A little more than a year ago, Hendersonville artist Amy Perrier took part in a workshop led by the California-based acrylics painter Bob Burridge. During a peripatetic career that had taken Perrier from her native Michigan to Florida and Wisconsin, she had been mainly working in watercolor, with forays into pastels, oils, and painting on glass.
But the Burridge workshop introduced something significant. “He said that sometimes you had to go in there with your fingers and forget the brushes once in a while,” Perrier recalls. “It made sense, and felt like a much freer way to paint.”
Now, in her ART MoB studio in downtown Hendersonville, Perrier’s more-fingers-less-brush discovery has produced an impressive body of landscapes and natural studies marked by a brilliant palette and a style somewhere between pure figurative and abstract.
It was another workshop, years ago, with Elton Shunamann — promoter of the hot-pink shade he called “Opera” — that brought Perrier’s color schemes to their fluorescent prominence. “He used it in everything he painted, and I loved the idea that I could paint pink trees and it was OK,” Perrier says. “He inspired me to seek a bolder, more colorful palette.”
The inspiration is evident in Perrier’s nature studies — trees, flowers, and skies that seem about to burst into flame. “I love mixing unlikely colors, warm and cool, to see what the results will be. They’re not necessarily the colors you would find in nature, but are more intensified and abstracted.”
Although she’s painted en plein air, Perrier works mainly in her studio, sometimes using photographs she’s taken as a starting point. “I lightly sketch out my intentions before beginning, but I’m never locked into the sketch,” she explains. “If the work takes a different direction, I’m fine with that.”
The artistic seed was planted by Perrier’s mother, landscape painter Nancy Hunt, whose studio was on the top floor of their suburban Detroit home. “Some of my earliest memories are of climbing the stairs to her studio to see what she was working on each day when I’d arrive home from school,” Perrier says. “Drawing and painting was the thing that kept my mother and I connected and talking.”
After high school, when she had finished classes in commercial art, Perrier left home for Florida to settle in Tarpon Springs and paint genre scenes on the docks for sale to tourists. Home beckoned, though, and brought her back to Michigan and Wisconsin to raise a family and look after her aging parents. But the inspiration to paint never left.
“I worked in the school systems in the special-education department, but I took painting workshops whenever I could,” Perrier says. When her two sons were grown and on their own, Perrier turned to painting full time and began showing her work at art fairs and at local galleries. But as the cold winters of the northern Plains became tiresome, Perrier and her husband Ralph took to the road in an RV, venturing up and down the eastern seaboard.
Passing through Hendersonville, Perrier was smitten. “We fell in love with the area, largely due to its appreciation of the arts,” Perrier says. “I found the ART MoB studios, and as we traveled around, I kept coming back to the idea of renting a studio here.”
The travel and the RV’s confined quarters were another factor in Perrier’s development. Until their highway adventure, she’d been reverse painting on the glass of old wooden windows — not a convenient medium when space is at a premium — so she turned to more traditional painting on canvas. “I ended up making a lot of mud,” Perrier confesses. But after the workshop with Burridge, she put her brushes aside. All she needed was her fingers.
“I was able to put the paint exactly where I wanted it [this way], and I liked the soft edges and energy it gave the work,” says Perrier.
She does wield a palette knife to scrape and shape her forms, also adding ink or graphite to help define them.
Still, it’s what’s suggested, rather than what’s well defined, that’s important. “I rarely if ever use a brush for anything except applying gesso to prime the canvas, or varnish when the piece is finished,” she adds. “I feel much happier with my [painting] when it appears underworked rather than overworked.”
The technique is already pointing Perrier in a new direction, toward even more non-representational work. “I didn’t start out liking abstract work, so it’s truly an evolution for me,” she says. She’s recently begun working with a much more textured impasto — at times actually throwing paint on the canvas to produce what she calls “loose landscapes, open to interpretation.”
And she continues to develop her career through workshops and personal study. “I always felt that if there was one good thing I took from a workshop, then it was worth it,” Perrier says. “I was rarely disappointed.”
ART MoB Studios and Marketplace, 124 4th Ave., Hendersonville, artmobstudios.com
Reach Amy Perrier at 231-676-0997, or on Facebook: Amy Perrier Paintings