SELF-PORTRAITS IN SHARPIE:
AMANDA MIEHLE, EMERGING YOUNG ARTIST IN RURAL PENNSYLVANIA
by Edward M. Gómez
Move over, Great Wall of China.
In rural, northeastern Pennsylvania, just northeast of Scranton, the region’s once-thriving industrial hub, the Great Wall of Honesdale greets motorists as they pass by and enter or exit the main street of the small town for which it is named. Set back from the edge of a road, across an open expanse of grassy lawn, the art-covered wall is actually one exterior side of a large, red-brick industrial building.
The mural attached to it, which is the size of several billboards, features 12 large-scale reproductions of paintings, photographs, and other works created by local artists. Honesdale’s own “Great Wall” exhibition is produced each summer by the Wayne County Arts Alliance (WCAA), a cultural organization based in the town; it sponsors a contest by means of which works to showcase in the annual alfresco presentation are chosen.
This year, the competition attracted more than 300 submissions, and drawings made by Amanda Miehle, a 15-year-old girl who lives with her parents in another nearby town, won a high-profile slot on the wall. Paul Plumadore and Jim Tindell, the now-retired, former operators of an art-and-antiques center in New York City, also live in the region and serve as the curators of the WCAA’s Great Wall of Honesdale. Writing together in an e-mail message to brutjournal, they noted that, this year, Miehle’s contest entry, “The Colors of A,” won its award for the best work produced by a student and also its People’s Choice Award.
It turns out that, in addition to referring to her own first name, the title of young Amanda’s entry to the art competition also hints at a graphic motif that has become a central element in many of her drawings.
Using Sharpie brand permanent-ink markers on paper, Amanda makes pictures that are, as her parents, Kristen and Brad Miehle explained, rather self-conscious self-portraits that convey her sense of fashion design. Her mother observed, “Amanda began expressing herself artistically when she was four years old, preferring to create her own images rather than coloring in pictures. She began drawing her earliest figures, which have always been in the A shape.”
About her daughter’s handiwork, Kristen Miehle added, “The A that appears in many of the belts in her drawings stands for ‘Amanda.’ This motif has always been present in her pictures, although it has evolved in design, pattern, and complexity.” In recent years, Amanda has also produced what her mother refers to as “color blocks,” or solid-color sheets filled with grids of cross-hatched cells. In the binders in which Amanda stores her finished works, often she places a color-block drawing opposite one of her self-portraits.
For all their simplicity, these color-block drawings are surprisingly expressive, their dense groupings of cross-hatched cells combining to form distinct sections or passages that animate the artist’s compositions with a sense of gentle rhythm. At the same time, these abstract works are luminous, with patches of white background breaking through the picture plane like soft light illuminating stained glass.
Amanda’s thin female figures, contained within A-shaped lines forming the contours of their long hair and standing bodies, have evolved over time. More monochromatic figures have given way to multicolored subjects and backgrounds. Some of her drawings feature experiments with random patterns and geometric shapes. In them, the young artist’s sense of adventure as she explores the expressive potential of basic palettes and forms is palpable.
The photographer Bill Westmoreland, brutjournal’s visual director, recently caught up with Amanda and her parents in person. In addition to photographing many of the young artist’s drawings, he video-recorded her tucking into her big stash of Sharpie pens and creating a new picture. See Bill’s video, which can be viewed here.
Looking ahead, Amanda and her family are not sure if art school might be in the teenager’s future or not. She has expressed a desire, her mother said, to become “a fashion artist.” But that possible career path just might lose out to that of rock star or chef, Amanda’s other interests.
For now, her art has a high-profile, summertime spot on Honesdale’s Great Wall. From this launching pad, for a clever, creative girl with a big quiver full of Sharpies, there’s no other place to go than up.
SHRINE (www.shrine.nyc), a contemporary-art gallery in New York, will feature Amanda Miehle’s drawings in a solo online presentation during the coming 2021-2022 fall-winter exhibition season. Dates to be announced.
Website of the Wayne County Arts Alliance, based in Honesdale, Pennsylvania