by Shauna Grissett, photos by Candra George
ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST Amanda Talley describes herself as an “action painter,” and the classification seems spot on since she has sprinted to the top of her métier in practically no time. By definition, the word action, a noun, is “the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim.” With Talley’s distinctive rhythmic circular brushstrokes and uninhibited use of color in her paintings, she is sought after by the public and art critics alike, a rarity. But, no longer content to just paint, Talley is poised to be the next trailblazer in the design world, merging her talent and love for art, fashion and design. She has cleverly made use of her art as the driving force behind this expansion into large commercial projects (for hotels and restaurants), fabrics (printed with the patterns from her canvases), linens, home décor items, bedding, fashion accessories and clothing. The artist says with an engaging laugh, “I am envisioning ‘Talley Land!’ The business just keeps going and growing. So, I keep asking myself, ‘What is the next thing going to be?’”
Studio Amanda Talley, located in an 1840s masonry pharmacy building on the corner of Terpsichore and Magazine, has been the hub of her operation for the past six years. In business for a total of nine years—before her current location she had a gallery on First and Magazine—she explains, “The building itself is a creative enterprise where the entire process—all of it—comes together. A year ago, we hired two full-time employees to run the sewing room to make custom orders. We have the back gallery in the garage, and that is the framing studio. And then, there is the courtyard, and I live upstairs.” Because the property is now needed to function in so many different capacities, Talley no longer has her studio on the premises and paints in her newly purchased home in Pass Christian, Mississippi.
While we are talking, another well-known local artist wanders in, a good friend of Talley’s, and the mood is friendly and the conversation is quick-witted and smart. A very restrained version of Andy Warhol’s factory springs to mind, or better yet, a Southern version of Gertrude Stein’s famous Saturday salons in Paris. This combined with Talley’s five adorable dogs ambling around the studio and the sweet fragrance of the Confederate jasmine wafting in from the courtyard makes for a positively delightful afternoon, and the only thing missing is a mint julep in a frosty sterling silver cup.
The Baton Rouge native moved to New Orleans in 2000 after graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design with an MFA in painting. Talley took private painting classes when she was in the sixth grade, and ever since, she knew she wanted to be a painter. “I came here after graduate school and worked for Gerri Bremermann in the fabric lab. It was my first job. I’m an only child and my mother is an only child, so I wanted to be close to her, but I didn’t want to go back to Baton Rouge.”
Talley has come a long way from the fabric lab and describes the multifaceted aspects of her organization as well as some of her upcoming jobs. “We just got a big commission from the Tao Group for their restaurant, Avra Madison, which was designed by the David Rockwell Group. They commissioned five large-scale works. So in addition to our residential clients we’ve got commercial-commissioned design projects, hotels, artwork, a lot of things under one heading. It’s hard to comprehend all of the things that we are doing here.” Avra Madison is the new “it” restaurant in New York that has celebs and posh New Yorkers lining up for tables.
In addition to direct sales to the public via the internet (Instagram), at Studio Amanda Talley and at a few select galleries in which she shows her work (Charlotte, N.C.; Houston; Dallas; Charlottesville, Va.; Los Angeles; Montreal), another big piece of Talley’s growing empire is her work with interior designers. “We have relationships with many designers. They have a limitless amount of clients, and they know our product is always in pristine condition and our shipping sources are good. We work with them on their projects on an individual basis; it’s very hands-on and professional.”
As Talley’s company has expanded, she has had to make adjustments in her business model to handle the growing pains. One of the biggest refinements has been to the commission structure with regard to her paintings. Talley found the pressure of taking commissions was becoming overwhelming and controlling due to the sometimes accompanying exacting specifications and directions. “It wasn’t my process. So now what I do with a really great client is that I take his or her idea or I look at their room and then I send them a painting, and it’s either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ And with general commission requests, Collin, my studio manager, will say, ‘I’m going to talk to Amanda, and she might come out of the studio with something for you.’ This way, the customer feels less pressure as well, because they’re not obligated to buy. So, it’s better all the way around. Now I just do things that are inspired, and it’s great! I find I am more prolific.”
