Artist Snapshot: Amy DiGi

Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions

amy digi interview
Amy DiGi at Untermyer Gardens, 2014. Photo: Angela Giustino

At what age did you decide to become an artist?
I took many classes and was always trained in art, but in terms of a profession, that only happened later. I was a New York City public school teacher, Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, Portland Public Schools teacher, substitute teacher in New York State and then finally an artist.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
I don’t think there was a reaction because there wasn’t a definitive decision. The artist thing evolved. I liked drawing, so there were extra classes at community centers, an SVA high school program on Saturdays, SUNY Purchase, then Pratt for an Art and Design Education program to teach art. Painting didn’t seriously really take over until I was an adult.

Who are your favorite artists?
I’m not good at picking favorites, and my opinion changes depending on the day of the week. Maybe years ago it was Modigliani, Van Gogh, Egon Schiele, and now I’m into Euan Uglow, Jenny Seville, and Richard Schmid, and in between the middle of nowhere, Sargent, Emile Nolde, and Whistler. It’s mind blowing because there are so many artists. What about Diebenkorn? Him too!

Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?
Kusama — I would love to live in her trippy Infinity Mirror Room or Eternity of Eternal Eternity, which remind me of sitting in the Indian restaurant Panna II with clusters of bright string lights hanging from the ceiling.

Art book you cannot live without?
I love The Art Spirit. I reread it every couple of years. I just understand different things. Oh, by the way, I also forget different things, too.

What is the quality you most admire in an artist?
Dedication to their craft. I believe artists are constantly discovering and teaching themselves when they move their hands while being open to working with what is revealed. In order for this to happen, one has to make art for 10,000 hours, and once those hours are completed, then begin another 10,000 hours.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
I had many sketchbooks before motherhood. Time is of the essence now, and I want both, to be a mother and an artist. Sometimes there is just not enough hours in the day no matter what time you get up and go to bed.

What’s your favorite museum in all the world?
I like the Metropolitan. It’s the museum I visited the most in my life. Maybe my answer would be different had I lived in Paris or Spain.

What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?
The Michelangelo exhibit at the Met in 2018. I wanted my son to be in the presence of very old drawings when he was so very young. We looked at hands and noses drawn by a master for his first birthday. One of my most favorite experiences with him so far.

If you were not an artist, what would you be?
I would probably be an art therapist to help children sort out feelings. There were so many situations I saw as a public school teacher, and I thought art therapy might have been useful step towards healing.

How did your early artistic cohort influence your development?
My high school art teacher, Mrs. Turkheimer, knew I needed life drawing in my portfolio, and it was not offered in school. So with my mother’s permission, she took me to SUNY Purchase on Thursday nights to attend class. We also attended three Pratt Portfolio days, and then I was admitted to their undergraduate program.

What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?
The Internet side of art. When I was in undergrad, Pratt was just getting the World Wide Web with the .edu, so it was different then compared to now with websites. When I was in undergrad, social media was fairly new, Instagram didn’t even exists in 2010 after I completed my Master’s. It’s something I’ve spent lots of time asking lots of people, How do you do this on ____?

What work of art have you looked at most and why?
Again, this is like picking my favorite artist just more specific now. I love Van Gogh’s Irises, Toulouse-Lautrec’s point of view looking up at the model with special lighting, Caillebotte’s The Floor Planers, Delacroix’s Self-Portrait in a Green Vest.

What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?
Colorful blooming trees: cherry/apple blossoms, magnolias, and dogwoods.

Do you listen to music in your studio?
No music en plein air because I like the short conversations I have with strangers. However, I love listening to music in my studio.

What is the last gallery you visited?
I haven’t a clue. It was before I was pregnant I think. I don’t even know.

Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?
Martin Campos. I love his mark making and interpretations of how he sees. I also wouldn’t describe him as underrated, but more like I can’t wait to see how his work unfolds.

What art materials can you not live without?
Painting materials. I would have to say my palette knife and my tube squeezer. It reminds me when I was a kid, and I would squeeze the toothpaste when it was still in metal.

Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?
I can say there is not much consistency in my life. Sometimes I can paint regularly other times a couple of days go by and I do not ; it depends on what’s happening in my life. Painting definitely slows down during the holidays for sure.

What is the longest time you went without creating art?
When I first became a New York City teacher at the age of twenty-two, I stopped making art. I taught ceramics and was an assistant coach for varsity softball. I was exhausted for about three straight years. 

What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?
I get my hands moving and that eventually lights some embers. I could just start with giving my palette a good cleaning, then organizing my paints and using the tube squeezer. Then my hands take over and I’m just gonna put some paint out, then, well ,if the paint is fresh out of the tube, I might as well, ya know, start something. Then it’s 2:30 in the morning, and the toddler alarm clock gets up at 6:30 to 7 am every day. So it’s bedtime and happy I showed up to paint at all, even if I’m tired the next day.

What are the questions that drive your work?
How much would my work change if I made 100 of whatever? Paintings of trees, self portraits, fruit paintings. And the reality is I’m making those numbers over years of painting and not the initial thought of, I’m gonna make all these in the now.

What is the most important quality in an artist?
Showing up! You have to show up—to the class, to the studio, to the openings, to life, because, at the time you may or may not know it, your artistic eye is keeping records of everything you see. You just can’t help but to absorb life, after it percolates and rises to the surface, you want brushes in your hand.

What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?
To paint on the road! I have traveled and I have painted, but not really painted travels. I don’t want time to speed up because I love seeing life through my son’s eyes, but there will come a time when he is busy with his things; then I would love to hit the road. 

What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?
To see works that are in the process of being made like time-lapse and live painting in someone’s studio. To watch their color choices and paint applications. Oh, and meters on line, for example. the New York Botanical Gardens has a meter reporting in percentages the number of trees in bloom. Once I see the percentage at 75% or higher, I gotta get painting.

AMY DIGI is a Seeds of the League teacher and recently hosted the Art Students League’s Children’s Workshops, a series of free virtual art lessons on Facebook for children, ages 5 to 8.

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