Amy Talluto: Moments of Light in the Forest


Amy Talluto in her studio in Upstate NY, 2021, Photo courtesy of the artist

Amy Talluto’s paintings and collages depict landscapes, ranging from representational wood-scapes to more abstracted forms reassembling a hybrid of landscape and still life. Darren Jones wrote in Artforum that Amy Talluto’s series of oil paintings from 2017 produce “symphonic arrangements of green, ranging from deepest phthalo to honeyed laurel. Dashes of pink, crimson, and yellow also crop up, to shimmering effect. The technical proficiency of her sumptuous compositions, based on forests around the artist’s Catskills home, parlays them into sites of ethereality.” (Darren Jones, Artforum). Recently, during the pandemic, the artist started exploring collage, resulting in bold cutouts, and consequently paintings, where the previously hinted pinks, yellows and crimsons become central alongside the blues and greens. Amy Talluto participates in The Upstate Art Weekend show at the rambling old manufacturing building in High Falls, NY. This art event was initiated by Todd Kelly, Alex Gingrow and Shanti Grumbine, who have studios in that building and have invited over 30 artists to show their work there from Aug 27-29, 11am-6pm.

You were born in New Orleans, LA, studied art in Washington University in St. Louis and later the School of Visual Arts in New York. Tell me a bit more about yourself and what brought you to landscape painting and specifically woodland?

When I was a kid in New Orleans my parents got divorced and my mom moved across the street from an abandoned field. I remember pouring all my teenage angst into making images of that place and it was the first time that I realized that the landscape could be a receptacle for psychology and emotion.

I continued in that vein at Washington University and found that St. Louis had these beautiful farmlands outside of the city. In the fall, the grasses would turn pale blonde or rust-colored and almost look like the fur of an animal spreading out over the fallow fields. I was also drawn to the clumps of trees popping up sporadically in the vast whiteness of snow-covered golf courses in the winter. These odd landscapes were largely human-made and I got very interested in representing them in painting. Later, after I moved to Brooklyn, I went to graduate school at SVA and visited Prospect Park for inspiration and I also loved the scarred beech trees in Cadman Plaza Park in D.U.M.B.O.

I’m drawn to landscape because it jumps out at me in an insistent way. Trees especially have always startled me with their eccentricity. They can look very bizarre and personified to me, and I feel moved to note and represent them.

It seems that you mainly paint with oil and gouache and a combination of these in your collage work. Let us start with your oils. I am looking at your Measured and Divided (2017) and Snake in the Garden (2020), for instance. What draws me to both of these paintings are the sense of a specific light element and interplay of gravity/movement upwards. What can you share about the genesis of these paintings, your process of making them, your ideas, and how do they differ in your mind in terms of your development as a painter over these 3 years?

The body of work that produced Measured and Divided was loosely inspired by Eudora Welty’s story Moon Lake and features landscape scenes from Upstate NY. In the story, orphaned children are camping in the Mississippi woods and the nature around them is described with rich metaphors. For example, one of the camper’s hands flops out of her tent in her sleep and she cradles “[night’s] black cheek.” Also, the night sky is described as being like “grape flesh” or the “grape of the air.” It got me wondering how a body of work might look if you viewed nature through a grape, or through an emerald glass. The work from that series was made with many thin green glazes. This technique allowed me to submerge the scenes into a thick palpable atmosphere and create a feeling of mystery.

After that series, I began making my oil paintings alongside smaller gouache studies on paper, and the vividness and quickness of the gouache started to seep into my oil painting style. Snake in the Garden is such a work, combining a more psychedelic palette with a mixture of both refined and raw areas. The paint sits up on the surface and is not glazed down, so it has a more tactile quality and the brushstrokes are more visible. An old beech forest in Aquidneck, RI, that was originally a Rockefeller estate, inspired the painting. Beech trees are smooth and white so they change color constantly depending on shadows and where they are in a forest. Some looked like they had tiger stripes, some were blue or pink and covered in knobs, and this one seemed to be an Eden-like snake guarding its sacred garden.


Amy Talluto, Measured and Divided, 2017, Oil on panel, 24 x 30 in. Photo courtesy of the artist

Amy Talluto, Snake in the Garden, 2020, Oil on linen, 34 x 40 in. Photo courtesy of the artist

Gouache seems to be a fairly new medium for you. Your painting with gouache seems to me looser, more drawing like. What is your approach to this medium and how does it differ from your oil painting?

