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10 Questions for Amy Johnquest

Artist Amy Johnquest contributed the cover art and portfolio from her collection Adopted Ancestors, A Family Album (Volume 59, Issue 1, Spring 2018).

Tell us about one of the first pieces you created.
I’m almost sixty years old so by “first pieces” I’m figuring you’re talking about the hand painted Victorian cabinet cards like the ones in MR. About four years ago I got the bug during a ladies collage party, hosted by a vintage photo collector and dealer Stacy Waldman. She provided us with scads of photos and ephemera that weren’t suitable for resale. In other words destined for the trash bin. Like a modern day sewing bee, we ladies were having a fine time drinking wine, collaging and creating, while telling stories and talking politics. Stacy told a funny story about her Hebrew teacher when she was eleven years old which ended with her saying, “I hate you Mr Strudelwitz!” I thought the man I was painting at the time could be him, so I painted that text into the bottom of my picture. Never wanting to project hate, I added “All You Need is Love” to the title.

What artist(s) or works have influenced the way you work now?
I like looking at everything, from random artists found on Instagram, to gallery and museum visits, plus old photos, magazines, religious books from the 1950s, and so much more. I saw an old wrestling and beer advertisement from the 1950s the other day that I am still swooning over. Looking at art objects is all food to gobble, some swallowed, others spit out. I particularly love looking at outsider art and old carnival and midway advertising.

What other professions have you worked in?
To name a few: House cleaner, waitress in a Mexican restaurant in Tennessee, cocktail waitress on a Chinese Junk (boat) in the Caribbean, sign painter, art director for the Daily News in St. Thomas, USVI,  horse whisperer, historical poster restoration, and for the last umpteen years as gallery director at Holyoke Community College.

What did you want to be when you were young?
A horse. No, seriously, a horse.

What inspired you to create these pieces?
The photos themselves really seemed to be asking me. It may sound crazy, but that is absolutely the way it happened. When I looked closely at those discarded portraits of forgotten folks long gone I felt a kinship. We are all riding this river of time together. Perhaps it is one more chance to keep a toehold in this realm—and beyond.  I only wish there were more nationalities to engage with.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your art?
The alleyway between my left and right lobes and my storefront studio Spot 22 in Easthampton, MA

Is there any specific music that aids you through the artistic process?
No, though I like all sorts of music, I usually listen to audio books, podcasts or talk radio.  The last music on in the studio (yesterday) was the best of Marty Robbins. Before that it was Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to create?
Outside of gathering the materials needed at hand, no, I dive in. Sometimes it’s easier than others. Once I am keenly focused on what I’m doing, it may sound hokey, but I’ll hit a place where something beyond myself is steering me.

If you could work in another form what would it be?
I currently make art in all kinds of mediums and forms, but it might be fun to create and develop a miniature golf course - however, I wouldn’t want to run it. I’d also like to create carnival dark rides. Outside of being art related, I’d like to be a tour guide to fascinating and curious places around the world.

What are you working on currently?
Many fingers in many pies. The cherry on top would include promoting my book, Altered Ancestors.  Designed by James McDonald Books in Northampton, it includes the art that appears in The Massachusetts Review’s Spring 2018 issue. I am also working on a very large piece that will be revealed in a group show at APE in Northampton, MA in June called “Shelter.” It is (in part) made up of a six foot wall of cabinet cards interconnected with grommets and wire.  

AMY JOHNQUEST, a.k.a. the BannerQueen has been creating and showing mixed media art and design in the Pioneer Valley since 1993. Her work has been exhibited regionally and nationally. Her storefront studio Spot 22 presents ongoing gallery and window installations in Easthampton, MA. She is director of the Taber Art Gallery at Holyoke Community College.

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