Amy Gear graduated with an MA in Printmaking from the Royal College of Art in 2015. She has lived in London and Aberdeen, and for the past two years has been based in Shetland.
Amy's practice explores interrelationships between land and the body, knotting together notions of identity, language, knowledge and imagination. Her work is critically acclaimed and covers a broad range of media: drawing, printmaking, painting, photography, moving image, poetry, storytelling, installation, sculpture, spoken word, digital knit, textiles and book making.
We recently caught up with her to find out about island living, island working and island waving.
What’s it like working as an artist in Shetland?
I live and work in Burra Isle, but grew up in Yell, the second most northerly of the Shetland Islands. I love living in Burra, it’s a small island connected to the mainland by bridge, with the most amazing landscape and a lovely community. As soon as you get over the bridge everybody waves, even if they don’t know you. If I’ve been away in wave-less London, the first wave on Burra always puts a massive smile on my face. Every person has a different wave, and you occasionally get a thumbs up – that’s a bonus. Flappy waves, static waves, one-, two- and three-fingered waves, flicky fast waves, quick wave and smile, slow wave and stare, scared to take hand off the wheel but obliged to wave … the list goes on. Advice to visitors: wave to passing cars. And if you want to take it to the next level and become a true islander, develop a signature wave.
The houses on the east of the island look like toys shadowed by the massive hills of the mainland, which share the drama of the Faroese landscape. From the west you can see Foula in the distance: a small but spectacular island. Seeing it is a treat. Its cliffs are the second highest in the UK, only beaten by a few feet in St Kilda. I have a close connection to Foula as my Grandad and my surname are from there – my heart flutters when I drive over the hill and spot it on the horizon. I like to walk every day, as it helps me focus. I have a favourite stone to sit on that looks out to Foula. I bring my notebook and write or make sketches for drawings.
Feeling more connected to sea stacks than The Shard, I decided to move home straight after I finished my MA in London. The art world is currently mostly focused on cities – especially London and the central belt in Scotland. This will only change if artists live in rural settings. I wanted to be a contemporary artist and live in Shetland, explore a rural art world and what that could possibly look like. It has both benefited and hindered my practice living here. Recently I’ve noticed a shift, and it’s a positive one: the benefits are starting to outweigh the disadvantages.
I looked to the way the islanders lived when I moved home, and applied the same logic to my art practice. Some people have many jobs or roles. Someone will be a manager, fireman, crofter, fisherman and play the guitar in a band. So I thought I shouldn’t put restrictions on my own practice. I didn’t have to be one kind of artist; I could have many ‘roles’ and my practice opened right up. It was exciting, and I felt like I could do anything since I was away from the eye and expectations of the white-walled world where my under- and post-grad education had been based.
I make collaborative projects, have my own solo practice, run workshops for adults and children, write, curate, lecture and tutor in art schools. I studied printmaking but, since there are no public access print facilities in Shetland (I’m working on it), I have a long distance collaboration with print studio Atelier Ji in London. I really enjoy this collaboration and I’m sure Royal Mail love it too, since we post so many tubes of drawings up and down the country.
What are you currently working on?
My islander/art practice technique is currently in full flow. I’m working on some large scale drawings in my own practice, and with the V&A Dundee and their Design Relay, where a group of young adults design a product based on a historic item and a current problem. I’m collaborating with 300 children and their teachers, setting them off with sketchbooks in my role as lead artist on the Bonhoga Gallery's Education Programme. I’m also lecturing at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen.