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Amy Nelder

Amy Nelder’s trompe l’oeil paintings are infused with au courant imagery. Her background: UC
Berkeley, the FBI Academy and San Francisco Police Department Forensic Artist.
Exhibitions: de Young Museum; Walt Disney Museum; Uffizi Galleries; Chloe Gallery; and Blue
Line Arts. Media coverage includes film and press interviews. Her work is in numerous global

I call my primary still life work Pop Trompe L’oeil – I’ve been painting in this particular style since
halfway through my pregnancy with my daughter, Chloe, the namesake of my Chloe Gallery in
San Francisco, founded by me and my husband Greg Lejnieks in 2009. One day in the middle
of my pregnancy, I became obsessed with painting a cupcake and a diet coke in trompe l’oeil
style. I had never had any sort of connection to still life or high realism til that moment, it was
simply an image and an urge that came over me quite obsessively and all-encompassingly. I
was in the middle of a commission in my old style at the time, and I was so distracted I had to
stop and draw this little still life image on a post-it note to get it out of my head but couldn’t find
time to paint it for another two weeks. I felt such relief when I finally got it onto the canvas! I
thought that was it but then my brain wanted me to paint another, and another, and I found
myself constantly seeing and thinking the world in high realism still lifes all the time, everywhere
I looked I saw a narrative still life painting. Eventually it became clear it was a pregnancy
craving – the only one I ever really had – so I thought it would leave me once Chloe was born,
but it didn’t – although it took me about a year to realize my brain chemistry had changed
permanently – I could no longer obsess the same way about my old style, everything became
trompe l’oeil still life all the time inspired by scenes of our domestic life. My painting process
became inextricably intertwined with the messy but romantic moments of my marriage and
parenthood. To this day, I see the world in still life, catching moments of light on a gorgeous
corner of tinfoil on a cookie tray; mesmerized by the curving refractions of a bag of chips
through the orange juice glass; endlessly inspired by the luscious play of dark and undulating
light on chocolate cake icing and the reflections of items on a table on the round curve of a
half-full red wine glass. But I can’t seem to paint things just because they are beautiful – there
has to be a story. And usually, that story is mine. I hope to continue to convey the subtle but
meaningful layers of simple human interaction in ways that bring people to an appreciative
consideration of the joys, and ironies, of the less-advertised moments in our lives – and to
continue to grow in strength, intention, and invention as a painter of highly realistic still life. My
realism comes from a place of meticulous, self-satisfying obsession – I am both a colorist and a
realist, and I paint to satiety.
Transition/Compulsion to Covid19 Art: Shortly after the pandemic hit, I began to think and see in
a new series of images. The first one was called, “Sorry I can’t come to the phone right now, I’m
Lysoling my Bananas”. I was afraid to paint this – I actually sent a text upstairs from my home studio, in
our basement, to my husband Greg as I stared at the blank canvas right before setting pencil to it, saying
“Funny, I’m kind of scared to paint what I’m going to paint! I felt vaguely aware that there was something
ironic about being afraid to face this image in my head of simple kitchen objects, after the work I did 20
years ago as the Forensic Artist with the San Francisco Police Department, working primarily with
survivors of the most violent crimes (as well as reanimating the dead in the morgue), so I thought, “I
should be able to remind myself to be strong right? How strange this is feeling right up there with all that”.
I had mentioned this painting to a couple of friends and laughed saying “…but I could never paint it, it’s too
painful and tasteless right now,” and both friends told me that I had a responsibility to paint from my
unique perspective and chronicle this time. I realized the reason I was scared to paint was because
painting it forced me to accept our present reality, but it was also healing to take advantage of what humor
there is in these moments. It is also a painting of gratitude, because I had not been able to get fresh

