Artist Amelia Bauer reveals the inspiration behind her unique work
Amelia Bauer knew she loved art from a very young age, in fact, she was just 3-years-old when she used her first easel.
Years later, Bauer has taken her love for art to the next level. After going to art school and seriously pursuing her passion, she's definitely made a name for herself in creative communities around the globe.
Most recently, her work was featured at the Aperture Foundation in New York City. Prior to that, her work has been on display at PULSE in Miami, Exhibition A in New York, The Milan International Art Fair in Italy, and more.
Recently, we sat down with Bauer to talk more about where she gets her artistic inspiration from and much more. Read the full feature below.
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How did you first fall in love with art?
I think I've been making art since I can remember. I grew up in Santa Fe. My mother is a potter, and my father is an architect so I was encouraged right from the get-go. I remember having a little easel that I would paint on when I was like 3. It's always been a thing I knew I wanted to do.
What was the progression like for you, going from informal to more formal studying of art as a subject?
Well, I went to boarding school for the arts for the second half of high school, because I had eaten up all of the art classes I could find in my home town and the high school I was going to before. It was really great to go to a school that really focused half my day on studio practice. I ended up going to Cooper Union for college, and it was amazing. I loved Cooper because they don't require you to choose a major and I always, as you can see, work with lots of different mediums. I wanted to make drawings, sculptures, and photography-- they have that holistic view. You're not just a painter or a sculptor, you're an artist. You're thinking about ideas, and thinking about visual communication. You can pick and choose from a variety of mediums at any time.
When did you first jump from medium to medium in the art world?
As a young kid I was just doing whatever, I was making things out of sculpy, or drawing, or painting –-whatever I could get my hands on. Then in high school I kind of used photography and mixed media to do more installation-type projects. Photography has been pretty central throughout. I always used photography in my practice, and the sculpture comes and goes and relates to those images. Sometimes there are sculptures that then get photographed, sometimes the photography happens alongside other sculptures. But, I've been bouncing around from whole time. I didn't start from one thing and move to the other, I always had interests across the board. Which had to do with my mom working with clay, and in three dimensions, and my father being an architect and being a draftsman back when everything was done by hand. I had the 2D and 3D worlds around me all the time.
You have been in the art world your whole life, so how have you seen the art world progress and develop over time?
Certainly, the photography world is in a very exciting place right now. I think photo and sculpture and drawing and painting are starting to merge in a really exciting way right now. People are really playing around with those definitions. But the art world goes through all kinds of changes all the time. I think it's more my relationship with the art world that continues to change. There's a side of it that's very fashion oriented and trend-based. The world we're in -- especially in New York -- is so large that you can always find your people, and find what you're most interested in. You can find like-minded people that you can foster those ideas with. I think the art world changes, and I think my relationship to the art world is always changing. I'm getting more and more excited by my peers and the work that has come out the last few years, so that's exciting.
I want to focus on two of your works -- 'Book of Shadows' and 'The Wintering'. How did the conceptualization of these ideas go for you?
Book of Shadows came out of this series of work that I was making before: photos, sculptures. I was just kind of grappling with these ideas about how mankind interacts with the idea of nature; this romanticism or this fantasy of an untouched wild versus the fear of chaos and of the unknown. Also, how the concept of the wilderness plays a role in our society, and in our thinking. This area in Upstate New York that I've been spending time in was this is this hotbed, as it was being settled, of enthusiastic religion and cult religion, and all sorts of New American religions, including NewThought, Quakerism, Mormonism, and Spiritualism. So, I've been researching early-American religions and the new religious beliefs people were forming as they were entering what were wilderness zones, and as they are on the frontier and interacting with unknowns -- both physically and mentally. I was also researching early-American witchcraft, and a lot of it is based in spells that are similar to a lot of herbal remedies that exist today. Some of it was early herbalism, and most of these spells were dry ingredients used in pouches that you bathe in, or you drink, or you carry in a satchel. So, I wanted bring these spells into their floral state, and the Salem Witch Trials occurred at the same time in history that Dutch still life was at its peak. I wanted to take a formal approach to something like witchcraft, which was also at the time, demonized by Protestants, and marry those concepts of romanticism toward wilderness and fear of the wild. Where do those meet? How can our reactions to new landscape, religious ideas and the unknown kind of conflate? So, we get these still lives that are riding that balance of something haunting, innocuous, feminine and domestic, and also the underside of all of that, that is discomforting.
How long did it take you to make the full version?
I worked with Elizabeth Parks Kibbey which was incredible. We worked together to conceptualize each bouquet. She really brought the forms to life in such an incredible way. We would go to the flower market every morning and did about a spell a day. We worked on a 10 part series, and it took us about 2 weeks.
How long did the research process take before you even made it come to life?
