How it Happened: Amy Steel

29 April - 29 May 2021

Amy Steel paints the processes of becoming and transformation. In her painting 'Leap', a woman is suspended above a starfish, her limbs spread out to mimic the form of the invertebrate beneath her. The visual congruence between the figure and the starfish suggest a desire for transformation, for one to become the other, at least momentarily. The starfish itself is a creature whose identity is fluid - some species are born male and then become female. In another species, large females can split in half and the two offsprings are male. Identity is not fixed but an ongoing process of identifications, and this is liberating. Steel's paintings suggest that we can untether ourselves from fixed identities and positions, and like the starfish, change into something quite different from ourselves, surfing the moment to become something else. 


Other paintings feature flamingos. Like starfish, and like the female protagonists of Steel's paintings, they too are creatures of transformation. The 

grey and white feathered birds become pink because of the red-orange pigment found in the algae and larvae they eat. In Steel's painting 'The Cusp' a small diving figure is poised above five flamingos. Again there is a feeling of freedom, of a leap of faith into the unknown, an ambiguous sea of red, orange and pink. Perhaps like the flamingos, the figure will absorb what surrounds her, melding with her new surroundings to transform. 

The spaces in Steel's paintings are seas and skies. Women surf on starfish, breasts float in the sky. For Steel these are expansive spaces of what she sees describes as a limitless female sexuality that foregrounds interconnectedness with the world around us, and a desire to be part of something larger than the individual subject. This desire for connection is revealed in unexpected moments, the small figure with the oversized butterfly behind her in 'L&F', or the figure that seems part woman, part rabbit in 'Rumours'. Steel's use of saturated colours push outwards as if the picture space wants to expand its different sets of realities into the world where the viewer stands. Her works embrace the idea that perhaps reality is not quite as rational as assume, that things are not as quite fixed as we think they are. These are paintings that might be understood as articulating the ongoing processes of becoming.