INTERVIEW by ALEX BAUMGARDNER | PHOTOGRAPHY by JULIAN BROWN
After leaving York University in Toronto with a degree in fine art, Amy Shackleton did what a lot of art students do when facing the grim realities of a 21st century “real world” that has no plans to fulfill that dreamy promise made to every millennial. (You know, the one that said we could be whatever we want, and live happily ever after…) She got a job. But soon after that, she realized her dream of being an artist would never happen unless she found a way to dedicate herself completely. So she quit and began painting full-time out of her Toronto studio. After only 2 1/2 years, she sold about 90 paintings and was picked up by galleries in Canada and England. Now, after a video showing her unique process went viral, her drip paintings have garnered international praise and are selling for anywhere between $1,500 to $8,000. And she’s only 25!
Your “Painting Timelapse” video blew up last month. What was that experience like?
It was pretty crazy. I didn’t expect it at all. I actually posted the video to accompany my recent solo exhibition at the Elaine Fleck Gallery. A lot of people ask about my process, and when I try to explain to them, “Oh I use gravity, and I rotate my canvas and I don’t use brushes,” they’re like, “What?!?” So I made the video to explain what I do, and I posted it on YouTube just because that’s the easiest way to post it. And what happened was one of my neighbors posted it on Reddit.com. And overnight it went crazy; it had over 100,000 views in just one night. And now I think it’s close to 700,000 views. It got me on the national news here in Canada, and I was getting interview and price requests from everywhere from Brazil to Poland. It’s been exciting.
How did you come up with your process?
I graduated from art school at York University three years ago. At the time, I was starting to focus in on my subject matter. I was doing dripping, but it was mostly with a brush. As time went on, I started introducing the drips as a natural part of the inspiration for my work. It was a more organic way to express myself, as opposed to the hard-edged details of the more concrete forms. So I started dripping on the floor and rotating the canvas on my easel to direct the flow of paint. I worked on unstretched canvas at first, so the surface was flexible and I could move it however I wanted. And that worked pretty well. But when I became more experienced with my technique, I abandoned my brush completely and started dripping concrete forms and more straightedge details on a stretched canvas. It was more exciting and fun to challenge myself to work with gravity alone. It’s interesting to look back at the last three years, because with every piece I used a little bit less brushes, a little bit less brushes, and then, finally, only drips. So it was a process.
When did you first realize that you were really on to something during that process?
I think it was when I started to impress myself. I started thinking, “Jeez, how did I do that?” I started to amaze myself, and I started to realize that other people would be even more amazed, because they really didn’t know how I did it. It was a technique I hadn’t seen before. But to be honest, I didn’t realize how different my process was from all the other artists around the globe until I posted it on YouTube. So far, at least 691,802 people have seen my video. I’ve received thousands of comments and emails about the video and not one person has mentioned seeing my technique before. It was just so refreshing to realize that maybe I have discovered something unique, something that no one has done before.
When did you first realize you wanted to make a living as an artist?
I remember in kindergarten, the teacher went through a list of things we could be when we grow up, and when I saw artist as one of the things on the list, I just grinned from ear to ear. I thought, “You mean I can do this for a living?” Ever since then I’ve always been drawing and sketching in my free time. But after I left York I was actually working full-time at an office. I had a large commute and didn’t have enough time or energy after work to really focus on painting. When I finally quit, I had a brief opportunity to jump into the deep end of the art world before I found another job. So I gave myself a couple weeks without working to see what I could do, and I lined up nine commissions within a month. I had so much fun and made more money than I’d made full-time at the office. So I just kept going. Then I had exhibitions and group shows, and before I knew it, I was showing with just a few other artists and people were finding out about me. And now I’m doing solo shows and international art fairs.
What advice would you give to an artist trying to dive in like you did?
You’ve gotta have energy and you’ve gotta have time to really focus on what you want to do. Do whatever you can to get your work out of your studio and into restaurants, galleries, and public spaces for others to see! You’ve gotta take the risks, because otherwise it’s not going to fall into your lap.
Who are some other artists you draw inspiration from?
It’s really easy for me to get inspired. A great example is the International Art Fair that I was just exhibiting at this weekend in Toronto. It’s just so great to see the energy of hundreds of artists in one space at the same time. It’s really incredible. Just seeing all their individual ideas, and it’s all very different than mine, which is reassuring! So at first I looked to other artists for inspiration to try and find out what my style was, so I looked to people like Andrew Rucklidge in Toronto, and I’ve always loved Salvador Dali. But now I look not to other artists so much, but locations and other places to really inspire each piece.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Well, they can buy a painting. [laughs] I know my work is quite expensive; my prices have been creeping up in the last few years due to the demand, and I expect they will continue to rise. To make my work more affordable in the future, I’m sure I will make prints. But there’s something special about original art, and it’s important to know that you can own original art and support artists. And you can even commission a piece if you’re interested in a certain location or have some inspiration yourself.