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The Death Issue

Dead Flowers

Amy Gartrell's art is a strange and wonderful assortment of Day-Glo goth and new-age bummers...

Amy Gartrell’s art is a strange and wonderful assortment of Day-Glo goth and new-age bummers—things like portraits of dead rockstars, a giant painting of tattered lace or of Darby Crash’s tombstone, a sculpture of an impossibly high wishing well, or graphic, florid, and deadpan representations of the artist’s natal chart and Scientology personality test. These and the rest of Gartrell’s works manage to be both macabre and pretty—not really a surprise since she grew up in California but eventually became a dedicated New York resident. That’s the kind of geo-psychic snafu that could lead an artist to make a collection of cheerfully colored, suicide-inviting nooses, which Gartrell did for a group exhibition back in 2000.

For her first solo show this past summer at Greene Naftali Gallery in New York, Amy looked to the supernatural for a title. “I had a meeting with a psychic Reiki specialist, and she told me what my spirit guides were telling her about me: ‘She’s so bright, she’s dark.’ So that’s what I named the show.”

Amy’s drawings of fallen heroes—people like Ian Curtis, George Grosz, or Wendy O. WIlliams rendered in a hallucinatory, uncolored paint-by-numbers style—are emblematic of the cold space she finds between fandom, ghoulishness, and sheer beauty. A zine she made last year of these works was called Why Is It So Much Easier to Admire the Dead? “When you’re 16, you’re so stoked on the guy that had the evil demise. But really, that’s pretty immature. I’m kind of celebrating that and mourning it all at once.” Was Amy the kind of teenager who wallowed in punk dramatics? “Absolutely. My friends and I used to have parties on the anniversary of Sid Vicious’ death and just get wasted,” she laughs.

Given Amy’s penchant for valley girl-meets-undertaker artworks, it was kind of weird when a recent phone call found her happily sitting in a raspberry patch. (“Yeah, the strawberries are over, but the huckleberries are coming up now.”) Turns out she’s visiting family and learning how to make stained glass in the hippy-dippy environs of Nelson, British Columbia, where she has also just scored a $60 half-ounce of weed. Dude. And although there’s something a bit more heroin and angel dust about, say, Amy’s eerie paintings of dog and unicorn constellations, she is having a sunny time on her summer vacation in the “Amsterdam of the West.” In fact, she’s fused that verdant locale and her morbid fascinations in the art she’s created there, starting with a portrait of River Phoenix made out of pressed flowers. “It’s a collage made entirely out of pink and blue larkspur. It’s kind of psychedelic and decorative,” Amy says. “I might do flower collages of James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, too.” One of the best things about Amy is that her work isn’t a dour mellow-harsher, which it easily could be if her attitude, execution, or talent were different. But she has a keen sense of humor and an exquisite way with details—she makes these things that are like glowing epitaphs for stars and feelings. Amy’s art is the sweetest and funnest sobfest around.