Quirky: Sillman’s “Letters”

Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas" 20, 21, 22, 23

Letters From Texas is exuberant!

Also, it is wide—really wide. So wide that the only photo I could get of all of it in the shallow room where it hangs in the Blanton is an extreme angle:

Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas" 20, 21, 22, 23

It is actually four paintings, hung side by side. They are numbered 20, 21, 22, and 23, but are hung in the reverse order (23 on the left, 20 on the right). Why? I have no idea.

May I present canvas number 23, for your viewing pleasure:

Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas (23)"

My first instinct is that this is a carnival, or the state fair, or some kind of confetti celebration, but I think it is an agricultural scene. Step right up and take a look! On your left, in the top corner, we have a grain harvester with its boom arm extended. Please note the field of dotted flowers, a native Texas species, and its odd water reflection. Oh, and witness with your very own eyes the figure eight carnival ride irrigation sprinkler with legs and eyes! No need to be alarmed, she has pretty eyelashes and is only a painting!

Another local creature can be spotted as well. Keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times, as I would hate for you to be bitten by our local wildlife.

Detail from Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas"

Carnival attraction aside, I don’t actually know what is “supposed” to be represented on this canvas, or the whole work, for that matter. What I do know is that I think it is fun to look at. If you think people need a sophisticated reason for liking an artwork, I’m not your gal. I do believe that to make art with such childlike exuberance is more difficult than it might appear. I think Amy Sillman is sufficiently sophisticated to be worth spending time learning more about her and her work. But I don’t think you need to know all that to enjoy her art, or anyone else’s.

Why do I think this is so fun to look at? Dots! Dots! I love those dots! I love the texture of them. We’ve seen impasto painting technique before on other works here at let’s explore art, and in case you had any doubts, I still love textured brushstrokes.

Detail from Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas"

For me impasto can take an image you might have seen as a poster or jpg online and makes the original special. It makes the angle you view it from matter. Things don’t look the same from the left side as the right, or straight on. The texture casts shadows. Visible brushstrokes and caked up paint make it unique.

Let’s take a look at canvas number 22.

Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas (22)"

This one has more “atmosphere” and some super fun monkey bars. Oh yeah, my kiddos would love to climb those!

Bow tie on a cocker spaniel, anyone? No? Okay…

Detail from Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas" Here we have canvas 21.Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas (21)"

I see a ship, perhaps the Elissa moored at Galveston, old school sails flying. I say the Elissa because that is a ship I know about (my name, Elysia, and the ship Elissa are similar when pronounced, so I was told about this vessel dozens of times growing up by new aquaintances). The way the ship is painted reminds me of impressionist and fauvist seascapes I’ve seen. When I look at this art, I keep injecting my personal associations to the images. It makes me feel more connected to the painting.

Detail from Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas"

“Ship” could also be a wagon or cart, though…I suppose I can’t ignore the wheels there. Did I mention that I don’t have all the answers?

Amy Sillman's "Letters from Texas (20)"

I also like Letters From Texas because it seems to hint at quirky stories, and canvas #20 is particularly rich with those. It seems the wheels from the wagon/ship in panel 21 have rolled over here and mucked things up. Ghost man, are you playing a Hammond organ, or frying an egg in a skillet with a large ham sitting nearby? Is that a microphone standing in a field of multicolored sparks?  Good sir with the funny face, why are you upside down?

I don’t have any grand interpretations of this art. What I have instead are my own personal associations. Also, I like it. And I think that is sufficient merit.

Do you like it? What does it make you think about?


Here is an interview titled “Amy Sillman on Painting, Stand-up Comedy, and Making ‘Inappropriate’ Art”. 

Check out Amy’s own site, with cartoons, jokes, videos, and art related info. I particularly find this phrase guide for art funny.

“Letters from Texas” were exhibited in their entirety at the University of North Texas all lined up around a gallery. Description here, and an image of the so-called “Horizon Line” exhibit (and more of Sillman’s work) can be scrolled through here.


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