Washington, DC / United States
Amanda Kates is an artist based in Washington DC. She makes her mixed media drawings and paintings in a tiny bedroom studio that she requisitioned from her two-year-old daughter. Amanda has exhibited her work throughout the United States, including several solo, and two-person exhibitions. She holds an MFA from SUNY Albany, and a BFA from Binghamton University.
Amanda, before we jump into your artist identity and how you found your way back into the art world, I would like you to talk about your background. Can you share a little about yourself and why/when you decided to study art?
I am originally from New York but have lived in the Washington, DC, area, off-and-on, for the last 17 years. I earned a BFA from Binghamton University and my MFA from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany. My family moved frequently when I was growing up. We never lived anywhere longer than three years. I was an exceptionally shy and anxious child and adolescent, and the constant changing of schools only exacerbated these traits. I think that back then, drawing served as a means by which I could engage with people around me without really having to overcome my shyness.
I did not anticipate pursuing art seriously, as this felt (and continues to feel) impossible. Nonetheless, I did take some art classes in college, and there I found peers and some professors who encouraged me to pursue art more seriously. This led to my decision to dive into an art major.
In your artist statement, you beautifully described how many mothers go through the loss of their identity as they embark on this new journey of motherhood. You've described the tension, or urge, to find the way back to things that are key to your identity. What was that process like for you?
There is nothing like bearing a child to abruptly demolish your sense of autonomy. Suddenly, your body is no longer your own. Your time is no longer your own. Your priorities get flipped on their heads or thrown away entirely. Your intellectual focus sharpens and blurs against your will.
Early motherhood is an exercise in unrelenting emotional cognitive dissonance. The joy these children bring me is unfathomable. I have never felt love for, nor felt loved by, anyone the way I have with my children. They are the most inspiring, beautiful, clever, life-affirming creatures I have ever encountered, and I feel so grateful for them. And simultaneously – truly, at the exact same time – I deeply grieve the person I was, the youth and health I had, and the freedom I had before I became a mother, and I regret how little I appreciated it.
Practically speaking, the reason I am finally, now, able to try to return to artmaking is that both of my children are now in school. I simply have more time without them. Intellectually and emotionally, I am still working to figure out who I am – both as an artist and in a broader sense. In a way, this inching, piecemeal return to artmaking has helped me rediscover the simple joy of getting into a flow state while drawing or painting. I started out two years ago by deciding that I would draw every day for as long as parenting small children during a pandemic would allow. Mentally accounting for that limitation released me from worrying about whether my drawing was “good” because the likelihood of distraction or interruption was imbued into the process. Slowly I began dedicating more uninterrupted time to this work and began to describe myself as an artist again. Now, for the first time in years, I have a studio outside my home and started sharing and showing work. I still feel “rusty” and full of doubt, and I don’t have a caveat to that statement.
As a mum of two small children, you are making the most of the time and space available to you. Can you please describe your creative process?
If I’m being honest, I hate this question. Not because of the question itself but because it makes me feel inadequate and fraudulent. I don’t have a consistent “creative process,” at least not one that I can articulate. It makes me feel the way I felt when an artist peer I admire told me that “you have to have a good memory” to be an artist. I have a terrible memory, and I think about this statement all the time, even though it was made off-hand decades ago. Similarly, my “creative process” is like my mind – scattered, inconsistent, and largely driven by whim.
That being said, I’ll do my best. I always work from observation, usually of a photograph. Sometimes, I’ll make a small drawing from a photograph, and use that drawing as a point of reference for a painting or a larger drawing. Sometimes, the small drawing is the final artwork. Sometimes, I’ll start a painting by working directly from a photograph. Consistently, though, the drawing or painting quickly moves away from the source imagery and becomes more about color, pattern, texture, and movement.
What is the message behind your art?
I’m not really a “message” person. Any imagery in my work is more of a conduit to explore color, space, and texture. That said, the source imagery usually does have some sort of personal significance. Sometimes, it’s photographs of my family. Sometimes it’s screenshots that relate to something that’s recently occupied my mind. But beyond that, I can’t say there’s a clear message.
I saw toddler drawings on your social media, and I absolutely adore them. Do you create alongside your children? Do you involve them in the creation of your pieces?
I love that my kids love to draw, but at this point, I don’t do anything more than encourage it. They have free access to basic art-making supplies (which has led to several guerrilla artworks on walls, furniture, faces, and clothing), but I don’t do much else. I don’t yet involve them in making my work, though I might like to when they’re older. Right now, bringing them to the studio is too big a distraction for me.
What are your dreams, plans and goals?
I am very much in a transitional moment in my life. As such, my goal is simply to move through this transition in a way that I am more sure of myself on the other side. I would like to make and show more work and expand my community of artist peers locally, in New York, and other cities.
What is the number one advice to artist mothers who long to get back to their art practices?
Do what you can do. Being a mother is all-consuming and impossible. Continuing to work as an artist and maintaining or establishing an identity can feel like yet another unachievable task. Try to be patient with yourself and positively acknowledge yourself for what you are able to accomplish in a given day/week/year rather than denigrating yourself for what you’re unable to do.