Amy Sillman: Brushes with Greatness

One of eight women artists who are storming the boys’ club.

Amy Sillman

Watching Amy Sillman swiftly climb the four flights of stairs to her studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn—an airy, light-filled space that she shares with her 10-year-old chihuahua, Omar—one would never guess that she has a bad foot. “It’s a joint thing, and if I worked in fashion I would get an operation. But I’m an artist, so who cares what shoes I wear?” she says, gesturing to her beat-up sneakers, one of 20 pairs she owns and sports everywhere, even to gallery openings. “All my friends in the art world are like, ‘Let them be your thing! Wear them with panache!’” Rather coincidentally, feet and shoes have long factored into many of the Detroit native’s paintings. Subtle figurative suggestions of them often appear among the rich and densely layered strokes of color that the 59-year-old Sillman—who started her career in the ’80s working as a pasteup artist for magazines—spends months, sometimes years, tinkering with, disassembling, totally wrecking, and then rebuilding. “It takes time for the paintings to come alive,” she says. And if, at the end of all this physical and mental Sturm und Drang, her work appears beautiful, well, “it’s just a side effect,” she says, shrugging. “I’m more interested in things that are awkward and clunky and complicated.”