Amy Talluto: Moments of Light in the Forest

Amy Talluto’s paintings and collages depict landscapes, ranging from representational wood-scapes to more abstracted forms reassembling a hybrid of landscape and still life. Darren Jones wrote in Artforum that Amy Talluto’s series of oil paintings from 2017 produce “symphonic arrangements of green, ranging from deepest phthalo to honeyed laurel. Dashes of pink, crimson, and yellow also crop up, to shimmering effect. The technical proficiency of her sumptuous compositions, based on forests around the artist’s Catskills home, parlays them into sites of ethereality.” (Darren Jones, Artforum). Recently, during the pandemic, the artist started exploring collage, resulting in bold cutouts, and then paintings, where the previously hinted pinks, yellows, and crimsons become central alongside the blues and greens.

You were born in New Orleans, studied art in Washington University in St. Louis, and later at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Tell me a bit more about yourself and what brought you to landscape painting and specifically woodland?

When I was a kid in New Orleans, my parents got divorced and my mom moved across the street from an abandoned field. I remember pouring all my teenage angst into making images of that place and it was the first time that I realized that the landscape could be a receptacle for psychology and emotion.

I continued in that vein at Washington University and found that St. Louis had these beautiful farmlands outside of the city. In the fall, the grasses would turn pale blonde or rust-colored and almost look like the fur of an animal spreading out over the fallow fields. I was also drawn to the clumps of trees popping up sporadically in the vast whiteness of snow-covered golf courses in the winter. These odd landscapes were largely human-made and I got very interested in representing them in painting. Later, after I moved to Brooklyn, I went to graduate school at SVA and visited Prospect Park for inspiration. I also loved the scarred beech trees in Cadman Plaza Park in D.U.M.B.O.

I’m drawn to landscape because it jumps out at me in an insistent way. Trees especially have always startled me with their eccentricity. They can look very bizarre and personified to me, and I feel moved to note and represent them.

I am looking at Measured and Divided (2017) and Snake in the Garden (2020). What draws me to these paintings is the sense of a specific light element and interplay of gravity/movement upwards. What can you share about the genesis of these paintings and your process of making them?

The body of work that produced Measured and Divided was loosely inspired by Eudora Welty’s story Moon Lake and features landscape scenes from Upstate NY. In the story, orphaned children are camping in the Mississippi woods and the nature around them is described with rich metaphors. For example, one of the camper’s hands flops out of her tent in her sleep and she cradles “[night’s] black cheek.” Also, the night sky is described as being like “grape flesh” or the “grape of the air.” It got me wondering how a body of work might look if you viewed nature through a grape, or through an emerald glass.

After that series, I began making my oil paintings alongside smaller gouache studies on paper, and the vividness and quickness of the gouache started to seep into my oil painting style. Snake in the Garden is such a work. An old beech forest in Aquidneck, RI, that was originally a Rockefeller estate, inspired the painting. Beech trees are smooth and white so they change color constantly depending on shadows and where they are in a forest. Some looked like they had tiger stripes, some were blue or pink and covered in knobs, and this one seemed to be an Eden-like snake guarding its sacred garden.

Measured and Divided, 24 x 30 in.,oil on panel, 2017
Snake in the Garden, 34 x 40 in., oil on linen, 2020

Your collages often integrate gouache and oil into playful compositions. When I look at them, I see a sense of adventure and improvisation. This is evident, for example, in At the Edge of the Sea. Can you elaborate on the relationship between your collage and painting?

I began making collages during the pandemic when I was at home with my son doing remote school. Collage felt fun and low-pressure at a very scary and high-pressure time. All you needed was a table, scissors, glue and some small bits of time. I made several works that way and was really excited by the results. Later, I got an opportunity to spend a long weekend at the Saltonstall Foundation in Ithaca, NY. I dumped a suitcase full of collage scraps over all of the tables in my room and worked for 48 hours straight, becoming what I jokingly refer to as a “collage goblin.”

Most of the works in that group evoked my visit to Taughannock Falls Gorge, an area that I stopped at on the way. Deep in the gorge, the light was dim, and heavy clouds only allowed short bursts of intermittent sunlight. The moments of light would illuminate parts of the forest and suddenly you would see things (like the tip of a branch or a part of a trunk) that had been previously hidden by the gloom. Approaching Storm was one of the paper collages that grew out of that experience. When I returned home, I was curious to see how the image would look blown up as a large painting. I’ve always felt that landscape painting lends itself to big sizes as we’re used to experiencing nature as grand and vast. I think that the large Approaching Storm painting functions a bit like a totem, memorializing the alchemical process of its source collage.

Approaching Storm, 50 x 64 in., oil on linen, 2021

Your graphite drawings are meticulous, precise, and seem to be consistently small in scale. What is your drawing process and what is the role of drawing in your work?

Drawing is my way of understanding the visual world around me, especially trees and natural forms. Trees are built kind of like the body so you’ll see limbs that kind of bulge in and out like an arm or a torso or a knee, and you need to feel those forms with the line. After I moved from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley in 2010, I used drawing to understand my new home. I drew quarries that were down the road, a hollow mining mountain in Rosendale and a frozen waterfall in a cave along the Ashokan Reservoir, among many others. It was all sort of a way to claim this territory as my own.

The Edge of the Sea, 80 x 60 in., oil on canvas, 2021

What is happening in your studio these days?

I’m currently working on large oil paintings based on collages I have made this past year. I am also working towards a two-person exhibition at the Art & Culture Gallery at the Albany Airport opening in November.

(Amy Talluto in her studio in Upstate New York, 2021. All photos courtesy of the artist.)

This interview is part of a content collaboration between Art Spiel and Artists & Climate Change. It was originally published on Art Spiel on December 2, 2019 as part of an ongoing interview series with contemporary artists.


Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing, and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She has exhibited her immersive installations in museums and galleries, nationally and internationally. Yaniv founded the platform Art Spiel to highlight the work of contemporary artists through art reviews, studio visits, and interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. Yaniv holds a BA in Psychology and English Literature from Tel Aviv University, a BFA from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA from SUNY Purchase.

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