Friday, April 12, 2024

The Cover Story Behind A WORLD IN WHICH: An Interview

Poet J.L. Conrad's beautiful book—beautiful both inside and out—has just been published by my press, Terrapin Books. Jenny and I both fell in love with the art of Amy Salomone and were thrilled when she agreed to having one of her pieces on the cover of Jenny's book, A World in Which. Jenny recently did a Q&A with Amy about Amy's work and its use on Jenny's cover. Here is that Q&A:


The image on the cover of A WORLD IN WHICH (Terrapin Books, March 2024) comes from artist Amy Salomone (Forms Most Beautiful), whose digital collages often depict the human form—both external and internal—as an integral part of the natural world. I am indebted to the poet Heather Swan for introducing me to Amy’s work.
Today, I’ve invited Amy to respond to a few questions:
JLC: Your background is in the sciences, specifically cellular biology and evolutionary biology, or animal behavior. How does this play out in your work as an artist? What are your fascinations?
AS: So my background in the sciences is really where my pieces come from. Most of the pieces that I make are communicating some concept about our place within larger biological and cosmological stories. Rather than make a piece about our experience of love, I might make a piece about the evolutionary basis of love, the neurotransmitters and hormones that dictate our love response and reproductive tactics of other organisms. So, while my pieces are about us, they are not about us. I kind of like to think of them as a perspective shift. How can I get the audience to see their own experiences from a different vantage point? I feel like the more you know, the easier it is to navigate life. Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better,” and that really is the basis for why I make what I make.
My particular fascinations are pretty broad, but I would say I get the most excited about natural selection, nucleosynthesis (or atomic generation in stars and supernova), decomposition and symbiotic relationships, microorganisms, animal behavior…haha. So ya know, a lot. I could go on for days.
JLC: When I first shared your artwork with my editor, Diane Lockward, she responded, “I absolutely love Amy’s work! She’s the one. Thrilling pieces. But which one? Hard decision ahead.” Diane and I went back and forth, sharing favorites and even cover mockups. We both ended up preferring “My Heart Beats with Nature,” the image that appears on the cover of A WORLD IN WHICH and are so glad you agreed to allow it to appear in this context!
This piece deeply resonates with my own areas of inquiry—including with the body and its representation. Here, I love how you depict a heart severed but also a heart preserved within a landscape, a heart generating new life and growth. Can you tell us a bit about how this particular work originated and/or what was on your mind as it came together? Did anything surprise you?
AS: First off, you get me. Haha. Your interpretation of that work is pretty right on for what I was trying to communicate. For me, this piece is about how humans seem to always separate themselves from natural systems and are not aware of how intrinsically connected they are to them. So, we don’t like to call ourselves animals, we talk about “getting into nature,” we make terrariums, we talk about climate change as if we are somehow saving the Earth, or the polar bear, but not ourselves. We are of natural systems. We are super organisms, drenched with bacterial, archean and fungal life. Our human decisions are dictated by those microorganisms and the genetic code we share with countless species. This piece is really about why I make all of the pieces that I make. To put a mirror up to a person and change how they look at themselves in the world around them. Science has this amazing capacity for profoundly altering our perspectives of how we see ourselves, and this piece is me communicating that.
JLC: You’ve indicated your interest in collaborating with authors. What do you appreciate about this process? How does your work change, or shift, when it’s put into conversation with a writer’s work?
AS: Well, first off, I LOVE books. I am a self-proclaimed bookaholic, so the idea that someone who wrote a book and poured their heart into that project wants to use my art is just so amazing. I also love commissions. I really love hearing peoples' stories and their intention for what they want to communicate through the written word and then trying to translate that into a piece. I think I am just a collaborator at heart and working with an author or anyone else who wants to commission or license a piece is like free inspiration. My work changes in that there can be an added depth there because I’m trying to translate the intent of the author, let’s say, into a piece. It's about them and their experiences. I have had some of my best work come out of the commission process, so I also love it when someone gives me feedback on a piece, and it ends up pushing the work so far forward. That has happened often. 
JLC: What else (if anything) would you like readers to know about your artwork, or about your creative process?
AS: I started making my artwork because I was stepping out of a science education role, and I needed to fill that void of talking about human discovery all day. When I start a piece, sometimes I know what I want to say, but more often I just open up my computer and begin. The piece takes me where it takes me, and the message of the piece almost always comes with its creation. Digital collage is great because I can incorporate so much of myself. My pieces often include anatomical forms from vintage lithographs, combined with European or American paintings, combined with microscope slides, combined with photography. Because of my extensive background in the sciences, I have visually been in love with science illustration and science communication for over 20 years. It’s exciting that I get to share that love with a larger audience. My heroes are scientists who aren’t just great scientists but, more importantly, great communicators, and the hope with my artwork is that I can continue the tradition of storytelling through art, but storytelling that tells a story much larger than the typical human experience. A story outside of ourselves.
JLC: Thank you so much for your time, Amy! I’m absolutely thrilled to have “My Heart Beats with Nature” on the cover of A WORLD IN WHICH, and I look forward to the book and your work making their way into the world together!
AS: Thank you again J.L. I am so excited to have my work on your amazing book!
A World in Which is available at 
Praise for A WORLD IN WHICH: 

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