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Interview with Amy Goh

By Nancy Li

Nancy Li interviewed Amy Goh, a McGill alumni currently working as a research assistant. Amy graduated in 2013, and had her work exhibited at The Fridge Door Gallery during their Fall 2010 and Winter 2011 exhibitions. Her work was also featured as the cover of Canvas’s Winter 2014 issue (the Art History and Communication Studies academic journal). You can find more about her work over at AtlantisDreaming.org and her Facebook page, or alternatively, visit her profile at Hire an Illustrator. 

Let’s start off with telling FDG a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been at McGill? What do/did you study? Do your studies relate to your work in any way? Otherwise, have you been able to find ways to link your passions?

I’m a research assistant at McGill and I do research on imaginations of environments in digital humanities. My job sometimes includes illustration and maps. I also am a rogue teacher, researcher, and freelance artist, among other things. I like to mediate between different realities constantly. I graduated in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, German Studies and East Asian Studies. I would say my studies directly influenced my work, but more in a way spores from alternate dimensions and time periods fertilize an ecosystem. In fact, it was a course in the German department called “The Grotesque” that started me drawing (back in 2010). 

What range of media do you use? What is your favourite medium? And your least favourite?

Ink, photographs, poetry/word-bits, and the torn off pieces of my mind. I like combining all these mediums to create books that can be navigated in multiple ways and are accompanied by useless, purposefully misleading guides. I have no medium I like least because I don’t bother tinkering in mediums I find boring. Ink is my religion, though. I think there is something about the contact of ink on paper that is sensual and tactile. 

What and who inspires you in your work? And what motivates you to continue doing it? Other than artistic influences, does anything else inspire you in your work? Maybe a culture, a style of music, a drug or drink, or a specific mindset or mood you have to be in?

My inner world and the range of sensory, intellectual and physical stimuli that enter and irrevocably mutate it. My art is a direct reflection of what I’m feeling inside. This means that, yes, everything inspires me. When I draw, I am in a hypnotic state, almost. My focus immediately shifts to the direct action of making a mark on paper; in a way, it is very meditative. I always have to listen to music when I draw, although it doesn’t exactly affect what I draw. It is like background noise. I have gone through so many podcasts drawing. I do put myself in a trance sometimes when I draw using music, although I don’t think it really changes my art radically. 

How has your practice changed over time? Have any of your influences truly affected your style or direction?

I’ve become less anxious about it. I realize that I can create as long as I turn up for the process, and everything else is really irrelevant. I used to be tied up in the fact that I was not an artist and couldn’t draw. Then I dumped my ego in the bin when I experienced a sort of near-death experience and drawing became more of a life/death imperative. Once I had no choice, it made things much easier. I find I only feel inspired about two-thirds of the way through. As long as I turn up for the first two chapters of the creation process, I’m fine. 

What are the main themes that you like to tackle in your work? How do you come up with these themes?

I don’t come up with them. They create themselves. My work is born from my mythology which very much grew out the act of drawing. In the beginning, I was drawing more from mythical, philosophical and literary sources (albeit subconsciously- it was fed from the live-stream of my classes). After drawing for about 6 months, my characters started to breed by themselves and a whole mushroom kingdom appeared, which is now very much self-sustaining and continuous. In a way, my mythology constructed itself and materialized while I was drawing it. It’s also constantly changing as I change, albeit in a way I’m rarely aware of ’til after-the-fact.

Do you start with a brainstorming/experimental period before starting a painting, or do you find that the themes develop as you progress?

Usually I lie back on my back (when I’m consciously seeking images) and I let my mind provide me with flashes or visions. This may or may not be a useful technique. I also draw from dreams (I’m always beset by the most surreal and plain weird, sometimes breathtakingly beautiful dreams), poetry (I see art in the cadence of words and words as figures) and visions. When I’m consciously seeking it, that is. Most of the time I put my pen to paper and something appears.

What projects are you working on right now? What directions are you interested in taking your work in the future?

I’m currently working on a couple of things: my tarot deck and some commission work illustrating fatal situations that will beset you if you don’t follow silly Chinese advice like giving someone a clock (apparently time will stop and you will wander aimlessly forever) or buy someone a hat (your spouse will cheat on you). It’s really fun. I’m also always consciously looking to collaborate with video and music artists to create multi-sensory interactive exhibitions. I’ve flirted with this during my “Eden in Stasis” exhibition last year (an audio-visual exhibit). The idea was to create a greenhouse-Edenic ‘sacred space’ made from projections, music and some of my drawing in the middle of winter, creating an uncanny, disturbing and lulling environment. I haven’t done anything similar since then.

Is there anything you dislike about your work? Have you encountered a challenge when you paint that you would like to overcome?

I don’t judge my own work so I don’t have any standards. What limits me is really the extent to which I can create from my visions, which I’ve accepted will inevitably be deformed and disfigured when executed on paper. As a result, I don’t usually think about what I do. I just let the artwork create itself spontaneously from my head to hand. I fluctuate between uber-realistic drawings and totally divorced-from-reality drawings, although sometimes they mingle and it apparently scares people (like [my] cat series). ** 

To end, we’ll finish up with some fun questions: What would be your go-to Halloween costume?

I think I’d go as Matilda from Leon, and my boyfriend would be Leon. Partly because I think we are [those characters] in real life already, except the killing people bit.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Harvesting doppelgangers of me to do multiple art projects at the same time. Or being able to make pictures into sound like a synaesthetic person.

Which cartoon character best represents you?

The black cat in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Not so much in personality as in appearance.

If you could live in any fantasy world, what would it be?

I already live in one.

Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?

Both. I grew up on an appetite of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Although Harry Potter has a special place in my heart, while Lord of the Rings was something I was only superficially fan-girling about as a kid.

Yoko Ono or Courtney Love?

Neither.

Thank you so much for the interview!

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