Amy Metier (MFA’79) makes bold strokes in abstract art.
Amy Metier (MFA’79) paints by intuition and she paints abstract — which can mean starting with a picture that’s precise, specific, realistic: A French garden seen in a black-and-white photograph, say, with plants, trees, a meadow, a pond, a rotunda.
She internalizes the geometry of the scene, gradually withdrawing from the specific and transforming it, as she did in “Blue Crossing,” an oil painting in her April solo exhibition at Denver’s William Havu Gallery.
It’s not the flowers or the garden itself that call out to her, she says, “but the shapes in it, which are primarily triangles…One would start to abstract, distort, eliminate shapes, change the scale. The intuition is trusting yourself, your own judgment, an inner voice that will say, ‘That doesn’t work, keep going.’”
And in “Blue Crossing,” on view at Havu, few would see a landscape.
“The power of abstract art is that it appeals to people on an intuitive level,” Metier says. “It goes way beyond reason.”
The approach has served her well: Over 35 years she’s earned a reputation as one of Colorado’s most prominent contemporary abstract artists. (Art critic Michael Paglia of Westword, the Denver weekly newspaper, calls her “one of the state’s acknowledged masters of abstraction.”) Her works are on public display at the Kirkland Museum in Denver and in the lobby of the U.S. Bank Tower on 17th Street, as well as in private collections throughout the state and beyond — in Chicago, Houston, Santa Fe, Tucson, Toronto, Europe and Asia. A piece acquired by the Denver Art Museum is expected to be on view by year’s end.
“All of the Metiers feature the artist’s inspired sense for assembling colors, and if some have a moody feeling, all sport sunny tones,” Paglia wrote of her work in a 2012 exhibition. “This color mastery is what Metier is perhaps best known for.”
Metier considers herself an abstractionist, though some view her more specifically as an abstract expressionist (think Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still) because of certain shared elements in their work of spontaneity, energy and coherent randomness.
“It’s more of what I’d call ‘referential abstractionism,’” says gallery owner William Havu, who has shown Metier’s work for more than a decade. “Her work has hints of [20th-century French] cubist Georges Braque. She might take a mundane still life or landscape and then obfuscate and enhance it with veils of color. She has a delightful sense of palette, combining fairly unexpected colors and making them work.”
It was as a CU graduate student that Metier first cultivated an abstract style (and sold her first painting, to a local businessman, for $500).
She found particular inspiration in CU-Boulder fine arts professor Chuck Forsman (now retired from CU but still producing art) — less because of mutual stylistic impulses, she says, but because of the way he encouraged her natural strengths and impulses.
“A really great professor is one that brings out what the student is best at, even when it’s not necessarily like their own work,” she says. “He helped me to develop my own voice. He was a great mentor. Very low-key. Very soft-spoken. Encouraging, but constructively critical.”
Today Metier lives in Boulder and works in a rented studio on the third (supposedly haunted) floor of a Catholic school in Denver. She produces works for commission and, roughly every two years, for large gallery shows. For the April Havu show, in Denver’s Golden Triangle, she produced a body of 40 artworks, including oil paintings, monotypes (unique prints) and drawings.
She likes to paint in large, square formats: Her handmade canvases typically measure 5 feet by 5 feet or 6-by-6, though she’s done much larger. “Perhaps it’s because it demands your full attention,” she says. “Your whole body moves when you are creating it.”
Her biggest piece — a 12-by-24-foot commission titled “Suez”— hangs in the lobby of the U.S. Bank building in Denver. Painted on Masonite panels and mounted about 20 feet above the lobby floor, it vibrates with color, hinting at water, the green Earth and, in her words, “man’s imprint on the world.” It took four months to produce.
“Because it was a lobby and people were coming and going all the time, that also made me think about the Suez Canal. Not just landmasses and water, but the idea of transit… Artists are their worst critics but I like that piece quite a bit. My work has evolved since then, but it holds up.”
She would do more vast canvases if it were practical for art consumers: “Most people don’t have that kind of space.”
Metier’s career is now in its fourth decade and the agenda is full: She’s preparing for a group exhibition in Palm Springs in February and for her next show at Havu, scheduled for March 2015. She’s working on a commission for a large office building in Denver. And she’s considering an immersive experience in Japan to study Japanese minimalism with an eye to developing her own way of making large-scale minimalist art.
Time should not be an obstacle: An artist never really retires, she says, because art is as much as way of life as a way of making a living.
“There was a study done that painters live to very old ages,” she says. “It’s such a wonderful way to look at life and participate in life.”
Photography by Ellen Jaskol