Liz D’Amico calls her studio “a glorious MESS!” Primarily an assemblage artist, she is working on three different pieces at the same time. “Ring of Fire” (nearing completion) has presented many challenging problems to solve, Liz says, “including how to mount the very heavy ‘innards’ of an old clock and craft handles to manually make it work.” She found all the materials at the Sunapee transfer station, so they all needed to be repaired or broken down further. The container box itself was, as the artist put it, “in a not-so-great condition,” but she was drawn to its unusual shape (especially after turning it upside down). Another piece is beginning to take shape in a miniature cigar box that will be displayed on its side. Liz declares the third piece to be completed but “I’m still waiting for that ‘I’m finished’ blessing from the creator—some decisions take a very long time!”
D’Amico describes her work as a thoughtfully worked out puzzle that begins with totally unrelated found objects that somehow work their way into a unified whole. “I have been told that my work draws the viewer in and gets them thinking as well as questioning what the work is about and how or why it came to be” she explains. “Often my work begins by collecting found objects that just seem to ‘work’ together with no particular theme, rhyme or reason or something is included simply because I am fascinated with its shape or color. As I continue to manipulate these ‘pieces’ I discover their meaning. Rarely do I begin with an idea and then look for objects and images that will carry out that idea.” She adds that the opposite is often true when she is painting, working with clay, or making prints. “There, I usually begin with an idea or concept and then develop it. Still there are usually unexpected turns or twists while working and that is all part of the process.”
D’Amico’s first foray into box assemblages began with a student project while she was teaching at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy. While at a national conference for art educators in New York City, she attended a presentation focusing on the work of Joseph Cornell, whose assemblage work had drawn her attention previously in museums and books. “Before I knew it, I began constructing a fairly large box assemblage as a wedding gift for our daughter and son-in-law and have been hooked ever since.” She finds she is constantly discovering new juxtapositions of unusual found objects or images. “Very often it is how the objects relate to each other regarding color, shape, or contrast that brings them together.”
Like many artists, D’Amico has always been one. She recalls feeling that art was her calling from the time she could hold a crayon. Some of her earliest work remains with her even now: “I remember when in kindergarten, I absolutely adored painting at an easel and can still vividly see a portrait I painted on bright purple construction paper of a soldier in army uniform and his bride-to-be in a white gown. There is some connection between that image and my uncle, my father’s youngest brother, who was the very first person I had ever seen in uniform. I’m not quite sure why I remember that image so well, except that it may have been the way my teacher responded to it. Knowing what I know now as an art educator about developmental schematic drawing, it probably was quite a remarkable drawing!”
She remembers being the “class artist” throughout grade school, but as an undergraduate, she was torn between majoring in art and something more practical that would guarantee a career—as she was advised to do. “I majored in English and minored in education, but never stopped thinking of myself as an artist and musician.”
Two of her most significant experiences as an artist came during childhood. The first was a copy of Fifty Centuries of Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art—a gift from friends of her parents. D’Amico recalls “studying it and revisiting it again and again over many years. I may still have a copy of it somewhere.” The second was interacting with two art instructors who conducted children’s art classes in oil paintings on Saturday mornings. “At the age of nine or ten, I fell in love with painting with oils.”
D’Amico wrote a promise to herself that she would continue as an artist and so she did, eventually becoming certified in art education via an alternative program that enabled her to teach both art and music in public schools. “As I look back on it all now, I do not regret any of my decisions,” she says. “I have been enriched with broader experiences and, best of all, have continued to learn by teaching.” Teaching itself has been influential for her, as an artist and an educator. She taught all grades in both private and public schools. “I learned so much from those experiences and from my many students. I’m a firm believer in the fact that you can’t possibly teach unless you also practice what you are teaching. Especially, at the university level, I found it essential to work along with students—both for their inspiration and mine.”
Working alongside her students has also tended to make her own work “seasonal”—ceramics in the spring, encaustic and sculpture in the early fall, oil painting en plein air in the summer, and collage and box assemblage all year long.
D’Amico notes that “one of the beauties of having a studio is to be able to leave whatever you are working on and go take care of whatever else needs doing, and then return to your art work and, hopefully, pick up right where you left off. Both mixed media collage and assemblage are perfectly suited to this way of working. Printmaking and ceramics not so much! As I age, I find the stamina needed to work long hours becomes less; therefore, I really appreciate being able to work in shorter time blocks/sessions.”
D’Amico has no intention of settling on only one medium. As an educator, she needed to be up on a variety of techniques, which suits her process well and has resulted in a body of work in multiple media—but still uniquely her own. Most recently, she has been working on a series of collages inspired by teaching a course in The Fine Art of Collage. “I have begun tearing up some of my “vintage” watercolors, hand pulled prints (monotypes, collagraphs, relief prints, etc.) and reclaiming them in fresh mixed media collages. I have always down this, but at this point in my life, it seems that I need to do more of it!”
D’Amico is mindful that viewers sense the detail and work that goes into what she does, but at the same time, she hopes the final result will appear effortless, natural and thoughtful. “Sometimes that goal is achieved, but at other times it is not. Perhaps that is the essence of a successful work of art.”
Coming up this year, Liz D’Amico’s work will be on display at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH (Annual Juried Show), the National Collage Society (California), the League of NH Craftsman’s Fair in Sunapee, NH (NHAA Tent), the NHAA Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery in Portsmouth, NH, 2 Pillsbury Street in Concord, NH, at Pease Library in Plymouth, NH (Women’s Caucus for the Arts), at the Center for the Arts Micro Gallery at the NL Inn in New London, NH.
The featured image: Time Portal, box assemblage
Marcia Santore is a long-time member of WCANH. She writes from Plymouth, NH and her work can be seen at marciasantore.com