bananas from instacart for several days – and so I also felt a lot of pressure to paint these as quickly as
possible, as I needed to feed my family the bananas – usually I let my perishables sit around for days or
weeks getting decomposed and rotten so that I can revisit whatever I can from the original foods for
shadows, reflections and whatever other emanations originally inspired me.
My Covid19 Art paintings became additionally about many, many other things about me, my own process,
thoughts about art history, and the world, but the titles initially came from the unusual experience of
literally texting my cousin the first week of our quarantine, ‘Sorry I can’t come to the phone right now, I’m
Lysoling my bananas.”
The Covid19 Art series led to one of the highest honors of my career, which was having
my work “Apples and Honey, 2020” hanging on the wall of the deYoung Museum here in
San Francisco in the exhibition, “The de Young Open”, as well as featured among a
handful of select works selected by Timothy Anglin Burgard, the Distinguished Senior Curator
and Curator-in-Charge of American Art for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, for the
Museum’s 30-minute documentary Curator’s Tour video of the exhibition. That featured
painting, “Apples and Honey, 2020”, is both a somber and tongue-in-cheek reflection on
the holidays during the pandemic: from disinfecting a honey bear, to video-conferenced
family dinners and rituals, to new ways of confirming and making meaning, connection,
celebration and loss, holding fast to hope and faith.
Other paintings from this series were featured in incredible global and virtual exhibitions
including The Garzoni Challenge with Advancing Women Artists in partnership with the Uffizi
Galleries and the Medici Archive Project, and the Walt Disney Family Museum.
Another recent series sprung from quarantine is my “Build-Your-Own Eden” series about
developing a sense of ownership and autonomy over both our physical and our mental space,
as well as the space we make to take actions in our own lives and the larger world around us.
I’ve been thinking for the past year now about how we have been working inside-out, bringing
everything into our home from the outside, eventually with a sense of some vague intention of
making our own idyllic Garden of Eden inside the house…so many people have become much
more aware of what they are bringing into their homes, but also into their minds – we have
been building a new additional form of life inside our intimate, personal worlds, and then
putting pieces of this life so selectively back out into the world from that richer paradigm. I
have begun to be aware and inspired to name this new concept, “Build-Your-Own-Eden”. The
hyphens are compartmentalizing, like cup-o-soup, just add water and grow. Just bringing
flowers into the dining room transforms the home and makes me think about the Earth outside
and in, and my own part in it. Some of the paintings in this series include leaves from my own
garden mixed with the cut flowers just as I mix the outside Earth into my domestic space.
Other elements are conversations on my perspective on other elements of life itself. Meditating
on the meaning of symbols can be mind-blowing, as can meditating on the origins of our
domestic objects: certain bouquets of flowers bring me joy. But where did those flowers come
from? What did they take from the earth or the air? Why does seeing this doll on my mantel

inspire me? Assembling symbols in still life can be a deep conversation with yourself, but even
better if it inspires dialogue in others.
HONEY BABY CHICK SUGAR SWEETIE: For several years now I’ve been working with
my daughter Chloe to transform Wonder Woman into the avenging and protecting angel
of bodily, psychic and semantic autonomy, her 22K gold-leaf halo reminding you of the
purity of her purpose, drawing Chloe into the studio since she was 8 years old to paint
this visual dialogue with me – “That’s NOT My Name” – creating an abstract narrative on
the iconography of these names she can expect to be called throughout her life – talking
with her about her right to accept or reject those words and names as well as to extend
that self-determination to and beyond her body into any other aspect of her life.
The aesthetic of the series happened quite naturally while Chloe and I were painting
together one day. One minute I was trying to figure out the best way to talk to her about
sexual harassment and protecting her body, heart and mind, and the next thing I knew
we were working on a painting of Wonder Woman busting out of a bottle of honey and
“the things people will call you throughout your life – Honey, Baby, Sweetie” – and
having a wonderful discussion about her right to decide who gets to call her what and
not having to explain herself to anyone. Chloe and I have fun with palette knives, which
are a lot messier and more permissive than the tight high realism I normally create with
my Pop Trompe L’oeil.
My studio used to be on public display in our gallery, and at least once a quarter a man
would walk in, remark on the virtuosity of my work, and then tell me how surprised he
was that it was painted by a woman. It was offensive and funny at the same time – but
it’s the fault of a male-dominated art history. I was at the art store a while ago and in the
kids’ section there were two items, ironically hanging one above the other on the wall:
One was labeled ‘Artist’s Disguise’ – It was a mustache and goatee over a male face;
the other one was ‘Frida’s Smocks and Frocks’, a toy that was basically a magnetic
Friday Kahlo paper doll with different outfits. But that pretty much boils down much of
the presence of women in art history for you: The automatic icon for ‘Artist’ is a little
man with a black mustache, complete with beard and a beret. The closest icon for
‘woman artist’ is Frida Kahlo through the perspective of ‘oh, my, look at her in all her
different outfits! Let’s talk about her eyebrows!’ How much has changed since the late
80s when the Guerrilla Girls posted billboards around NYC blaring ‘Do women have to
be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art
Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.’ I hope that my art and my
presence contributes to a future when the automatic cartoon for ‘Artist’ is no longer a
little French man in a beret.


instagram: @amynelder