Although there are changes afoot, good ones, at Studio Amanda Talley, some things will never change. One thing that remains steadfast is Talley’s loyalty to her customer base. It is Talley’s top priority that the customer be treated well and have a matchless experience when he or she visits her gallery. “Collin and I are working to create a curated space so when you walk into the studio it will be like you are in an artist’s salon or atelier. Everything is thoughtfully chosen and every piece is from the artist’s eye or hand and relates to the heart, unlike a franchise. We want you to have an unforgettable experience. We don’t want the area to be chaotic. Because there is so much color and line in my work, I want people to be able to step back, look and take their time when choosing a painting.”
Another constant in the world of Amanda Talley that isn’t going away—Peach! “I love peachy colors, and I have to fight not to put it in everything. Peach is my go-to accent color. It’s been there for a long time. You don’t want to have too much of the same color, but I love it!”
While hard to believe, there was a time in Amanda’s life when this level of success never crossed her mind. She went to graduate school with the goal of teaching at the college level, professionally, and she didn’t start out as an abstract expressionist. “I was a still life painter in graduate school, and I didn’t feel like my work was measuring up. So, I took an elective in abstract painting just for fun. It was in the undergraduate school at the Savannah College of Art and Design and the teacher was really hard on me. He kept giving me F’s on everything.”
At the same time, Talley was teaching a 5th grade art class at a Savannah day school. “It’s a long story, but one day it all blew up, and I ended up getting fired, unfairly. So, I had this terrible teaching job, and I wasn’t doing well in my area of study. Things weren’t exactly going well.”
The day Talley got fired she went into the studio to complete an assignment for her abstract painting class. “I made this big red and orange painting. I guess getting fired felt so raw. After I finished the painting, I stepped back and said, ‘I never want to paint any other way again.’ It was just like that (snaps her fingers)! And, I never went back to still life painting. I emerged. Sometimes the most frustrating things push you into new directions, and you have to birth through the frustration in order to move through it.” The Savannah College of Art and Design bought Talley’s transformative painting for its permanent collection.
It may have taken a while for her to find her technique, but Talley has clearly perfected it, as well as her process. “Although I do have rules about process, they’re so embedded in the back of my head at this point, that I’m kind of oblivious to them while I’m painting. There is something magical channeling through me when I’m painting. I’m moving and trying to keep up with what is coming through—the aesthetic stuff and the line quality. It takes me about an hour to paint a painting because everything is going so fast. I paint everything in that moment, like Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock—also action painters—and, also like them, I don’t go back in and rework my paintings. When you can feel the action in one of my paintings, it’s because it happened quickly. The vibration in the painting comes from the combination of color and line working together. When you get that visceral reaction to a painting, it’s because you can see the artist in the brush.”
Talley is philosophical and speaks insightfully about the act of painting, “When I’m painting, I’m imagining, ‘Where is this painting going? There is someone, a home out there where it belongs.’ Every painting is meant for someone. There is someone out there, who doesn’t yet know he or she needs this painting, and I don’t know either. There is a force in the universe that is in command of determining all of this. Hopefully, when the right person connects with it, the painting will lift the vibration in that person’s home.”
She continues, explaining how her creativity through painting connects her to her higher power, the universe, “Subconsciously, I feel that everything is already laid out in some way. So, you have to keep creating and let go and what is meant to be will happen in your life. You don’t know what you want, but the universe does. Life will constantly throw things at you, so you have to react as positively as you can. Let it wash through you.”
The works of Esther Hicks (based on the laws of attraction) and The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale have been very influential on Talley’s outlook, both personally and professionally. She read The Power of Positive Thinking eight years ago to change her negative mindset and claims the successes started rolling in almost immediately, “If you get a good vibration going and think well of other people, then good things will happen. I try to think in terms of plenty, not limited quantity. I try to always remember that someone else’s successes don’t mean less for me but rather, there’s so much for everybody to be successful. What I receive in the universe has to do with what I am putting out. Project happiness, joy and love and you’re going to get that back; it’s reciprocal.”
Talley obviously practices what she preaches, and if she is the benchmark, then affirmative thinking clearly does brings good things.