Amy Dury’s nostalgic group portraits take her viewer back in time to visit – now abstract and blurry – memories of teenage friendships, family gatherings, and formative moments. Her dramatic colour schemes add a sense of the ethereal to her work, reminding us that the past is intangible. We spoke to Amy about her inspirations, latest projects, and remarkable experiences in the art world.
How would you describe what you create? What are the fundamental messages you want to get across with your work?
My subject matter is figurative, I use imagery from the past to reflect on my own memories, on roles and relationships and these naturally have something to do with 'what have we lost?' 'What did we pave the way for?'. I look for gestures, expressions or physical relations between people to tell the story. I don't always know what the story is but I trust my instinct. Key themes are innocence, freedom, friendship and family. Sometimes these are shot through with threat or loss or questions of roles.
What have been the key influences in your work?
I started painting about 6 years ago, and began with old family photographs, playing with gesture and character as a way to connect with the past. I then found social documentary photographers of post-war Britain and was struck by the faces and figures in them which became paintings. They tell stories of defined gender roles, simple pleasures and relationships that I could play with that felt like telling my own memories of the 70s and 80s. Now I look through archive home movies and old found photographs to source figures that jump out at me, I try not to question why I am attracted to something and just work with it to find out. The application of paint is being continuously redefined as I try things out but is central to telling the story - often using unworked backgrounds or impasto sections.
This February we're really interested in Platonic Love and connections – how are these themes manifested in your work?
I have painted quite a few scenes of teenagers together - bundling on sofas, on street corners, off on a school trip or lads holiday - and they seem more sweet and sad than ever as they touch and hug and laugh. All the loves and all the bonds that have existed and passed away seem incredibly precious but always passing on. This makes the casual snapshot a thing of incredible power and poignancy.
What do your bold colour choices add to your figures?
I like to have a particular colour theme in a painting - a linking motif that I can use in the background and that can stand in as a space, an unfinished or forgotten moment. I used orange in many paintings for a long time and its still hard to resist! But lately have been using other colours influenced by things I see - such as 1960s illustrations or Degas paintings.
When did you realise you wanted to become an artist?
When my English teacher at school bought one of my drawings! My path was very varied though, with a degree in printmaking and then a foray into machine embroidery and textile art. I always drew and attended life classes, but didn't get the courage up to be a painter for a long time.
What's the latest project you are working on?
I am working on some large family group paintings and a series of single figures from old photographs - using a restricted palette and simplifying faces and shapes more. Being more loose and varied with my drawing and brushwork. Many old home movies have a bleached out feel, or saturated colour, which is very exciting to inform my palette choices.
Name a formative experience you've had in the art world and what it taught you.
I met Lucian Freud a few times after writing to him as an admirer - he would take me out to lunch and stare at me a lot - we went into the National Gallery after hours and had dinner with Frank Auerbach. But I realised even he was not confident, was not sure or settled in himself as an artist - it's an exciting journey of pushing ever forward and being constantly enquiring.