Mixed-media artist plumbs the riches of figurative expression
If color is the language of art, then Hendersonville artist Amy Casteel is one of its fluent speakers. In a large body of acrylics-based works, Casteel’s brilliant palettes engage the viewer in an ongoing dialogue about the many shades of human emotion.
“I am compelled to create art that’s emotive on many levels,” Casteel says. “I include unusual or unexpected color and texture combinations to illuminate feelings as well as the complexity of human relationships.”
Casteel describes herself as a “figurative expressionist,” taking the human figure merely as a starting point for the journey into abstraction. The figure is most often a woman’s face, and sometimes her hands, amid a swirl of riotous color and bits of collaged paper. “It’s fascinating to experiment with covering parts of the painted image, as well as [deciding] what parts to reveal,” Casteel says. “I think it makes the story much more interesting.”
One component of each painting’s story is Casteel’s use of her own image in various iterations, a departure from earlier work based on appropriated images. “I wanted my work to become much more organic and personally challenging,” she notes, “so the figures you see in my work do loosely resemble me or someone I know. It’s all part of the story.”
Casteel is classically trained, at the Kendall College of Art and Design in Michigan and at the Royal College of Art in London, and cites the German and Austrian expressionists as influences, among them Schiele, Kirchner, and Soutine; and contemporary artists such as Allison Zuckerman, whose large-scale works use the female figure and pop art references to subvert historically male-dominated art forms.
But making art is closer to home for Casteel, too. “My mother was a true creative genius,” she says, adding that the initials of her studio name, Stand Back Studio, are those of her mother. “My daughter Waverly is an incredible artist, and my husband Mike is extremely talented, so you could say we are a family of artists.”
Her early efforts were in oil, a medium to which she still occasionally turns even though the long drying times, not to mention the fumes, became burdensome to her. “After years of experimenting with mixed-media combinations, I found that acrylic paintings embellished with a little collage really worked for me,” Casteel says. A further discovery was that using the collaged material to hide parts of the underlying figure added a narrative element arising from the dialogue between the work’s abstracted shapes and figurative components. “I get very detailed with the shapes of the paper and the directions they are pointing,” she says. She considers the human figures as the storytellers of each work, using the direction of the figure’s gaze or the position of the hands as guides to what’s happening around them.
And yet, in describing her process, Casteel says, “the images are spontaneous.” Each work starts with very loose, gestural brushstrokes. “I then stop and analyze what’s staring back at me. I have a lot of energy, and sometimes the smallest ideas, like how two colors interact together, can spark a new painting.”
She typically works on several pieces at the same time, a reflection of the clamor of ideas calling for attention, from the challenges of parenthood to the mysteries of love. “I work in my studio every day,” she says. “Some of my paintings have taken years to develop, while others just take several hours. And I have some exciting new large-scale paintings that I’m currently working on.”
Casteel has exhibited internationally — at the World Art Fair in Dubai and in Milan, as well as gallery shows in New York — and has been a frequent presence in Hendersonville’s Art On Main, the county’s Open Studio Tour, and in exhibitions mounted by the Art League of Henderson County.
“We have a strong and vibrant art community here,” says Casteel, who also teaches, including a two-day workshop this month at new gallery Art on 7th. “It’s important for me to work as much as possible. I feel like I have so many stories to tell.”
Amy Casteel is represented by Art on 7th, 330 7th Ave. East, 828-595-9232, Hendersonville (arton7th.com). She will teach “Expressionism Through Mixed Media” at the venue on Tuesday, March 22 (12:30-4:30pm) and Wednesday, March 23 (12:30-4:30pm), sponsored by the Art League of Henderson County, $120-$135; find tickets on eventbrite.com. For more information about the artist, see amycasteel.com