By Edwin Rostron
Painting by Amy Lockhart
Amy Lockhart works across a range of mediums including zines, sculptures, paintings, drawings and animations. Her work exudes an imperfection and oddness that feels very human, at once unpredictable, heartfelt, funny and disturbing. Many of her works, such as the acclaimed animation Walk for Walk, feature an array of stumbling, distorted cartoon characters whose misshapen bodies limp, bend and bulge, often while smoking, licking, drooling or crying. Also recurring in her work are disembodied facial features, hands and limbs, as well as various joyfully rendered muscly women, frequently missing their arms. Such characters drive her work, but there is as much pleasure and interest to be taken in the way they are drawn, animated or constructed as in what they do or who they are. The form of her work has its own rich, non-verbal meaning and content. Her films communicate on a direct gut-level and resist analysis or dissection. In the interview below Amy describes how animation “speaks to our body, it’s harder to pin down, figure out, intellectualize … getting under people’s skin”. This serves as a good description of her own work too, and I am very grateful to Amy for letting me interview her for Edge of Frame.
Walk for Walk (2005) by Amy Lockhart
EoF: How did you begin making animations?
AL: I was in art school (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) in Halifax. My school didn’t have a film department at the time so I was taking some courses through the local film co-op. I made some short animations on Super 8 and 16mm. Then I met Helen Hill and started taking her experimental animation classes. This was pretty amazing on many levels. She was an amazing person – idealistic/realistic. So just being around her and seeing the way she engaged with the world was pretty educational – lack of hierarchy, strength in vulnerability and positivity. All that good stuff. I don’t know if I can fully explain/understand Helen’s influence on my life and work. But it’s big. I met her when I was in a pretty cynical and dark place. A shallow cynical life, I don’t know if cynicism can be anything but shallow. Anywho – meeting her cracked that open and I could see the possibility for a fuller, goofier life and way of making art.
So I took her courses and learned how to make animations on 16mm film – using an Oxberry stand – no video feed, etc. So just shooting away and hoping something comes out! Recording sound onto mag stock and then editing it all together on a Steenbeck. There was a really great scene at AFCOOP – people just doing stuff. Getting ‘er done – very inspiring.
Then I went to Quickdraw Animation Society (in Calgary, AB) to learn traditional animation. I was taught by Kevin Kuritnik – who had just come back from a seminar in L.A. given by Richard Williams (which I believe was the basis of his book “The Animator’s Survival Kit”). Kevin was super stoked about what he had learned and shared this info with us. So that was pretty amazing. I spent loads of time in the library watching animations and reading, as well as experimenting with timing using the pencil tester, etc.
Then I just kept making work, did a fellowship at the NFB and learned digital (After Effects, etc.) approach to stop motion animation, video workshops and live action videos (Miss Edmonton Teen Burger 1983 series) etc. etc. etc.
The Collagist (2009) by Amy Lockhart in collaboration with Marc Bell
EoF: You work across a variety of mediums. Does animation feel like just another way of doing things, or does it have some priority over other mediums for you? What excites you most about animation as a medium?
AL: I joke that I am creating a mini media empire. So I feel like it all fits together. I started with zines (in the 90s) making my own version of mass culture – push back – creating some psychic space of my own. Using the visual language and conventions of mass culture to reflect/create my own idiosyncratic space/world, etc.
Its more than just appropriating means of production but also messing with/subverting the structure. I like nonsensical picture books – publications that play with the sense of language/form/image and absurdist animations that use the structure of traditional narrative but nothing happens, etc. Basically trying to fuck the paradigm man!! I think this is partly from being in this 90s vegan punk scene when I was in my youth. It was supposed to be so subversive and anti-blah blah (mainstream, counter culture, opposing the normative operational model…?) but it just ended up being this competition over who was the best vegan, feminist, etc. Hierarchy still reigned supreme. It was still all about comparing/competing – putting others down to elevate yourself (i.e. super ego based – judge others to reinforce an idea of yourself you’ve constructed). The idea of trying to fight something using its own logic seemed futile. So for me it’s important to acknowledge and play with the underlying sense/structure of the medium I am using. Or simply – not take things too seriously.
