From several time zones away, I had the opportunity to “sit down” with Amy Rodriguez to talk about her recent 5×5 Artist Residency at the Fulton Market Kitchen (though, little did I know, she was laying).

Though her illustrations are whimsical — comprised mostly of quirky renditions of cartoons and animated characters — her paintings emit a more mature tone.

Amy paints with a more organic focus. Her work features anything the nude body has to offer. From hands and breasts to bellybuttons and toes, all of which are composed using overlapping, bright colors that express shadows and contours of the body.

At FMKTK, her work was solely body-centric: “I got the opportunity to have a different nude model pose for me every night, who all had very different body types—men and women.”

Amy’s personality was effervescent, her sentences were often punctuated with laughter. While she studied illustration in college—a skill, she said, that required a lot of planning—she was no stranger to spontaneity.

“I grew up the youngest of eight, so my parents had a hard time taking us out for fun activities. So, instead we would do fun crafts at home as a family. My mom was a teacher so she would treat all of us like a miniature classroom… though I didn’t know what illustration was at the time, I knew I wanted to do something like that. In my head, my only choice was art school.”

After receiving her BFA in illustration from Montserrat College of Art in Massachusetts, Amy realized that she needed a change of scenery. But, Chicago was never part of the plan: “I came here to visit a friend and just never left. It wasn’t even like I was serious about moving to Chicago. I just thought ‘Chicago is pretty cool; I’ll figure it out here.’”

And she did.

Over the past five or so years, Amy has developed her style into one that she feels is more liberating than the one she was taught in college. In fact, her approaches to illustration and painting have become very distinct.

“There are certain things I gravitate toward, like color pallet, but I try to separate [painting and illustration] as much as I can because I do think very differently when I approach those two styles. When I work on illustration, I feel an intense amount of option that ends up being immobilizing—too many options dilute the process, I think.

But with paint it’s not like that. It’s like, let’s just let the paint be paint; it doesn’t have to be super polished.

I’m too worried about technique with illustration; it’s too much of a distraction. But with painting, the little texture is the art in itself. You can’t mimic that digitally. Why even bother faking it when I could actually do it?”

As she started straying from illustration—experimenting with myriad different career choices, including being a baker and a chocolatier—she found herself reimagining what illustration meant to her, focusing on painting as a form of illustration and, “not to sound cheesy,” finding inspiration in her current relationship.

“I saw this picture on my phone and painted based on it, and it felt freer and more satisfying than anything I’d done before. I felt really liberated letting myself paint for the only reason being that it felt right.”

Now, Amy paints with the inspiration that the organic body brings. She is motivated by the uniqueness within each body shape, focusing on the figure itself and the way each trait celebrates the being who embodies it.

Amy’s 5×5 show not only offered her an opportunity to concentrate on the singularity of different nude figures, but it also challenged her to break from the boundaries of “too many options” and make split decisions with her art:

“I chose to do a different piece every day and have different models every day because I wanted to challenge myself to paint a little faster every day. It was a good exercise. It also allowed a different pacing for me because, since it was a live event, it was so fast paced.

I usually do one stroke then stand back and think ‘Hmmm… I dunno…’ for ten minutes, but with this I had to make quicker decisions, and I even noticed that I started making quicker decisions in real life, too. With this show, I just approached it with a ‘whatever happens, happens’ attitude, especially with the time limit.

Yeah, a painting a day…it’s not going to be the most polished painting, but that’s not the point either. Searching for a level of completeness without having that type of finish was a really important part of the process. Having a sharp, polished look isn’t what finished means.

The more confident I get with it, the better I can be. My paintings are just as chaotic as what I feel most of the time. Especially now that my paintings are starting to develop, I’m starting to be more honest with myself about what I want from them, and that’s just a dialogue with myself and the paintings.”

Though her show was July 10th – July 14th, Amy’s paintings remain on display at the Fulton Kitchen Market for another 30 days or so, or “until they tell [her] to take them down.”

In the meantime, Amy plans to continue painting nude models for some time, and has even set a new goal to paint 60 paintings in 60 days—some being close-up portions of a nude body (what she likes to call “moments”) and some full nude portraits.

“I keep asking my friends for nudes,” she admitted laughing, “and they think I’m kidding but…”

Though she has no upcoming shows planned, keep up with Amy’s progress with her 60×60 challenge on her Instagram (@amy_illustrates) and stay tuned for any future projects.

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