My research on all of this is ongoing, but the moment when these ideas synthesized into this project, I immediately thought of Elizabeth Parks Kibbey, and called her up. We talked, and did some researching on early American spells and gathering all of our sources together. I think we put in about six months before being able to begin production on the project. There were a lot of things we got for spells, like saffron bulbs, that we had to force so we could use the pistons, instead of just getting the dry herb, we wanted to have the plant. So, about 6 months of pre-production went into this.
Can you talk about 'The Wintering' as well?
The Wintering comes from the same history I talked about-- the central region in Upstate New York. Route 20 runs straight through the center of the state from East to West. It's the road where the original settlers were pushing Westward to Ohio. There was so much religious fervor, and people preaching, and setting up tents -- all of this all this enthusiastic religion was so rampant that they termed that highway the Psychic Highway. The region around it was known as the 'Burned Over' district because it was so roiled by religious fervor.
I spent the coldest winter on record in Upstate NY in this area. I was playing with these various ideas of this self-made set of religious beliefs. There's Spiritualism, which was invented in the area, and I was thinking about mediums, and the way women often defined these religious roles during that time of settlement. I wanted to play with all these ideas and work with crafts and history of the crafts to the present day. So, there is a lot of Michael's craft material, there's also some quilting, and basket making – all these traditional crafts from the area turned into props or costumes that I'm wearing or interacting with in these photos, and then I became these series of characters. There is this narrative where I'm toying with this history, and trying to negotiate how I inhabit that space now in light of that history. The quilt becomes a costume that I wear. There will be a sculptural quilt in a real space that reflects the photograph. The objects and the photos play against each other to create a reality that is sourced in all of that.
Do you think the Book of Shadows influenced the way you created 'The Wintering'?
I think the The Wintering is a continuation of the exploration of those similar concepts, and I think it's more abstracted. There's more narrative and fantasy in this new series. The way I am approaching them is actually really different. 'The Book of Shadows' was fairly pre-conceived, and of course as we worked through each spell, things surprised us or we reimagined certain things. When you work with organic material things are always changing. But, this new series -- I'll make one image, I'll look at that image, I'll play with that image. It will give me another idea for the next object. So, it's more kind of wending. I'm wending my way through these concepts with this new body of work, and I'm constantly surprised with the next image that comes out of it. Whereas 'The Book of Shadows' was a stated concept and it was just a matter of deciding how many we felt were the right amount, and then we didn't make any more after that. The process of making 'The Wintering' was more full of surprises and curve balls. I keep being surprised myself by what comes out of it.
What's the biggest thing you learned about yourself as an artist while you created these series?
With this newest body of work I had to take a leap of faith. It was exciting place myself literally in these pictures, and therefore make myself a little more vulnerable by trying all these things out for the camera, even if it's just my self in the studio with the remote shutter. It feels a little riskier, and it feels like walking into the unknown, and that's been really exciting. I feel like I learned to allow myself to kind of walk over the edge of the cliff mentally, and let things happen more and trust my instincts a little more. The way I approached series of works in the past, was I had a concept and I carried it out in a series of images or a series of sculptures. This feels a little bit more intuitive.
What's the piece of work that you are the most proud of?
That's hard to decide. I feel like I'm always most excited about the things I'm doing most recently, I felt most proud of the Book of Shadows once we finished that, but now I feel more excited about the images from the series I haven't finished yet, because that feels the freshest and the newest. There are always little highlights along my artistic process that I still care about. They still feel poignant. At the moment, it has to be the freshest thing -- the thing that's not even on the site yet.
Where do you see the progression of your art going in the next few years?
I'm always trying to bring the objects and the images that I make closer to each other, so I'm excited to continue to be surprised by what happens in the studio when I'm working. But, in my mind these objects that are made for the images, and that response that comes after the images will start to marry, and the sculptures and photographs kind of live together in the same space rather than being separate tangents.
What's the biggest misconception people have about artists?
Someone once said in an interview that I seem really well adjusted for an artist. I personally think it's a misconception that you have to be tortured to have a great, creative life. That's a pretty big misconception. You don't have to be in psychological distress to push yourself into a creative space that feels uncomfortable or feels challenging to yourself and hopefully excites other people.
What's one piece of advice you wished you received before entering the art world?
Don't be afraid to try it. I feel like I spent so much time in critique-based art schools where it meant a lot to me to be able to speak about my work articulately. So, oftentimes I wouldn't make something that I didn't think I would be able to understand, or be able to talk about eloquently. So, I think that part of the visual process that I uncovered after years of art school is that willingness to try something before you understand it, because that's the excitement of working in a non-verbal medium that's part of the communication and the uncovering process -- to just go into something before you know it. That's the discovery of the unknown in yourself, or in the world. Art is the most exciting part of the process.
I was doing some studio visits at an art school, and I kept hearing kids say: 'Well I have this idea, but I don't know, I think it's dumb.' I kept responding: 'No you have to try it!' You'll always learn something from trying or making something, but you'll never learn something new from avoiding it.RELATED: Stunning Sticky Sand Art
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