repeats to buy a second. “Gosh, I don’t know. I mean …”

It’s fair, something she’s been asked before, although perhaps not so bluntly. It arises from time to time, show to show – manifesting in forms like, “Oh, you must have some really strange dreams, huh?”

or when her gallery pieces offer social commentary on gender inequality, “Did you paint this prior to your marriage?” – because, quite frankly, Guidry’s work doesn’t blend in seamlessly when hung over a fireplace. It’s different, not for a shock, but for substance. There’s no Spanish moss, no two-steppers, no washboards, no shrimpers or trappers or poachers, no food, no drink, none of the safe buoys oversaturating a talented but somewhat-repetitive local art scene.

What there is, as seen in Guidry’s piece “Freedom,” is an impossibly colored pheasant bursting from the mouth of a beautiful woman set against a backdrop of tree bark; a visual statement illustrating female strength, growth and independence. Or, as in the untitled but unmistakable painting featured in Guidry’s “In Our Veins” series, the severed head of a rabbit, duck, rat, crow and boar float beneath a western landscape – commentary on how animals are often viewed as “parts” and not living beings, all of which brings us back to our original question:

“You know, as a kid I’d go out in the ditch and catch tadpoles, so I guess that’s pretty normal, right?” Guidry asks as she answers. “But I did spend a lot of time drawing. It was a way to express myself. And even going to school, it’d be a great way to strike up a conversation with a kid I didn’t really know. They’d see my art, and all the sudden I had a new friend.”

As Guidry goes on, she speaks of a charmed childhood on the Northshore, of college scholarships, of weekend hiking trips with her husband, of strategically placed notebooks around her house so she’s never too far away to jot something down should a light bulb illuminate over her head, and of how she spent last Saturday night on the couch watching the Jason Bateman comedy, Identity Thief – you know, normal stuff. Together, it’s a summation of proof that you don’t have to necessarily be different to paint with meaning.

“Art is more than a decoration,” she says. “It’s not just about matching your sofa. This is something that you’re going to live with for the rest of your life and hopefully you’ll pass it along to your family. So it better have an emotional connection to you – an attachment. It should be more than pretty to your eyes.”

The distinctive personality of Guidry’s collection draws comparisons to the cultural surrealism movement of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s – an artistic avenue birthed out of continual global conflict that enables painters to shake and unnerve the audience while providing social commentary through abstract concepts constructed from true-to-life images. Most famously, the movement is epitomized in Salvador Dali’s melting clocks and Rene Magritte’s “Son of Man.” When asked to typecast her work, Guidry offers a bit of a twist, calling it “contemporary surrealism.” Dreams and free-association exercises are her artistic feedstock, fueling Guidry’s chosen vehicle to (as she so perfectly puts it) inspire, enlighten, amuse, brighten and bring forth positive change. At times, her art is uncomfortable, yet impossible to look away from, sparking an inner-conversation that can’t be ignored.

“If only one person ever heard me, these are issues that are important to me, so that’s enough,” she says. “It’s great that I have that luxury to create work that has a dialogue with its viewer. I hope their takeaway from my work is positive, that they pay-it-forward in their own lives. It’s never a guarantee, but it’s something I shoot for in every painting.

“When I first started out, and I didn’t know anything about business, I thought, ‘Oh, well, I need to paint what people want,’” she continues. “But I discovered, it really doesn’t matter what you paint – it just needs to speak to someone. There are artists struggling painting safe, pleasing things. There’s never any one answer.”

Spiral-bound glimpses into Guidry’s thought process are scattered around her home. There’s always a notebook within reach – by her bed, one near the kitchen, a couple tossed in random drawers here and there – because inspiration is spontaneous and fleeting, often showing up unannounced and leaving much too early. Before it escapes, Guidry jots down a reminder of its presence, usually in the form of stick-figure drawings that she’ll reference days, weeks or months later.

From these minimalist sketches, Guidry has brought life to pieces used to decorate the house in MTV’s “The Real World 20: Hollywood” and that show up in scenes for the upcoming movie When Angels Sing, starring music legends Harry Connick Jr. and Willie Nelson. Though Guidry refuses to compromise the integrity of her art for commercial success, several prominent galleries and museums have exhibited her work, including the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, Brandeis University, the PhilaMOCA, the Paul & Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum and the Acadiana Center for the Arts.

“Say I was a musician and I created an album. The likelihood that you’re gonna like every song is slim,” she says. “But sometimes one song is enough reason for me to buy an entire album … Well, not now, but back in the day, you had to buy the whole album. Anyway, I find with my regulars, they might not like all my series, they might not like all the paintings in a particular series, but there’s going to be one that resonates with them.

“And that’s fine by me. As long as I’m true to my work, that’s what’s going to speak to people.”

Categories: Theatre + Art