I am drawn more to animation – to cartoons. Firstly, growing up on TV and moving images – this is my visual culture. But mostly, I love when I can get a visceral reaction out of people. Like telling a joke that gets a straight up, unadulterated laugh. “Gotcha!” – my affect on you can’t be denied. “I am real! Hear me joke!” heh… For me moving drawings work really well for this – getting under people’s skin. I also love the invisibleness/immaterialness of animation. I.e. you are not making a drawing move but drawing movement. Similar to the immaterial things in life that can seem/be so much more real than the physical, i.e. cultural codes and conventions, status, love…. Moving images exist in time, movement speaks to our body, it’s harder to pin down, figure out, intellectualize. It’s more like a methodology, a way of being, an act rather than a thing…. Plus you get to build the soundtrack.
A Single Tear (2004) by Amy Lockhart
EoF: How did the film Walk for Walk come about? Can you explain a bit about the process of making it? Has your working process changed since Walk for Walk?
AL: I started working on this film when I was at Quickdraw. It started out as movement tests. Walk cycles were great for this – I could create 10-20 drawn cycles and repeat them – combine them, etc. I developed this into a larger project and acquired funding etc. (But… in between this I developed the walk cycles into an interactive flash animation and made songs for each character – which I later used for the final soundtrack.)
I wanted to create a narrative that just sort of happened, like taking a walk. Not so based in Western narrative of set up, conflict, resolution, teach a lesson type thing. I created walk cycles for a bunch of characters from my picture zines/sketchbooks and some characters based on friends’ drawings. Then I came up with little scenarios for them and ways to transition from scene to scene. A lot of this came out of joking around with friends (i.e. I had a joke with a friend of mine who had large hands, he would say: “Put your little hands in mine” – and I would, and we found this funny. The scene with the large yellow hands and the small blue hands was based on this… joke.) and free association – letting my mind drift and picking out the good bits.
Painting by Amy Lockhart
I did some silly things with this animation – using cut outs but wanting it to have a drawn look – lots of boiling (i.e. 4-5 versions of same cut out which I rotated) of backgrounds, hair, etc., 10min. per frame animating for the two lady puppets licking the dirty dishes that look like eggs under the tree, taping down cut outs so you can’t see shadows, etc. – some uptight animating. (The basic process was: draw a walk cycle – trace it onto card stock, paint it, cut it out, colour the edges black. Then trace all the drawings onto one piece of clear acetate (using various coloured fine line sharpies) to use as a motion guide while shooting – which I flipped into the frame to register the cut out and out of the frame to shoot. The backgrounds were created using coloured paper which I drew on/cut out – these were boiled – interchanged each frame as well – but they were registered using peg bars – so a bit less of a hassle). I don’t know what I was thinking!!!!).
I wanted it to be this big opus type thing – I sort of saw it as my masters film after learning traditional animation, etc. sort of trying to prove myself (I had a chip on my shoulder about not going to a proper animation school).
And flash forward to the present:
My work has changed. I am trying to be less of an uptight perfectionist, heh… Trust myself more. Also moving into the 3rd dimension. With my current project (Dizzler in Maskheraid) I am playing more with perspective – drawn objects moving through space to give a more free fall/3D space than the fixed left to right early Mario Brothers/Atari game space of Walk for Walk.
Landscapes (2012) by Amy Lockhart
EoF: I would like to know more about the Amiga works you have made. Were they a one off or will you make more works in this way or using other digital software? What was the process of making them like?
AL: These works began as a commission from the Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS). I, along with 4-5 other artists, was asked to create an animation using Amiga software. It was great working with the software, combining the animation stamp tool (you could copy a series of frames as a stamp and then paste them into other animations) and cut and paste of single images with the drawn frame by frame pencil tool. It worked as a nice drawn/collaged process – akin to a digital version of my usual cut out/paper puppet techniques. Then I got to play with all the glitches – janky background fills and buttons from the control bar appearing on the frame, etc. The instant replay feature was nice, which allowed me to animate something, see it played back immediately and be able to tweak it to get the right movement, etc. Not something I’m so used to with cut out and puppet animation. I also really got into the thin creepy line of the pencil tool – this really affected my drawing and animating.
Also – when I first started I had no idea what I was going to animate. I had this notion – yes I’ll make a true experimental animation! – just experiment with the software and see what happens. I couldn’t have expectations because I had never worked with the software, etc. My plan was to create an abstract animation, thinking of the late great William Moritz, to truly express myself using only form, colour and sound type thing. I was going to do it!!! But I couldn’t help myself – I am a junkie for eyeballs and soon it became filled with figures and objects and all that junk, heh… Still I was playing a lot with combining the static digital cut-out/collage animation and the fluid frame by frame drawn animation.
