In the Studio: Aimee Blackledge

Michigan born Aimee Blackledge caught up with dot-art to discuss her latest work, the inspiration for her art and her essential playlist to create great art! Aimee grew up in Michigan in the American Midwest and lived in Italy before settling the UK in 1998. She became a self-taught artist after graduating from the University of Oxford with a Master of Studies and Doctorate in the History of Art. She works in her studio in Formby on the Sefton Coast near Liverpool in the UK.

William Mitchell Dream by Aimee Blackledge

Which medium do you work with and what do you like about it specifically? 

I work mostly with mixed media because I enjoy the variety of textures I can create with multiple layers.  I use acrylic, oil pastels, charcoal, sumi ink and watercolours.  I also like a technical challenge, so working with different variables satisfies my experimental approach toward working.

I work on canvas and paper.  Although I enjoy the texture and appearance of canvas, I’m very passionate about paper.  I’m an advocate of raising the status of painting on paper.  As a mixed media painter, you can achieve so much with the right paper.  Some papers feel like textiles, since they are made predominately of cotton.  Others are lightweight, nearly transparent with an ethereal quality.  The papers I use are both delicate on the surface, yet strong enough to support multiple mediums and techniques.  I feel paper strikingly highlights both the subtle and dense mark making techniques I use.

Describe your style of art:

I create fields of emphatic and energetic abstractions of universal forms and marks.  I’m not too caught up in discussions regarding style. I’m far more interested intuitive gestural practice.  I’ve always been more interested in the how, rather than the what.

My work represents the physicality of making art through collective unconscious. I use automatic and intuitive practice to invoke and amplify universal gestures and forms, which include symbols, patterns, lines, mark making, and shapes that are an innate part of an extensive and extended human heritage.

WIP by Aimee blackledge

Can you talk us through your process? Do you begin with a sketch, or do you just go straight in? How long do you spend on one piece? How do you know when it is finished?

I always start with a dramatic automatic gestural move. I feel it quickly eliminates the tension between oneself and the ‘blank canvas’ and while you can always go over such marks, I tend to keep mine. These marks are me in essence – raw, bold and unmistakable evidence of my presence. I usually make these moves in black or with dark colours and they often form the wider structure of my finished works. I work quickly gaining an overall a composition. Some days I can finish a painting in a single session, but usually I take several weeks to ‘live’ with a piece or series of works. During that time, I follow my instincts regarding how and when to make further refinements.  I know when a work is done when I feel that I don’t want to part with it.

The aspect of my process I enjoy most is mixing harmonious joyful colours. I keep a number of books, folios, colour chips, clippings and apps that I use for recording colours I like when I’m out and about or online. I grew up near Detroit, in Michigan, where examples of mid-century design are bountiful. It’s where Charles and Ray Eames first met while at Cranbrook Academy of Art, where Alexander Girard worked with the Detroit Institute of Art and home to the headquarters of Herman Miller. It’s no surprise that I have been profoundly inspired by the playful and harmonious colour palettes of mid-century designers.

I don’t keep a sketchbook in the traditional sense. I sometimes meticulously record something I like, but most often I trust my own hands by creating abstractions of forms from my own experiences and memories. I translate these into ‘inspiration studies’ on paper, which I keep hung up on my studio walls as I work.

WIP easel by Aimee Blackledge
Studio wall by Aimee Blackledge

When did you begin your career in art? 

I’ve been creative since childhood and I was very fortunate to go to a high school in America where I was able to learn painting, graphic design and printmaking. I’m certain that my early exposure to printmaking is where my love for working on paper began. My appreciation for paper and artistic working practices continued to develop during my master’s and doctoral research in the history of art. As a researcher, I spent most of my days in print rooms and archives examining old master drawings owned by early members the Royal Academy of Arts in London. I started printmaking again in 2013 thanks to a friend’s suggestion after feeling burned out from work-related stress. I’ve been painting since 2016 and I feel it was a natural and beneficial progression from making monoprints.

Who or what inspires your art?

Since my work focuses on universal visual forms, it’s only natural that I find the work of other artists inspiring. I love the work of Jean Dubuffet and especially his immense installation Jardin d’Hiver at the Pompidou Centre.  I love how the bold lines and negative space creates a gigantic yet intimately enclosed cavern. I’m also an enthusiast of William Mitchell’s concrete sculptures and facades of which the North West has several excellent examples to visit (Leigh Library, The Minut Men in Salford, the doors of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, and the façade of Federation House on Hope Street, Liverpool).  His work is full of textured details but still manages to give the impression of monumental ancient structures.

Outside of art, I feel inspired by walking in the pinewood forest near where I live in Formby.  I grew up living on 8 acres of pine forest and there is something profound about being alone with your thoughts, with the soft crunch of dried pine needles under your feet and the clacking of branches far above your head when the wind blows.  For me, solitude is unequivocally empowering and indispensable.

WIP by Aimee Blackledge

What is one of your favourite pieces that you have done and why?

I would have to say William Mitchell Dream, which is based on the façade of Federation House, on Hope Street. I absolutely love this building and know it very well. I like this work because I feel I was able to express the pure essence of the textured concrete details and the playful changes of light that occur when morning transitions into evening.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on an extensive series that explores intuitive and bold line making.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

I love learning new things and especially new techniques. The best advice I received was to avoid the ‘technique trap’ of continually taking workshops and buying new art materials to try. I was advised to recognise and trust that I already know enough and own enough materials to amply express myself. The self-realisation that internal validation is in the action of making art not in the learning alone was both enlightening and advantageous for me as an artist. This also sums up why researching the history of art was never enough for me. As an art historian, I was always seeking answers to ‘how did artists work?’ or ‘under what conditions was art made?’.  But there is only one way to know, and that’s to make art yourself!

WIP by Aimee blackledge

What’s your most unusual artistic habit/strangest technique which you have learned?

I make my own brushes from dried vegetation from the sand dunes at Formby beach, but that’s not unusual. I think part of my process that others might not know from looking at my work is the level of playful deep daydreaming I do before I come to my studio. It is an essential part of who I am. I grew up as an only child in a house where you really couldn’t express your thoughts or feelings without fear of ridicule or disapproval. So as a child, I learned that creative daydreaming and art making went hand-in-hand and were great coping strategies for expressing myself. Being creative meant that I could do and say whatever I wanted. It has become an integral part of my creative practice even though today I have a lovely and supportive homelife.

What are your favourite things to listen to whilst painting? If anything!

Music is an indispensable part of my process; it drives my deep daydreaming. I never make art without my overhead earphones, shut off from the outside world. My Spotify playlists are full of electronic music that support me to work in the studio. Some of my favourites songs and albums are: Forest Swords – Panic Autechre – Glitch Christian Löffler- A Forest Pantha Du Prince – Diamond Daze The Black Dog- Music for Real Airports Caribou – Start Breaking My Heart

 

You can view more of Aimee’s work here.