I have had the benefit of knowing Austin Amalthea Wilson for several years now and have seen examples of his work grow and develop online since he moved from Portland back to Eugene, OR. One of my goals in curating the Aaron Hall Gallery has been to inspire Queer artists who live around Oregon outside of the Portland metro area to be able to show their work at Q Center.
Austin has put together a collection of various works reflecting the various media and themes he works within for exhibition at Q Center for the month of August. There will be a reception for the show in coordination with the Mississippi Street Second Thursday Art Walk on Thursday August 8th from 5-8pm.
I attempted to get some of Austin’s work up to Portland and into the gallery in March but things did not work out for a variety of reasons. When I contacted him at the end of February he had been in a ‘live suspension’ with glass suction cups the previous evening at a Fetish night in Eugene put on by some friends at the local piercing shop. I saw some pictures online and his back looked like he had been abducted by a giant squid. I kept thinking about the suction cups and all of the tentacles you see in Austin’s paintings and drawings and it got me wondering what might be going on in this secret world inside his head. I am excited for visitors of Q Center to see this work.
Austin’s tentacles might latch on to you when you see his work, but try to relax, it is just his way of getting a read on you. Sensation and feeling are given equal attention to sight and sound by this one. Lessons learned from sitting quietly among the swaying branches and fallen needles of the pine forest are given the same value as ancient historical texts, neither of which he is afraid of. “He” is a stretch and oversimplification here and one in which I feel compelled to further explain, for the correct particle, may not be in the English language yet. To figure out what’s going on with that ––one has to set their decoder ring to his middle name, “Amalthea” and open their mind to the existence of a parallel Faerie dimension that is intersected and entwined with our own.
I recently had the chance to ask about this and more,
Here is what happened:
DM: How did your middle name come to be and what makes it special to you?
AAW: This story could be long, I have to draw a few different lines. Amalthea is the name that the Unicorn in ‘The Last Unicorn’ is given when changed in to human form. In the story, if you haven’t read it or seen the movie, the Unicorn is on the search for the rest of her kind. She learns they’re being held captive and at bay by the Red Bull. She is turned in to Amalthea on her journey of discovery to protect her from being captured and allowing her time to free the other unicorns. Here’s another line: Amalthea is also the name of Zues’ goat step-mother whose horn broke off and out-spilled the Horn of Plenty, leaving her with a single horn, and his belly full of food. How to draw the lines together: When I was a young teenager I saw a PBS special, out of all things, that had a story on the Radical Faeries. A group of Queer radicals who embraced Counter Culture and believed in living with intent and off the land, and seemed to have a whole lot more fun than what I was witnessing people in Redmond, Oregon having. I didn’t do much about it then. And then, a few years ago, I was introduced to them and realized that I was a faerie all along. I was given the name Amalthea by a dear friend and fellow UNIcorn child. Its what the Fae call me. I connect a lot to both the story of ‘The Last Unicorn’, the way I’m “always searching for but finding what it is your’re looking for inside of you” –and the story of the one horned goat mama. I see it as kind of a responsibility to ‘take care’ of and be a steward of most everything. So I keep it, and will always hold that name fondly.
DM: How did you get started in Art making and get such supportive parents? It seems like their house is completely filled with your work.
AAW: Art is in my bloodlines. All of my relatives that I can think of past and present where/are artists, some of them professionally. My parents have always told stories about finding me painting on the walls of my bedroom, sometimes with rather embarrassing media. I’ve done a lot of my art exploration around both of my parents, they provide more than enough inspiration and have always, no matter how difficult to their own cultural conditioning, seen me as an individual and allowed me to express my vision.
DM: You seem to spend a lot of time playing in the forest there, how does that inform your work?
AAW: I have always spent a lot of time in nature. I grew up in the woods here in the Willamette Valley, all over Oregon actually, and the deserts of Arizona. I’ve always wanted to know the names of all the creatures and plants. I’m a voyeur of life, and to me there is nothing more real than leaving the man made concrete jungle –or finding that park spot in the middle –and seeing what there is to see, feeling what there is to feel. Right now my art reflects my fear. I have seen in my short present life the devastating effect of the way humanity lives, what we feel the priorities are, and how disconnected we’ve become to the Realness between nature and ourselves.
DM: You employ a wide variety of media in your work and use the entire palate of color in the rainbow. How do you decide what media to use (3D vs. 2D, painting vs. drawing, etc) in order to create a new work? Also, I have seen that you do lots of preliminary sketches, how much of the process is completely planned and how much is spontaneous?
AAW: People gift me supplies all the time. I rarely turn anything away, and I save it, sometimes for years. I carry a sketch book with me most of the time, but I can usually find something to doodle on (napkins, news papers, cardboard, wood, etc) if I don’t have one. Parts of sketches usually become parts of final visions. Its like a collage in my brain and I have to fit the pieces together. I try to let my mind play, or I am intently focused on a cerebral vision, the idea of a subject. Sometimes I feel like I disappear, and it all becomes second nature. My hands move about and grab whatever supplies I feel like will fully actualize the statement or emotion. It feels like magic, like love.
DM: You tend to put a lot of your personal identity topics out there in your work. Some of your work seems to involve depictions of yourself with multiple metal rings around your neck and you also practice “live suspension” at public events. What role does fetish culture play in your work?
