06 Jan Fresh Meat: Amy Ayanda Lester
Amy Ayanda Lester completed her BFA at Michaelis School of Fine Art. Her final project, Here is a Home, is an installation comprised of cut flowers woven into a lace shroud that responds to the loss of her great grandmother’s flower farm under the Group Areas Act. However, through the process of weaving and working with cut flowers, Amy realised that she had begun shaping her own personal experience of this history, and that the loss and memory associated with it and her emotional ties to place, people and objects, forms an integral part of her identity and sense of ‘home’.
How and why did you become interested in art?
I have been making art since I can remember. But I think when I went to Frank Joubert Art Centre to finish my Matric in painting, that’s where I became very passionate about it. There was and still is an amazing energy at that school.
What do you enjoy, or alternatively dislike, about it?
There is always a point when I make something and hate it. You do something completely thoughtless and wonder why you have made that mark or cut that one thing up but then you begin to realize that it doesn’t matter. I enjoy finding the solutions. There is nothing I dislike about it.
How would you describe your style of artmaking, and what influences it?
I can’t say I actually know what my style is, yet. My paintings are very abstract, nothing is particularly figurative. It’s very process-based and I work with a range of mediums. I draw a lot of my inspiration from female South African artists namely Berni Searle and Penny Siopis and I’m also very influenced by things which surround me daily, particularly people. I try and grapple with notions of being human but it’s a very broad and complex thing to attempt to understand. I try but I don’t think I have gotten there at all.
Please tell us about some of the themes and ideas that you’ve been exploring in your student work.
I drew on my family history. I was exploring a sense of loss which people feel when their home or something they love is taken away from them. I used my family’s experience of loss as a starting point but then soon began to realise it was about the loss of myself to things and people around me. It is very difficult being a human and I think it’s even harder to work out why bad things happen. My father is an Anglican pastor so I have been working a lot with that, the detachment I have with spirituality and the rituals that come with a particular faith. It became apparent to me as I was working that art is my religion, as cheesy as that sounds. It helps me process my experiences the same way in which people experience their personal faith.
You seem to enjoy working across a range of mediums with a focus on painting. What appeals to you about this medium as well as the others that you branch into (including singing!)?
I don’t really focus on painting. I am still very much finding my focus. But I love to paint, I can’t tell you why though. Singing has been something I’ve done since I was young. I remember begging my older sister to teach me Chopsticks on the piano after she had had her first piano lesson; all I wanted was to play music. I am lucky enough to have a father that was able to give us what we needed for whatever we felt passionate about in school. I wanted to play the flute, he organized a flute. I wanted to paint, I came home to find paintbrushes on my bed. Not many people in this country have that kind of luxury.
Colour features prominently in your work. Can you tell us about its function in your art?
The colours that I use really aren’t thought out. I don’t really think things through a lot of the time, in art and in general life. Although I really do try to. I usually just squeeze the paint straight from the tube and mix as I go along. I’d like to imagine that the colour brings people back down in a way, despite how chaotic it looks at times.
But like I said before, I don’t know my style yet nor how I want my work to function for others. It’s something that comes with a lot of practice and time. This is just the beginning stage for me.
What was it like from a creative process and conceptual perspective working with something as temporal as cut flowers (as in the case of your grad show)?
It didn’t matter to me if they died because that’s just what they do. The fresher ones which I used when installing the space are from the flower sellers in Adderley Street. My Great Grandmother used to sell her fresh cut flowers there when she owned her flower farm so it made sense for me to start working with them. I did try to figure out how I was going to keep them all alive at the same time in the space but I let that go a while ago. Things die. But working with the flowers and the people I met along the way through collecting them all was definitely the best part for me. And then sitting and cutting and tending to them after all of that made me feel light again. It was a beautiful process.
Was studying art what you expected it to be? Has your perception of the field changed since your first year? – And if so how?
First year wasn’t easy, particularly because I wasn’t present and my focus was in other directions. I think not taking a gap year and going straight into Michaelis was something I wasn’t ready for but I don’t think I would want it any other way now, looking back. Four years have gone very quickly but they have been the best years of my life so far. I’ve always felt the same way about art ever since I’ve been doing it, it keeps me alive. I know if I didn’t have art things would get hectic.
What’s the best piece of advice you received while studying?
That one of my paintings looked like vomit and that I should go with it.
Which of your creative projects are you most proud of?
I’m just proud of myself for pushing through it all and just making art. You grow up wanting to do something all the time and then there are people looking at you funny and keep telling you that you won’t be successful from it. It’s one of those things that people need to do because they can’t not do it, and that is a risk in itself. I don’t think that there is something particular that I am proud of but I am proud for just sticking at it. That is the most important thing I think and that is all we need to do as creatives, just keep doing it no matter what. Life is one big creative project.
What are your plans for 2015 and beyond?
I’m off to Germany in March to live with family in Solingen, just outside Frankfurt. I have my eyes set on New York, hopefully for masters but the competition is high and things change. I have not made any real plans though. Travelling, writing music and making all the art is the most important thing on my agenda at the moment.
Where can we stay updated with your work?
I have a blog where I put up a lot of my work but am going to be launching a website soon, I hope. You can find me on www.amyayanda.tumblr.com