“This is a pretty humble desk, a hand-me-down, from Ikea I think. It’s probably meant to be a kitchen table, though it’s solid, like a butcher’s block. I have a little ode to the Yale Center for British Art in the center of the wall: a water spaniel by George Stubbs; a horse called Pumpkin by George Stubbs; and a creepy children’s portrait with horse and dog by Robert Burnard. There’s also a white heron by Joseph Stella, and dinosaurs from Rudolph Zallinger “The Age of Reptiles” mural at the Peabody Museum of natural history. And there are some kid characters and drawings by my 3-yr-old.
I like to stack things along the back edge of the desk and have things move forward and back, in and out of sight – little books and candy boxes from Brazil, a book of butterflies, some acorn tops.”
“To the left of the desk, there’s a big window with a crazy nightmare of twisting tree branches (an old mountain laurel). We live in the woods and I spend a lot of time just looking out windows. Here are a few pictures from different windows at different times of the year.”
Amy Jean Porter grew up in Oklahoma and Arizona and currently lives outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Porter has drawn more than one thousand species of animals for her ongoing project All Species, All The Time. Individual series within the project include North American Mammals Speak the Truth and Often Flatter You Unnecessarily, Tiny Horses Say What and Freaked Out Monkeys in the Trees. She has presented solo exhibitions in New York, Chicago, San Antonio and Paris, and her drawings have been published in Cabinet, Flaunt, McSweeney’s, Meatpaper, and elsewhere. Her first book, Of Lamb, a collaboration with poet Matthea Harvey was published by McSweeney’s in 2011.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
AMY JEAN PORTER: I usually carry things around in my head for a while and then hopefully there’s a burst of inspiration. I like to work in the morning first thing and go until 1pm or so, when I’m suddenly starving. The afternoons are usually for errands and bright-light-of-day time with my kids. Then in the evenings I like to keep going with whatever I’d gotten started with in the morning. Mornings are for hard work and new things, evenings are for getting things finished. Of course with two kids I’ll take any time I can get.
All the colors of my dreams – they just don’t exist in everyday light – were ablaze.
FYD: What are your three favorite tools?
AJP: I love tiny brushes and especially a very thin liner brush. Holbein gouache. Colored pencils because I like to see them lined up and because they smell so good.
FYD: You and Matthea worked together on Of Lamb. What is the most surprising experience of a collaboration?
AJP: That it was okay to put Washington crossing the Deleware in a picture of a bad perm. At first I was concerned that I would take things too far (be too weird), but Matthea was right there with me, right on that boat.
FYD: Your show just wrapped at P.P.O.W. What was it like to see your work on those white walls?
AJP: I love making drawings for books and for the Internet, but there’s nothing quite like seeing them up on a wall. P.P.O.W.’s space was perfect, like it was made for Lamb, and had the most incredible lighting. All the colors of my dreams – they just don’t exist in everyday light – were ablaze. I was thrilled.
FYD: Were you inside your book looking out?
AJP: It was totally like being inside the book, having lots of little eyes looking at you.
I love tiny brushes and especially a very thin liner brush.
FYD: What is the biggest misconception of lambs?
AJP: That they taste good? (Seriously, I can’t eat lamb, ever again.)
FYD: Although I’m a massive Yankees fan; I’ve always held a soft spot for Manny Ramirez. How did he become a lamb? I was thinking, if a lamb wanted to be human, it might like to be an athlete – one who stands in a field, because that would be familiar. And Manny has some quality of lambishness to him. I’ve always been a fan. I think we’re all hardwired to look longer and be more interested in things that are familiar – celebrities are helpful that way.
FYD: I love the gushing ocean from the pink sink. What were you thinking here?
AJP: The wave is pretty much a direct quote of Hokusai’s The Great Wave. The pink bathroom is an ode to the pink bathroom my friends and I shared in Dublin. The toilet and sink and bathtub were fleshy pink, and the tile was black.
FYD: What was Dublin like?
AJP: Dublin was great. I love Dublin. My mom is originally from Ireland; she moved to the US in her late twenties, so I have a pretty strong connection there and lots of cousins. I moved there after college and felt very much at home, had a number of arts-related jobs, pretty dreamy jobs actually – at an art magazine, an art gallery, and I taught for a year, too. I almost would have stayed, but I couldn’t resist the pull of New York.
FYD: I’m rarely starstruck but stood in a bathroom line with Matthew Barney at Freeman’s Alley, New York. A holy moment. What was it like to interview him in Dublin?
AJP: It was exciting and fun and he was lovely to talk with. I was a ball of nerves and a blur of nervous gesturing and hand fluttering.
FYD: I’m posing one of the questions you asked him; What is the most memorable scene in a film for you?
AJP: Yasujirō Ozu is in my head forever. He made the same movie over and over again, which I love. They are all quiet and brilliant. The films tend to begin with a few images – like stills almost, of landscapes, railroad tracks, flowers. I can’t even remember which scenes are from which movie, they all run together, but I keep seeing his images somewhere in my everyday.
Manny has some quality of lambishness to him.
FYD: And in a book?
AJP: I’ve been fairly obsessed with Proust’s In Search of Lost Time for forever. It’s possible that I have read all seven volumes at least three times. But the scene when Bergotte, the writer, looks upon the pale yellow wall in a Vermeer painting and is so overcome that he drops dead (dead for ever?) … well, that’s the scene that makes me want to read the whole thing over again. (I also like that maybe it wasn’t the Vermeer – maybe it was just a few undercooked potatoes that did him in. Which I believe also happens in A Christmas Carol, and I wonder were potatoes that dangerous once upon a time.)
(Seriously, I can’t eat lamb, ever again.)
FYD: Your Awl Drawings In A Hurry; are they truly in a hurry?
AJP: Sometimes they are in a hurry, particularly the early ones. Sometimes they are decidedly not in a hurry. I just like making them. Sometimes I see something I want to draw, like the potato masher at the end of the hallway, and discover there’s a whole little story around it. Sometimes something sticks in my head and I keep noticing it, like the fireworks, and I just need to get it out, in a hurry.
FYD: What’s on tap for early Fall?
AJP: The Lambs are going to be shown at Real Art Ways in Hartford, which I’m excited about. I’m working on some larger drawings, and drawings featuring insects. I’m deep into a book called Insectopedia. It’s fantastic. I’m also working on new pictures for 20×200and The Awl. There will be some odd drawings in the next issue of Cabinet Magazine (including a strange pic of Larry King, whom I’ve been wanting to draw) and in Girl Crush Zine, a new exuberant project by the writers Thessaly La Force and Jenna Wortham.