I developed a bunch of short experiments and failed larger experiments/ideas, which I then edited together. I liked the jankiness of the black sections between the animated bits – felt it worked well with the jankiness of the animation and the soundtrack. I created the soundtrack using the Amiga music program by randomly drawing notes on a music sheet as well as manipulating stock songs provided by the program. I later edited and layered these bits together in Final Cut, along with the images.
I hope to make more of these. I am thinking of creating some digitally drawn special effects in Amiga to use with Dizzler in Maskheraid.
Painting by Amy Lockhart
EoF: In your work there are recurring characters with muscly bodies like wrestlers or bodybuilders – often women. What is the significance or attraction of these bodies for you as an artist? Is it more to do with what they’re like to draw/make, or are you also exploring political ideas of body types, gender stereotypes etc? Or both?
AL: I draw women mostly because I am a woman and that’s what “normal” is to me. These are the images I relate to and feel defined by/put on me – have a long standing relationship/conversation with.
I’m interested in the feminine because it has a power for me. Feminine is often seen as shallow, weak, passive, easily consumed. But it’s not. (no! no! no! – heh…) True strength is vulnerability and on the flip side niceness/pleasantness can be quite sinister. It’s complicated. So I create these images of women that are less easily consumed by complicating them with butch bodies. Also, again with my fascination with the invisible powers… especially of women and on women – the sinister, unspoken violence of pleasantness (i.e. passive aggressive (covert) ways of expressing aggression and also care is control – patronizing oppressive caretaking of women/humans).
Painting by Amy Lockhart
Also, art for me, and my experience of my culture, is cartoons, posters, mass art imagery, etc. There are a lot of bodies in those – so that becomes the language I use. I want to create visceral work – not just conceptual – stuck in the brain. Something that moves people – even if it is an uncomfortable wiggle. Like telling a good joke – and people laugh and move unintentionally – and you’ve physically done this to them without even touching them – just with an idea – the tone and timing of your voice – the movement and timing of the sounds. Bodies are good for that.
Also with a lot of my work I am trying to throw a wrench in the works type thing. By playing with/subverting conventions of representation, narrative, sense, etc. This works in creating tweaked images of the traditional nude, or absurdist narratives, etc. And in being a smartass – but that’s more of a lifestyle choice, heh.
Self-Portrait as a Lady (2009) by Amy Lockhart
Politically speaking, I think everything is political – but politics do get me down sometimes – they just seem so tied up with the current paradigm (can’t help but feel like an old hippy man when I say that – paradigm…). They can be so tied up with figuring things out and finding/declaring the right answer. The right way to act, speak, etc. that they become oppressive in themselves, very ego based.
I’d rather try to practice operating with acceptance and integrity in a space where things aren’t figured out – and that’s okay. Let your freak flag fly type thing – just don’t hurt anybody, etc. Simple. A working methodology/way of being rather than a set of rules or fixed referents. (But like with taxes and city workers and everything, heh…)
So yeah, throwing a wrench in the works, acknowledging the Matrix (as RuPaul would say) and playing/fucking with it, rather than buying into it.
Childhood Drawing by Amy Lockhart
EoF: Its fascinating to see your childhood drawings on your website – and to see the parallels with your work as an adult. Some of your work as an adult has a fascination with cartoons and popular culture, bodily functions, and a feeling of play that is reminiscent of children’s art or maybe more specifically the way children approach making ‘art’. The voices and singing in some of your work also have this feeling of someone entertaining themselves and lost in their own world. How conscious of this are you when you work? Are you trying to create a specific feeling or to work with ideas relating to childhood, or is it just what you are drawn to, what comes out naturally?
AL: Again, cartoons and mass culture are my visual/art culture. It has formed me. It is a reflection of our values/society in a tweaked/goofy cartoon space. I find this interesting to work with.
I’m not so into illustrative work (conceptual or representational) – it’s often just better as a written text. I like what I’ve read about Ray Yoshida and his idea of taking in the world (studying a vast variety of things) and then filtering it back out into some aht! So I try to allow myself the space and time to let things surface on their own without being forced – or forced into an idea of what I think they should be.
