Amy Sillman is a Brooklyn-based American painter, who works in oils, acrylics, drawings, collage, videos, and zines. Sillman is known for making pictures that shift between abstraction and figurative representation. Her gestural approach to painting combines figurative art with abstract art as she converts portraiture into abstraction that alludes to bodies and objects. In a typical Sillman painting, slashes of paint are interrupted by a form that could be a hand or a foot, which then retreats back into abstraction.
Raised in Chicago, Sillman moved to New York in 1975 to study Japanese and ended up attending the School for Visual Arts, where she worked with Joan Snyder, Pat Steir, and Louise Fishman. She also contributed to “Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics.” After graduating in 1979, she painted for more than a decade without showing her work. During this decade, Sillman knew that her work did not fit the dominant artistic modes of the day.
However, recognition came to her after she received an M.F.A. from Bard College in 1995. In that year she received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Elaine de Kooning Memorial Fellowship. In 1999, she was awarded fellowships from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Joan Mitchell Foundation. In 2001, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Sillman has said that two extended trips to India fostered an interest in art that was mythic and beautiful, and a residency in Italy allowed her to explore the flat spaces and imperfect perspective of early Renaissance painting.
Drawing is at the core of Sillman’s artistic process: graphic gestures produce both light and heavy marks across her canvases. Her work features broad swathes of color contrasted against sharp linear elements. Paint strokes of different colors are layered over the surface. Recognizable forms coexist with the lines and blocks of color so that the representational imagery dissolves in and out of the abstract lines and shapes. Her technique makes for a uniquely blurred and subjective experience for a viewer.
Sillman also works in pencil, crayon, watercolor, and collage to create her cartoons, diagrams, prints, iPhone and iPad drawings, and animations.
Sillman had a solo show “Third Person Singular” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2009. She had her first big museum retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in 2013. In 2014, her work was shown at the Whitney Biennial. For the October, 2019 reopening of New York’s Museum of Modern Art Sillman orchestrated an installation, “The Shape of Shape,” that compared and contrasted works by some 70 artists in the museum’s the “Artist’s Choice” series. She organized the works in a personalized manner, and they were presented context-free without wall labels.
Her works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Art Institute of Chicago, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum, and Baltimore Museum of Art.