Gouache is definitely a newer medium for me. As an oil painter, working in a water medium is a bit like going to Europe and driving on the other side of the road. You know how to drive a car, but it’s all a bit disorienting. You are totally right in that I consider gouache more of an extension of my drawing practice. I use it in a very drawing-like way, with a focus on line and mark making. Color-wise, I like the idea of carving the forms up into separate “color universes.” A bit like a color woodblock artist might, I allow each area to be ruled by its own palette. Gustave Baumann did this in his wood block prints and I find that way of working very inspiring.


Amy Talluto, Cherry Burls, 2020, Gouache on paper, 5 x 6.5 in. Photo courtesy of the artist

Both gouache and watercolor are a bit of a high stakes gamble because the first pass is the best pass, and it’s easy to muddy the image. Mistakes get made…and often. This high failure rate became an important entry point for me into collage because the scrap pile kept mounding, and it felt exciting to “resurrect” them by cutting them up and re-contextualizing them elsewhere. There was no such thing as failure anymore because everything was potential grist for the mill.

Your collages often integrate gouache and oil into playful compositions that strike me as close as it gets to your thought process. There is a sense of adventure and improvisation when I look at them as a body of work. They also seem to be a prelude to your recent oil paintings. This is evident for example in your collage At the Edge of the Sea. Can you elaborate on the relationship between your collage and painting, and do you see your collages as standalone pieces?

I began making collages during the pandemic when I was at home with my son doing remote school. Collage felt fun and low-pressure at a very scary and high-pressure time. All you needed was a table, scissors, glue and some small bits of time. I made several works that way and was really excited by the results. Later, I got an opportunity to spend a long weekend at the Saltonstall Foundation in Ithaca, NY. I dumped a suitcase full of collage scraps over all of the tables in my room and worked for 48 hours straight, becoming what I jokingly refer to as a “collage goblin.”

Most of the works in that group evoked my visit to Taughannock Falls Gorge, an area that I stopped at on the way. Deep in the gorge, the light was dim, and heavy clouds only allowed short bursts of intermittent sunlight. The moments of light would illuminate parts of the forest and suddenly you would see things (like the tip of a branch or a part of a trunk) that had been previously hidden by the gloom. Approaching Storm was one of the paper collages that grew out of that experience. When I returned home, I was curious to see how the image would look blown up as a large painting. I’ve always felt that landscape painting lends itself to big sizes as we’re used to experiencing nature as grand and vast. I think that the large Approaching Storm painting functions a bit like a totem, memorializing the alchemical process of its source collage.


Amy Talluto, Approaching Storm, 2021, Oil on linen, 50 x 64 in. Photo courtesy of the artist

I see the collage process as functioning a bit like a generative engine. This “motor” essentially runs on failed painting attempts, old paper palettes, cut-up oil scraps, gouache studies and anything lying around that was trimmed or discarded. From this swirling together of disparate parts, the collages form into something completely new with their own unique meaning. The paintings memorialize the collages and act as a kind of monument. All of the works are essential parts of the machine. The collages are stand-alone, the paintings are stand-alone and, during a recent installation project, I’ve even begun to wonder if the scraps could be stand-alone.

As you say, the collage medium is well suited to improvisation because you aren’t really controlling the images as much as facilitating their creation. I love how unusual spaces reveal themselves and how random shapes suggest natural phenomena just by virtue of their placement. Everything feels a bit magical. After working for a year or so on a table at home, I returned to my studio and felt like I needed to break from the representational paintings I had been making before. The only way forward seemed to be a new type of painting that honored the collage process.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the process of transitioning away from purely representational painting to this new way of working was somewhat terrifying. The Edge of the Sea collage began in the usual way with gouache studies of an interesting tree I saw on a hike, which were then cut out and mixed up in the master scrap pile. Eventually, the final collaged image became 2 trees perched on small icebergs (or maybe on an island) in the ocean with a cloudlike form and a wave. I then loosely blocked out the image onto a large canvas and painted it in oil paint in a trompe l’oeil manner. I made a deal with myself to ignore the fear and finish it at all costs. When it was done, I was a bit in shock. It still felt risky and scary but also new and exciting. The large size seemed important too, both in a landscape way and in a taking up space kind of way. I wanted the image to be “unignorable”– similar to how I experience the bold weirdness of nature.


