Amanda Hamilton is a contemporary American artist working in various media. She produces large installations, intimate paper works, videos and more. Hamilton received a BS in Drawing and Painting from Biola in 2000, and then she went to complete an MFA in Painting in 2004 at Claremont Graduate University. She shows her work throughout the United States.
The natural, and especially non-human, world is a recurring subject in her work. Many of her projects explore the unsettling “otherness” of nature: the sense in which the natural world seems indifferent toward and beyond human cares. This theme strongly resonates with a Romantic sensibility that looks for the sublime in nature as a way of transcending and disrupting human culture and society, the worlds of our own making. When one thinks of Romantic painting, the usual suspects come to mind: Theodore Gericault, J. M. W. Turner, David Caspar Friedrich, etc. These painters, especially Gericault, produced paintings of immense size and power, and one does not view them as much as one becomes enveloped by them.
Although drawing upon this tradition of the sublime, Hamilton complements it with the theme of domestication. In a recent installation titled The Life of Perished Things, Hamilton explores the interplay between the sublime and the domestic in profound ways by drawing upon her careful observation and themes in Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980). In an essay published on Hamilton’s website, Janice Neri writes:
In today’s world the lines between art and everyday life have been increasingly blurred, and the practice of keeping house is seen by many as a means of empowerment and mindful living. Mindfulness has its risks as well, as evidenced by the sense of unease Hamilton repeatedly mobilizes in The Life of Perished Things. Sitting alone in nature brings with it a feeling of terror because it reminds us of our mortality, but in a more mundane sense it reminds us that there is much work to be done in the here and now. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, bills—the effort to keep up with these tasks is only matched by the effort to keep thoughts of them at bay. Like the daily chores of keeping house, art making can be both joyful and burdensome. The comfort and solace that comes from each is the result of continuous effort on the part of the homemaker or the artist, but these Sisyphean undertakings hold within them the constant possibility of their own undoing.
Not only does Hamilton explore the interplay between the sublime and the domestic, but also with the interplay between permanence and impermanence. In an installation titled On Floriography, Hamilton renders numerous plants and flowers as delicate paper cuts, which are protected in glass cloches. Stunning in their beauty and simplicity, these paper cuts speak both of timelessness and a time long forgotten. One is reminded of a medieval world in which flowers and herbs possessed symbolic power. Now lost and unused, these symbols point again to the “otherness” of nature.
She also produces videos that sometimes accompany her installations. I was particularly drawn to her 2009 video Beautiful Terrible, which is about the 2005 disappearance of a Russian lake due to the collapse of underground caverns. She “re-enacts” the disappearance through the meticulous creation of a model of the lake. Like her paper cuts, the model accentuates the tension between the sublime and the domestic, the powerful and the delicate.
There is a great deal to explore on Hamilton’s website. I encourage you to take the time to look at her work and watch her videos. I have included some examples of her work below: