Amy Peterson is known for painting landscapes, portraits and still lifes as warm and engaging as her own personality. Her art has been featured all over Alabama and even in the office of the president of the University of Notre Dame. Many of her pieces are part of private collections in New York, California, Mexico and everywhere in between. No matter where her artwork travels, Amy will always call Birmingham home, where she is inspired by the beauty and color of the Magic City. Whether she’s reminiscing on a summer childhood memory or out exploring the ever-growing downtown, Amy Peterson is passionate about showcasing all the wonder and excitement our city holds. We are delighted to welcome Amy as today’s FACE of Birmingham!
Are you a Birmingham native? What brought or keeps you here?
Yes. I’ve lived in New Mexico and short stints in a few other places but have always returned to Birmingham. Family and friends and the art community here have been the best reasons to stay. The humidity is the best reason to leave!
How did you discover your artistic talent?
Everyone in my family has some artistic talent. My talent for drawing was recognized and encouraged by my parents and teachers from an early age. I was 18 when I first used oil paint and it immediately became my primary medium.
Did you always want to be an artist or did you have another career in mind?
As a child, I imagined being a writer and illustrator, a teacher or a veterinarian. During college, I pursued majors in pre-med, art and psychology but art was always a constant and is integral to how I think, see, interpret and communicate.
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
Claude Monet, William Merritt Chase, Nicolai Fechin, John William Waterhouse, Robert Henri and Edgar Payne jump to mind.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an artist?
“The zone,” or the “zen,” of the creative process. The times when the painting seems to paint itself — the brush strokes are just where they need to be and the color and the values are on point! You can see confidence in those brush strokes! They feel spontaneous, fresh and effortless.
In the zone, the best of one’s skills and experience merge with the best of one’s intuition, so it’s this lovely combination of the learned and the unlearnable. I don’t know how to get into the zone but I know when I come out of it and start to think my way through the painting, rather than feel my way through it. Of course, I spend much time problem-solving and handling the business side of things, which I do enjoy. But I am quite a type-A person, so letting go to the creative process is good medicine!
What piece are you most proud of?
My senior year at the University of Notre Dame in 2005, I was commissioned by the Multicultural Alumni Association to paint a Madonna for the retiring president of the university, entitled “Our Universal Mother.” I borrowed textiles from the alumni from around the world to paint as the garments on the pregnant, multicultural Madonna and I incorporated symbols meaningful to the president. The painting hung in the iconic “gold dome” administrative building on campus. It was an exciting, collaborative effort and such an honor!
What inspires you?
Quiet, understated beauty in the everyday: fresh flowers cheering up a room, a neighbor tending her garden, rain and snow in the city, sunlight across a horse’s back, cool shadows, antiques, my dog napping in the corner of my studio, a child’s imagination, a trip to an art museum, travel, music, courage and kindness.
How have your Birmingham roots shaped your artwork and who you are?
Quite literally, my artwork is shaped by Birmingham because painting the city is my primary focus, right now. My involvement in local art communities and the people I’ve met through my art have certainly shaped who I am and what I do. Beyond that, I like that Birmingham feels like a city or a small town, depending on the day. Familiar landmarks appear iconic and intimate at the same time — Vulcan, the Alabama Theatre and the Lyric Theatre, Regions Field, the red letters atop the City Federal Building, the chimneys of Sloss Furnaces and the spires of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The list goes on! We have many cultural perks of a metropolitan city but it’s small enough that you can feel really grounded. Here, you can live simply and dream big. I suppose I have grown up feeling that way and that’s a real privilege!
What are some of Birmingham’s hidden gems?
My favorite hidden gems are the spaces between the places: cobblestone and narrow alleyways, the views from the bridges connecting downtown’s Southside to Northside; tucked-away overlooks from Shades Crest Road, the Red Mountain area and Forest Park.
What is your favorite local getaway to find some peace and quiet?
Aldridge Gardens is a favorite in any season. I enjoy walking along Shades Creek. It flows behind the house where I grew up in Irondale and played a major role in my childhood. It was a place for Mark Twain-like adventures and rites of passage for my siblings and friends. With a little effort, I can still visit the plot where my first dog was buried and I can skip rocks from “Arrowhead Island,” which we named more than 25 years ago! I have no doubt that my fondness for landscape painting was born there, as well.
What’s the best meal in town?
My family’s potluck get-togethers.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Slow down. Smile more. Don’t worry so much. Trust your intuition.
What are your biggest dreams for the future?
To expand my art career while raising my family, to travel more, to teach and to contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities through art.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has given you?
Here’s a recent goodie: “Mine. Not mine.” In other words, know what’s yours to take on, fix or change — and what’s not! It will save you precious time and energy!
What are three things you can’t live without besides faith, family and friends?
How about four? Coffee, sound machines for sleeping babies, original art and “The Golden Girls.”
Thank you, Amy! Learn more about Amy at AmyRPeterson.com, and view her work in person at the Beverly McNeil Gallery downtown, Artists Incorporated Gallery in Vestavia and Stonehenge Gallery in Montgomery.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the gorgeous photos of Amy in her home studio.