Amy Talluto, The Edge of the Sea, 2020, Gouache and oil on paper collage, 15 x 11 in. Photo courtesy of the artist

Amy Talluto, The Edge of the Sea, 2021, Oil on canvas, 80 x 60 in. Photo courtesy of the artist

Your graphite drawings are meticulous, precise, and seem to be consistently small in scale. What is your drawing process and what is the role of drawing in your work?

Drawing is my way of understanding the visual world around me, especially trees and natural forms. Trees are built kind of like the body so you’ll see limbs that kind of bulge in and out like an arm or a torso or a knee, and you need to feel those forms with the line. Drawing is a first step. It is a way to intimately understand and record what you’re looking at — to know it. I work with a mechanical pencil and I love the feel and precision of it. I work in a variety of ways from casual sketches to finished drawings. When I’m working on a highly detailed drawing, I prefer to work small so that I can keep myself deeply engaged in describing the subject without getting overwhelmed. After I moved from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley in 2010, I used drawing to understand my new home. I drew quarries that were down the road, a hollow mining mountain in Rosendale and a frozen waterfall in a cave along the Ashokan Reservoir, among many others. It was all sort of a way to claim this territory as my own.


Amy Talluto, Quarry, 2015, Graphite on paper, 8 x 10 in. Photo courtesy of the artist

What would you like to share about your Habitat for Artists Residency at Artport Kingston and how do you think it has impacted your work?

This year, I embarked on my first installation project with Habitat for Artists (East) organized by Beth Humphrey and Michael Asbill and hosted by ArtPort Kingston. The project offers artists “micro residencies” in a 5×5 ft shed (made of recycled wood, and complete with a vintage Aristocrat travel-trailer’s crank-out window and door) situated on the Kingston waterfront. When I heard of the project I thought of the boxes and boxes of collage pieces that I had accumulated. Collage artists need chaos and mess to form visual connections, and I began to think how I might immerse the viewer in that process. I wondered what it would look like if all these scraps were tacked up all over the walls, like a collage bomb had gone off inside. Visitors were invited to enter my installation, Collage Demands Chaos, and find their own juxtapositions visually from the many pieces. Also inside were “cento” poems that I had arranged (collage poems that are made up of other lines of existing poetry) and those were displayed as artist’s books. The project opened up a new door for me to think of collage’s possibilities. Up until then, I had always made objects that hung on a gallery wall, and this was a new way of thinking about my work in a more expansive and experiential way.


Amy Talluto, Collage Demands Chaos, May 2021, Installation at Habitat for Artists East / ArtPort Kingston Kingston, NY. Photos courtesy of the artist. Video (Video credit Maxine Leu for ArtPort Kingston)

What is happening in your studio these days?

I’m currently working on large oil paintings based on collages I have made this past year and am excited to have my work included in a few summer and fall group shows: Summer Stage: Act 1 & 2 online with Auxier Kline and Spring curated by Kristopher Benedict at West Chester University in PA. I am also working towards a two-person exhibition at the Art & Culture Gallery at the Albany Airport opening in November. Additionally, I will be showing some of my recent work in my Brooklyn studio during Bushwick Open Studios: Saturday–Sunday, September 18-19 (1329 Willoughby Ave, 2nd floor, adjacent to Underdonk Gallery).


Amy Talluto’s studio in Upstate NY, 2021, Photo courtesy of the artist

Amy Talluto was born in New Orleans, LA and earned her BFA from Washington University in St. Louis and her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. In 2018 she was awarded a NYFA/NYSCA Artist Fellowship in Painting and was an Artforum Critics Pick for her solo exhibition at Black & White Gallery (Brooklyn). She has recently shown her work at Jeff Bailey Gallery, The Berkshire Botanical Garden, the Samuel Dorsky Museum, Geoffrey Young Gallery and Wave Hill Gardens. She has been an Artist in Residence at the Saltonstall Foundation (NY), Ucross Foundation (WY), Provincetown Dune Shacks & the Byrdcliffe Colony (NY). She currently lives and works in Brooklyn and Hurley, NY.

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: