This week Brighton Journal spoke to Brighton-based artist Amy Isles Freeman. Amy paints murals, hand turned wooden bowls, printed illustrations and preloved denim clothing. Her work explores female sexual identity, and she describes joy as the centre of her practice. Amy told Brighton Journal that her work’s thematic origins began in Falmouth Art School, where her research on feminist art and Dorothy Iannone’s work inspired her to “make art that celebrated love and sex between women.” We discussed the trip to New York that solidified Amy’s decision to pursue art, as well as how painting a mural at her old school became a personally significant project. Keep reading to find out more about Amy and her inspiring work.
What are you doing today?
Today I am finishing off a mural for a local company called Himal, and then continuing work on a project for Cornwall based clothing brand Finisterre. In amongst all of that I am working on Christmas stock and orders in my studio in Fiveways.
Describe where you do most of your creative work.
I am lucky enough to have a gorgeous space on Grantham Road called In Hand. It is full of natural light, and I live in blissful chaos there most days of the week.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?
In the last couple of years I have been painting murals, and it’s my favourite work to do at the moment. Last year I painted a small mural at my old school in Oxford, and that project was so full of love and healing. I hadn’t much enjoyed being a student at the school – I had felt on the periphery of everything, being the secretly queer arty one. Going in and painting an image of two girls dancing, chatting to the students and understanding that to be LGBTQ+ at the school now was so unimaginably different to when I was there 10 years ago… it blew me away. It’s still my favourite piece of art that I have ever made, and it’s wonderful that it gets to be seen by so many people daily.
What made you decide to become an artist?
I have always known that I wanted to be an artist, and for that, and many other things I feel so incredibly privileged. My mother was an illustrator, and so as children my sister and I were always being set arty tasks by her, and would watch as she showed off her talent. She encouraged me to take art seriously when I was in primary school, and it was always drilled into me that I could be an artist, but I had to understand how to make a living from it. My work has always had a commercial lilt to it, which drove my tutors at art school mad, but has stood me in good stead.
When I was 16 my parents took me to New York, and I spent the whole week sitting on art gallery floors drawing what was in front of me. Then I knew that there was no way I was going to pursue anything else – it HAD to be art.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a couple of designs for Finisterre, a Cornish outdoor and surfwear company, for their AW21 collection. I have just finished a couple of murals – one at Selina, the new hotel on Preston Street, and one for Himal, a local company making sustainable clothing from organic hemp, nettle and cotton. And now I am getting my head down making orders for Christmas! I hand paint preloved denim clothing, which is popular around Christmas, as well as hand painted wooden bowls, and lots of works on paper.
What are the key themes in your work?
My work’s origins come from a project that I made in second year of art school. I was looking at feminist art, and diving into it’s raw beauty and anger as I was having my own feminist awakening, and slowly understanding my sexuality. I went to the Camden Arts Centre and saw an exhibition of Dorothy Iannone’s work. She used humour in her work as a means of carrying her message, as well as a naive style to explore explicit scenes, and it lit something inside me. I went back to Falmouth and began drawing women loving women – colourful and cheeky scenes that communicated my beliefs and sentiments around female sexual identity. At the time, 7 years ago, the world was a different place in terms of media representation of LGBTQ+ love and lives. I wanted to make art that celebrated love and sex between women, without rainbow banners or the underlying subtext of tragedy. This project felt honest and sincere, and has defined my years since!
Joy has been the centre of my practise. Colourful, celebratory work that makes you smile.
What would you like people to notice about your work?
I would love for people to see both the decorative nature and the tender emotion. I am part of a large cohort of young female artists and illustrators that make work around the female nude, and I am part of a seemingly infinite group of artists that I have made work around the female nude for the whole of recorded history. What I hope is that people see that I am not objectifying the female body. My women have agency and autonomy, desire and elation, and are way too busy with each other to take a blind bit of notice of you.
What attracts you to the medium you work in?
I work across so many! Most of what I do involves some kind of painting, and what I love about that is the scope for improvement. My skills have improved year on year and that gives me such job satisfaction. Painting is so wide and varied and I love the potential for exploration and discovery.
What equipment could you not do without?
Who or what inspires you?
I have such greedy little eyes, and I am constantly consuming imagery wherever I am. I love and hate instagram, but it is a vast library of incredible artists currently working, and I do spend ages seeing what’s being made across the world. I look for colour palettes when I walk around, seeing what pairings people have created on buildings and book covers. I look for patterns made by light shining through leaves on the pavement. I sometimes wish I could turn my art eyes off but nope. It’s constant.
How is your work affected by living in this area?
I was living in Cornwall before I moved here two and a half years ago, and my work has changed hugely since being here. I moved into a studio with an artist called Marcelina Amelia, who has now sadly moved away, but sharing a space with her emboldened me. She showed me so many techniques, and shared so many tips. I grew in courage and confidence and I can see that shift in my work. Brighton is so full of cheeky energy, and that has encouraged my pursuits.
What’s your favourite thing to do locally?
On a warm summer’s morning I love going for a run along the seafront, then strip off and swim in a calm sea.
What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?
Anywhere where there is enough space to sit on the floor and draw.
If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be and why
What a huge question! Dorothy Iannone – I would love to have been experimenting with painting and sex with her and Dieter Roth.
What’s your favourite colour?
Something in the peachy spectrum.