Amanda Wirig, Artist Temperament, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 24 in. Photo credit: Daniel Dinsmore Photography
Amanda Wirig, Artist Temperament, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 24 in. Photo credit: Daniel Dinsmore Photography

In this interview Amanda Wirig shares her thoughts on the power of Pop Art, the role of humor in her work, and the creative freedom the Jerome fellowship has provided. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how/when you knew you wanted to be an artist?

I’ve been making art ever since I learned how to hold a pencil. I used to spend hours at my parents’ kitchen table drawing and coloring from the time I was three years old. I was one of those little kids who wanted to be everything when they grew up (a musician, a dancer, a writer, etc.), but I always knew that I wanted to be an artist, too, and it’s something that has always been a part of my life.

Walk us through your process of creating a painting.

Most of my paintings start off with a spark of a phrase that comes into my head or pops up in conversation with someone. The majority of the painting is always flat, bright acrylics, but incorporating the text into my work requires some work on the computer. Sometimes the text is created on my laptop and turned into a rub-on transfer that I apply to the painted canvas. I have also used a light box or a projector to trace the lettering onto the canvas and then paint it by hand. I have lots of books of vintage mid-century advertisements and designs, and I can spend hours looking for images that portray just the right feel for the text I have chosen before finalizing my final design for the painting.

Your work appropriates mid-century modern advertisements, fonts, and forms. What specifically draws you to these aesthetics? Could you talk about the role of nostalgia in your work?

Mid-century art and design has always felt to me to have a true artistic quality that today’s designs don’t seem to have. It was a time of turmoil and upheaval in terms of politics and civil liberties, but the advertising and design of the era portrayed just the opposite—clean lines, bright colors, social comforts, and in the case of housing and furniture design, minimalism. I think a part of me feels like I was born in the wrong era, because I have always been drawn to just about anything from that time period. It only seemed natural to me that it would be displayed so prominently in my work, because just about everything pop-culture related that has shaped who I am as a person has come from that era.

Artwork by Amanda Wirig

Artist Temperament, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 24 in. Photo credit: Daniel Dinsmore Photography

Tell us about the role of politics in your work. Has the current political climate affected your work?

Politics started to become a part of my work a little over ten years ago, when I started a series of paintings that portrayed social issues affecting those who work in the arts (affordable housing, health care, stereotypes, etc.). The current political climate is so hostile and has affected so many areas of my life that channeling my frustrations into my art seemed like the best way possible to process everything going on around me. My work has taken a less humorous, more angry tone, but it is allowing me to make sense of things like the fight for women’s rights, gun violence, and the prejudices that are so prevalent in our society right now.

You also majored in music. What instrument do you play? How does music relate to your visual work? Is the creative process of composing music similar to or different than creating a painting?

I play several instruments: guitar, flute, ukulele, bass, some piano and drums, and I sing. Music has always played such a huge part in my life, as much as art has, and I am constantly struggling to balance the two. I actually have a series of work dedicated to my love of record shops, stereo equipment, and obscure indie bands, and it’s the first time I’ve been able to combine the two. Creating a painting has always been easier for me than composing music. I can easily come up with a great chord progression and a melody, but finding the right words to go along with that music is a lot more difficult. I’ve also had a lot more practice getting used to being vulnerable with a painting; it’s much harder for me to perform my own words in public than to exhibit a piece of art.

Artwork by Amanda Wirig

God Only Knows, 2015, mixed media on panel, 12 x 12 in. 

Can you discuss the role of humor in your work?

I’m a huge comedy nerd. Ever since I was a teenager I’ve loved Monty Python, The Kids in the Hall, anything with dark humor in it. Humor is a wonderful way to diffuse a difficult situation, and I’ve found that it makes it easier to present challenging ideas to people if you can make them laugh while you’re at it. The art world tends to take itself way too seriously, and I love the idea of a gallery exhibit making people laugh in the way that a comedy show would.

What do you want a viewer to walk away with after experiencing your work?

My goal as an artist is to change people’s perceptions of what Pop Art can be, to show them that it can have depth and emotion and humor, and can actually be used to change people’s perceptions of the society they live in. It isn’t just pretty pictures of commercialism; it can talk about war and violence and civil rights and women’s roles in society, but with a sense of humor that makes it more palatable.

What was the last work of art or exhibition you encountered that was influential and why?

The Minnesota Goes Pop! exhibit at the Rochester Art Center was wonderful. Andy Warhol is a huge influence of mine, and it was fascinating to see his original prints exhibited along with current Minnesota artists who have taken his aesthetic and used it to discuss social issues. The exhibit was able to touch on things like politics, narcissism, and Native American rights while employing Warhol’s pop sensibility. I loved seeing these ideas transferred to digital media and 3D figures.

What artists are you currently looking at?

Josh Agle (who goes by SHAG) is a painter out in California who creates these fabulous, brightly colored, retro, hedonistic works of art. Kii Arens is another favorite. He’s originally from Minnesota (he was in the band Flipp), but now he lives in LA and creates Pop Art for musicians like the Replacements and the Suburbs. Minneapolis artist Adam Turman is another favorite; he makes some great Twin Cities-themed work in a brightly colored, modern style.

“My goal as an artist is to change people’s perceptions of what Pop Art can be, to show them that it can have depth and emotion and humor, and can actually be used to change people’s perceptions of the society they live in.”

Being an artist is a balancing act between time, space, and money. How do you navigate having enough time, cultivating a space to create, and making a living?

Trying to balance work, art, and personal life has always been a struggle for me. The Jerome fellowship allowed me to quit two of my jobs, so that has made things easier. I still work a full-time job, so making art is usually delegated to weekends or evenings. I’m lucky enough to have a studio away from my living space, but I often find that in order to find enough time to focus on my art, it usually means giving up socializing or doing other things during my time away from work.

How has winning the Jerome fellowship affected or changed your work?

The Jerome fellowship has given me the freedom to create the kind of work I really want to do without fear that it won’t sell or can’t be exhibited in conservative southern Minnesota. I’m focusing on subject matter that is far more political, and it’s been very cathartic for me. It has also allowed me to play with different media, and I have recently started working in silkscreen again after many years away from printmaking. I don’t see myself giving up painting, but I’m excited to see where this new direction takes me.

If you could describe your work in one word, what would it be?