Amy Lewis isn't one to take anything for granted. The American artist creates watercolours and oil paintings that capture the beauty of ordinary life, featuring aspects that are often forgotten or overlooked. In fact, her motto is to "live with gratitude" and that is certainly expressed throughout her work.
Amazingly, Amy is "almost" completely self-taught. Right out of high school in 2015, she completed a five-week course at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle where she learnt classical drawing skills and enjoyed an introduction to oils. But other than that, she has treated art as a considerable hobby, focusing instead on finishing her degree in Business Management – a qualification that she hoped would one day help her launch her own art business.
Since the pandemic, that dream has become a reality and just recently, she hosted her first solo show at her apartment in Destiny, Tacoma. "When I was young I would get inspired and I would be overwhelmed with the need to create," Amy tells Creative Boom. "It was like I had the urge to experience or be a part of colour and beauty. I would get frustrated because I wasn't good enough at painting to satisfy those feelings. That need has motivated me to continue to practice and grow."
Food features quite heavily in much of Amy's work. "I love to eat," she explains, "and I also love how food looks. Even fugly homemade food can look so good. Food has colours that are often vivid and heavily contrasted with a form that is infinite in details. I could never actually capture food in all its intricate glory but when I try, I appreciate the subject more.
"Also, food can be loaded with meaning. Doughnuts and ring pops are nostalgic. Cup Noodle reminds us of high school or college – it's food that reminds you of home, that other food reminds you of summer."
Amy also believes food is a privilege. "We live in a world where food can bring so much joy on physical and emotional levels. But there are people who don't enjoy the privilege of good food. There are people without clean water. I thought that was worth exploring and reminding myself that even kind-of-okay foods like Cup Noodle are a luxury. Ultimately, if you can afford to consume you can afford to give, even if it's just a little," she says.
Amy uses both watercolours and oil in her practice, the former being her first love. "My Crayola watercolour tray for kids taught me how to paint," she explains. "Watercolour and oil have different strengths so I think I'll always use both. But what I love best about watercolour is how I can get lost in the painting. Mixing the paint is a non-issue for me. My palette is always the same and I'm able to use it instinctually."
I've never felt drawn to anything but realism. I need to feel achievement and realism gives me the no-nonsense feeling of either doing it right or doing it very wrong.
In terms of inspiration, Amy turns to everyday surroundings, editorial photography and the paintings of aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries. "This covers a lot of ground," she says, "to be more specific I'm inspired by the way light illuminates my ordinary stuff from food to a video game controller. While my obsession with editorial photography began when Ignasi Monreal did his collaboration with Gucci in 2017. He did gorgeous surrealist, digital paintings of all sorts of luxury items in this fantastical world. I started to discover these motif-ordinary objects paired with luxury items or scenes. Just look at my Pinterest board and you’ll find an embarrassing amount of photos of women doing ordinary things or eating street food while wearing couture.
"I was also constantly pinning cropped images of classical paintings. The aristocracy in these paintings would wear these outfits with buckles, buttons, jewels, draped cloth and ornate patterns. It was maximalism and I fell in love. I had a wealth of inspiration and I was able to take that sustenance and turn it into my own vision with its own story."
Amy's style is also determined by a need for control. "I've never felt drawn to anything but realism. I need to feel achievement and realism gives me the no-nonsense feeling of either doing it right or doing it very wrong. I think the more masterful you become, the more you're able to relax the way you paint realism. I hope that in the coming years I will be using more expressive brush strokes. But today I paint very tight, creating a very smooth glassy surface."
As such, it takes Amy around three to five layers – in oil or watercolour paint – to complete each painting, but that gives her "many layers to get it right". Those layers also provide a deep luminosity, something she confesses is a highlight.
Here, we share paintings from her latest series, including the above artwork titled 'Afternoon Snack'. "I love the contrast between things we use or eat in our daily lives with the surroundings of luxury. Privilege is sort of an overused, 'hot topic' word. But I've felt genuinely grateful for the privileges in my life and also sort of guilty. In my work, I am exploring the idea that I'm rich because of the privileges I enjoy whether I feel rich or not. But also I don't think that just recognising privilege is the point. We should use that power to empower others and to give to others. I want 'giving' to be a central part of my business whether I make a lot of profit or not."