AAW: I do a lot of self examination through art, and examination of society. I think its all kind of has to do with actual freedom and transcendence. I also like to play with energy. At the Sun Dance ceremony men would hang from eagle talons in a spiritual trance. I’m searching for the same experience with the means that I have available and in this modern era. And, who doesn’t want to fly?! In many culture around the world Body Modification is a right of passage to adulthood. I started modifying my body (specifically my ears) when I started puberty, as my own ritual. I see most everything we do as ritual. I also think about slavery a lot, and how our modern society keeps us all slaves and distracted, keeping us separate from one another and controlled. There are a lot of reasons why my art reflects sex or the idea of sex and how that connects to ‘self’ and the public. Why I practice what I practice is for the spiritual and physical awareness, and my own personal concepts with sexuality and personal boundaries. I’m constantly trying to expand as a human being.
DM: Some of your work seems to involve a cast of repeating animal/human hybrid creatures with visible genitalia. What is going on here with queerness and gender between these characters?
AAW: This really goes back to nature. I see the interconnections of all of us to everything. Human beings have become very narrow and closed to their connection to nature , themselves, and each-other. I think its important to remember it. Did you know that water never goes away? The same molecules in you have passed through dinosaurs! That’s intense to think about. But, it also means that you’re much more important than you realize and much more connected. I guess, I’m just trying to get people to see that they are important, forever, not just right now. They are inherently and intrinsically connected to forever in both directions. And that at our core we are animals. The queerness of these beings and genitals are equally a call to see beyond them as are the colors I use. If we are all one, than we are all things in one. I think these kinds of ideas that we’ve created keep us from the real truth of learning to live together (all just seeing ourselves as deer headed purple penised glitter breasted creatures) and in equilibrium with Gaia.
DM: Some of your more recent work involves characters with a third eye that look as if they come out of a mix of Dream Psychology and Indian tradition. What role does Non-Western Art History play in developing themes in your work? How did you come to embrace such a diverse range of historical themes in your work?
AAW: I have always been intrigued with the imagery and ‘arbitrary’ colors used in Indian art. As a young child I had no idea it was all religious iconography, which now intrigues me almost as much as the color and figures. Western culture to me kind of seems ridged and full of rules, especially when it comes to art and what constitutes art. I like to play, its actually one of my favorite things to do. And I think Eastern philosophy in general leans more toward playing. The third eye symbolism is very powerful to me. Seeing beyond our perceived senses. I like to place eyes in important human places, in between the eyes, the throat, heart, genital area. We perceive our environment in so many ways, and we rarely truly grasp the wholeness. History is an important subject, I feel very connected to it. In learning the past, I’ve seen cycles, and lessons. I feel like the more of us that see our connection to the past/present/future, the faster we will learn the lessons we’re being shown. I call it the Future/Past Circle/Cycle. It kind of all ties in to the idea of reincarnation, and seeing myself as a part of forever.
DM: Your work and sense of style are very unique. What artists are you inspired by? What inspires you?
AAW: I’ve always been inspired by many artist. But I have no idea what their names are. 80’s cartoons were a giant part of my young life and were I return for comfort. They have also inspired my art, the bright poppy colors and fantastical creatures always caught my attention. Alex Grey’s art and philosophy play a part in my work along with other shamanistic painters. But music has really inspired my art. Saul Williams, Lydia Lunch and even Marilyn Manson have had a giant impact my life and art (but I don’t really see those two things as separate.) My personal style constantly changes with the things I learn and my life circumstances but it has usually reflected my admiration for aboriginal cultures, the modern primitive movement, counter culture fashion, and sustainability (even birds primp and strut). Learning inspires me, personal stories of close friends, bird’s, bee’s and everything in between, the struggles of indigenous peoples of the world, history, science, Love and magic .
DM: How do you define your queerness? Has that ever changed over time?
AAW: I forget sometimes that its still a thing. To me, I see beyond it and see the labeling as a distraction from togetherness. I’ve always embraced my queerness and have played with the idea of gender most of my life. In my young days I didn’t understand, I honestly thought I was a woman trapped in a mans boy. And now I feel like that was society reflecting on me the fact that gender roles are instilled from a very young age and I didn’t fit in to them. In adolescence exploring myself and the world I learned that gender and sexuality are fluid, and have little to do with definable characteristics. So I played with it. And now I just AM. I love who I love, and allow others to view it how they wish, without holding myself accountable for their conditioning. I feel like the more our differences are focused on the more they become brick wall barriers. Although it feels good to belong to this or that sub-group of humanity, Learning from the past and projecting for the future, we have no time to be divided. We need to learn to love ourselves so fully and really that it reflects on the faces of total strangers. And the answer to the last question is yes, my queerness and gender identity is in constant flux.
DM: What is it like being a queer artist in Eugene, working outside of the Portland Metro Area?
AAW: Sometimes it does feel very isolated. I lived in the Metro area for 7 years, but was going throw a non-art phase, or at least let my self confidence keep my from exploring the Art culture of Portland. Through my development I think that being a proverbial island out here in Eugene, has assisted in breaking down my self conscious barriers. I need people to see/feel/experience my art, especially in these areas. Maybe some little unicorn artist child will be drinking at a tiny bar and see a third eye unicorn warrior that I’ve created, and find a piece of them selves there… There are other Queer artists here, but there are not a lot of safe Queer spaces.
DM: Do you think Q Center can play a role for Artists in communities across Oregon, outside of the Portland Metro Area, and if so, what should that role be?
AAW: Of course, its playing a role right now in my story. Allowing me the opportunity to share myself and third-eye-vision with a greater community, and maybe a community that connects with the message more at this moment in time. (…) But, as with all Queer spaces, it should be a place for everyone to be embraced and held safe, allowed to un-assimilate and just be. A place where as an artist we are not afraid to fully express what it is we live to express.
Artists who are interested in being featured in “Artist Spotlight” or exhibiting their work in Q Center’s Aaron Hall Gallery may submit work at any time by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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