It’s October 2019 and I’m snackin’ and packin’ (stickers and business cards) at what other than the Pancakes and Booze Art Show. Drunk off the excellence of the artists around me, I walk from exhibit to exhibit; art crowded together like the chocolate chips in the pancake I’ve been carrying around for an hour because I can’t stop staring at the walls. I’m in my boozy, chatty element enjoying everything at a slight distance until I’m stopped in my tracks upon entering Amanda Leigh’s humble world. The juxtaposition of her timid demeanor standing in front of her mesmerizing art had me at a loss for words.
From South Carolina, Amanda was a classically trained ballet dancer with your typical childhood dream to become…a brain surgeon who…scheduled surgeries around ballet performances. Clearly her imagination and determination foreshadowed later years from a young age. Amanda always loved her cousin Todd’s artwork when she was little, but never got the chance to ask him about it as he passed away before she was old enough to explore their artistic similarities, but she’s always felt connected to him through her journey. Flash forward past some classes and 7 years of self study- Amanda may not have surgeries and performances to juggle, but now she commissions pieces, experiments with multiple materials from paint to wood to wires to photography, and creates cohesive series that mimic gorgeous mood boards from an alternate universe. Some of these vibes include her tangy Fruit series, where her characters are eating or wearing fruit you can nearly taste and B.B. her Bald Ballerina who smokes, drinks coffee, and chills in the bathtub in her ballet slippers. Amanda wears inspiration on her sleeve like a true artist. Sometimes an idea is born from taking a walk, sometimes it comes from struggle or from within, and sometimes it’s deeper. B.B. is always painted in her ballet slippers because Amanda had an instructor who once said “we should dance as though we live in our pointed shoes,” meaning dancers should never show that their feet hurt, and B.B. sure as hell doesn’t fold.
Top left: “BB” | Top right: “Vitamin C” | Bottom left: “Rena” | Bottom right: “Juice”
The series of hers that stole my heart would have to be of Amanda’s “Diadem Series,” faces carved from wood. The features make every face look recognizably real and different from one another, in the jawlines, adam’s apples, nose rings, stunning profiles, “skin tones,” and then, erupting like lava from the unbending wood, acrylic afros. An already beautiful representation of black features, finished with a celebration of colorful, happy, unapologetic blackness. Opening up about the inspiration behind her “Diadem Series,” Amanda shares, “My own natural hair journey had a heavy influence on the wood carvings. It’s my celebration of Black hair and I wanted people to see all the beauty and creativity that I see when I look at our hair. I chose a more organic style of painting because it’s been my experience that my hair does what it wants but it always turns out well in the end as long as I take the time to care for it properly. So for the acrylic pouring I wanted to manipulate it as little as possible as well.”
Amanda loves contrasting things that wouldn’t normally “socialize” in the same space in her art, similarly to the wood against the pouring of the colorful acrylic. Imagination, nonsensical things, and harmony versus chaos (especially amidst current times) are themes she loves to play with, but Amanda considers herself open to defining her style, despite how defining her art already is. She’s also heavily inspired by Hayao Miyazaki, Cruella De Vil, and Ezra Jack Keats as well as many dancers. You can feel her gravitation towards movement in her art. Even her still or posed pieces are so…well moving obviously, but more than that. It’s sort of like the characters or things she’s drawing feel like they carry so much weight, like they were never just alone or just imagined. They carry the life and feelings of their creator. And I don’t draw or paint, but that’s what I feel art should do. Chatting with Amanda, seeing her work, and seeing how she talks about it; she evokes strength, soul, and I must mention her charming modesty and love for gifs… A funny and immensely talented force to the world. Keep your eyes peeled for Amanda Leigh!