I find the similarities between the kids drawings and later drawings strange. I found that sketchbook a while after I had begun painting/drawing smoking women, etc. I guess old habits die hard, heh… But I am not consciously making childlike art. I am goofy and like to crack wise – so this is reflected in my work. I do have a penchant for sick/twisted humour. As my friend Sarah Aline Parizeau said: I make twisted jokes because the world is twisted. I share that sentiment and the combination of being attracted to cute/sweet things and sick twisted situations/humour. The beauty in the ugly and the ugly in the beautiful.
Drawing by Amy Lockhart
I am drawn to this type of comedy as well (i.e. Sarah Silverman), where the cute/childlike will work as the straight man to the twisted/naughty punchline. It’s like throwing a wrench in the works of ideas about decency/indecency. They are both combined in this active state of discordance/dissonance. Not good or bad but an active big ol’ messy ball of connections. So you need both – the mix – what’s in between is what’s interesting – like animation – you are drawing movement that exists between the frames/the fixed drawings.
Oh yes another thing about humour… Growing up in a dysfunctional family – we often used humour to alleviate tension. To crack open the oppressive darkness and bring light back into the situation. It’s a life saver. John Bradshaw told me (via a youtube video) that Jung talked about the diamond inside us all. This human capability of laughing (of creating light) in dark situations to avoid being completely consumed/crushed by them. So yes, that’s partly to blame, or be thankful for, heh….
This is what humour is to me – the light in the darkness and the darkness in the light. A way to see the gross and sacred and nonsense of this world at the same time. And again, that gotcha moment, where we laugh with our bodies – not a riddle we figure out intellectually from afar – removed. It’s a way to feel, to be human. Not more than human or less than human – messy and human.
The Devil Lives in Hollywood (1999) by Amy Lockhart
EoF: Which other animators / artists have particularly inspired you?
AL: Helen Hill was a huge influence. She got me into animation in a way I could relate to – d.i.y. aesthetic, one man’s vision, and community. She also introduced me to so many amazing animators and animations.
Trixy Sweetvittles is another great American animator. Her animation La Mujer Lagartija was a huge influence on me. Just this goofy absurdist humour that played with the expectations of conventional narrative structure and was still smart/political.
I was really into Betty Boop and the work of the Fleischers. Devin Flynn… I love that film Fat Feet by Red Grooms, Yvonne Anderson and Mimi Gross. It’s amazing – just this great surreal space that’s been thrown together. Great low fi special effects.
Quasi at the Quackadero (1975) by Sally Cruikshank
Recently I’ve been watching lots of Anime, Hentai, video game ads, and super limited animation (i.e. motion comics) to get ideas about different perspectives (how to create space in our contemporary visual landscape/brainscape) as well as simple – yet effective – yet what??? visuals/effects, etc. I am also a huge fan of smears and Chuck Jones’/Tex Avery’s work in this field.
Oh my gawd, and Chris Elliot’s oeuvre!: Cabin Boy, Eagle Hart, Get a Life, some one hour television special from the 80’s where he combined a gritty cop show with a sitcom = genius!. Lots of great tv these days – Erick Andre show, Jon Benjamin Has a Van, Steve Brule show, Nathan For Me, The Heart She Holler, Broad City. Goooooo tv!!!!
I love bad movies on youtube. May I have the pleasure of recommending … Society (maybe it’s a thriller, maybe it’s a comedy = truly amazing) and The Pit (maybe the protagonist is a total creep… – let’s tag along for the ride!).
For art its pretty broad. I look at a lot of stuff. Old film posters, comics – low fi always good, Flash e-cards, packaging, humans, plants, etc. For specific artists I would say I really like the work of the Chicago Imagists (a broad term for a bunch of artists working out of Chicago in the 70s ish), especially The Hairy Who as well as Roger Brown and Christina Ramberg.
I know I am forgetting a bunch, ugh. Oh yes, Mark Connery, Marc Bell, Owen Plummer and a bunch of other artists/drawers that were making self published books of their drawing/writing etc. A lot of this is contained in the book Nogadod published by Conundrum Press. It was (is?) a great scene with people creating a vocabulary of images/absurdist text and then often collaborating with each other by drawing together or referencing (even redrawing) each other’s imagery, etc. Highly psychodoolic and rhizomatic.
Dizzler in MASKHERAID trailer (2010) by Amy Lockhart
EoF: How is your Dizzler feature progressing?
It’s coming along.
© Edwin Rostron 2014