A visual and virtual feast for the eyes opens in Huntington
By Melissa Arnold
As the Heckscher Museum of Art marks 100 years since its founding this year, they have taken time to explore both the past and future through art.
Over the next few months, the Huntington museum will exhibit the work of contemporary abstract artist Amanda Valdez, whose deep appreciation for art history, beauty and feminism have led her to a unique and interesting style. While Valdez has an extensive commercial exhibition history from coast to coast, this will be just the second time she’s exhibited a range of paintings from various points in her career.
“I came to art as a teenager by the grace of an amazing high school art teacher. I had the false assumption that artists were the kids who draw naturally and render everything they could see to everyone’s astonishment,” said Valdez, 37, of New York City. “My teacher exposed me to the concept that art could be learned — that I had a creative pulse — so if I worked hard I could make something with that pulse.”
The exhibit, titled Amanda Valdez: Piecework, is aptly named for the way the artist creates complex works of art with a variety of techniques, including embroidery, sewing and painting.
“While we think of a painting as putting paint on a canvas, [Amanda] reminds us that canvas is, in fact, cloth. She hand-dyes other types of cloth and sews them to the canvas to create her works of art,” explained Karli Wurzelbacher, curator at the Heckscher Museum. “The different types of media she combines are very interesting. For example, embroidery is very feminine — she likes to celebrate feminine things. But while embroidered fabrics are usually delicate, she works with thick, heavy layers. She also hand-dyes her own fabric. She even lent the museum her dye notebook, where she keeps track of how she achieves certain colors.”
Wurzelbacher said she’s been aware of Valdez for about 10 years — they both studied at CUNY’s Hunter College, albeit in different programs. Wurzelbacher always found Valdez’s work beautiful and interesting, and thought that she would be a good fit for this historic milestone at the museum.
“We’re dedicating a lot of time to looking back through our history and where the museum has been, as well as looking forward into the next 100 years,” the curator explained. “Amanda is a contemporary artist in the middle of her career. Part of her practice is looking back at art history and then making something new out of that. She also celebrates the traditional ways that women have made things — textiles, embroidery, sewing, dye, quilting — while also tapping into modernist history and ideas. She marries those two traditions and brings them into dialogue with each other.”
Valdez said she enjoys abstract art for its ability to portray aspects of humanity without having to assign elements of age, gender or nationality in a painting. “Human history is endlessly inspiring to me. I find moments of interest, such as Islamic patterning, women’s history as told through fiber objects, or pagan iconography in Renaissance art, and I spend time researching these moments and movements, and slowly let it seep into my work. I love thinking about all the things all the humans have made with their hands over time,” she said.
The exhibit features a total of 19 paintings chronicling Valdez’s career from 2013 through 2019. She has also included one pencil sketch to show a bit of the preparation and brainstorming behind her artistic process.
The included paintings show an evolution in style over time, Wurzelbacher said. “Diamond Pressure,” a piece from 2013, has minimal embroidery and features bleeding, blending acrylic paints. Later pieces include more complex embroidery or the use of oil sticks, which can be handheld like pastels for a more immediate mark.
The unique exhibit will be on display at the same time as the Long Island’s Best exhibit, a juried collection of art from 100 high school students from Nassau and Suffolk Counties with impressive artistic talent. Wurzelbacher said she believes the young artists and their loved ones will appreciate sharing space with Valdez as a relatable contemporary and possible inspiration.
“This is the first time Amanda’s work is being made accessible right here in our community, and while it’s beautiful to see in print and online, it’s even more impressive viewed in person,” Wurzelbacher said. “You’ll get to see the incredible detail, colors, layers and textures in each piece. It’s special.”