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Amy Hughes Braden is an artist’s artist. She’s a collagist, a sculptor, an incredibly talented painter, the mother of a two-year-old boy and the partner of another artist. Sometimes she bartends, gets grants, does residencies; but she is always an abstract thinker. An artist who’s tirelessly amplifying her art.

When I spoke with her via cell, she was on a weeklong retreat in Black Mountain North Carolina, sleeping in a dorm room and learning about topics such as decolonizing herbalism and sound collage. In the latter course, Amy made her own contact microphone: an interesting device which responds to physical vibrations rather than airwaves. This is great, she says, because she’s always wanted to incorporate sound into her art, but never knew how to do it, until now.

While we talked, she informed me that every topic and perspective are potential sources of inspiration. Her natural curiosity not only expands her imagination, but it spurs the act of her intuitive art.

Her journey goes back to her elementary years. Amy, the oldest of four, was homeschooled. During her mother’s instructions, she doodled to focus her mind and keep herself grounded. At the age of nine she took a drawing class. Her artistic development hasn’t stopped since.

Her earlier pieces, although often abstract, are confined mostly to the canvas. Yet, the creative spark for bending the traditional was ever-present. Her 2011 painting, “Spencer (erased),” is a realistic and perfectly rendered portrait of a young man painted over with a thin coat of white. The result is a ghostly figure, fading to nothingness, seemingly vanishing from existence itself.

Another thought-provoking piece called “Anna Leaves” is a pencil and charcoal sketch of a young girl on a completely black canvas. Her body is the only thing that’s not black besides the door, which is an amorphous quadrangle she’s walking through.

Is Anna escaping from a bad home? Does it represent her walk into adulthood? When I asked these questions, Amy Hughes Braden said she didn’t know. She didn’t think that deeply into it, but she likes the ambiguity of it all.

“It’s subjective,” Amy says, “no one can control how people perceive their art.” She goes on to say that everyone will leave with a different impression of every piece, often thinking thoughts she’d never considered. And that’s okay. Her aim with her creations is simply to get a response, claiming:

“The worst insult is indifference. I just want to evoke something, whatever it is.”

She’s interested in “pushing out beyond the standard way of doing things.” Amy doesn’t classify her art into a specific form or style, like expressionism, surrealism, or Dadaism. She believes that, in doing so, she’d be creating barriers for herself.

Her work is not crisp and clean. Often, it doesn’t even look finished. And, she tells me, she’s not interested in creating pieces that are beautiful. Art doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful.

I’d never heard this nugget of wisdom before, I found it as mind-altering as her many creations, which are not only hypnotic, but capable of being gawked at for hours at a time.

Currently, she’s experimenting in cutting and ripping the canvases of her work. Not being too precious with one’s art, no matter how good it may be, is a tip Hughes Braden learned from her high school art teacher. It’s deconstructive, and she says, immensely freeing.

Amy enjoys showing the labor that typically exists behind the scenes, she calls it, “zooming out and thinking about the context where work is made.”

While she toils, she sometimes thinks about women and their rights, or lack of. She says a lot of what women do is invisible labor, and she’s interested in highlighting what is not usually focused on.

Her 2018 piece, “The Infinite Histories of Mothers,” is a creative hodgepodge forged by a mad scientist. When gazing upon the piece, one sees a sawed-in-half canvas punctuated by a multicolored blob of acrylic paint.

The wooden beams of the canvas are visible, sharply protruding skyward, in order to show the paintings’ support system; a system, which usually goes unrecognized. In the blob of color, Braden has glued various forms of bric-a-brac: found heirlooms, cheap gems, a spattering of glitter.

Anything and everything could go into her art. An old battery, she says, is even fair game.

Her painting, “Piles,” depicts a nude woman in acrylics covering one breast with a charcoaled hand. In the hand is an actual piece of laundry which hangs into a basket of ruffled clothes. The nipple is covered by a LEGO piece, rather a DUPLO, from her two-year-old. From the DUPLO spirals a tube for a breast pump.

Her art follows the caprices of her intuition. She’s willing to try anything, even implementing materials she found pleasing as a child, like Klutz Crafts or Puffy Paint. She claims, “That’s not always considered art with a capital A.” But I would argue, Amy Hughes Braden is one of the most talented and imaginative artists in the scene.

Check out her work, which is breathtaking, in Georgia Avenue’s Sense Gallery DC, from September 2 to October 7.  She also has art available from Transformer FlatFile on P and 14th. In the meantime, she’ll be in her studio, creating…


Part of the BYT Art Census 2019 series