Last May, Amber Wiesberg was named the 8th Annual Appell Arts Fellow. The Appell Arts Fellowship is an 11-month residency program awarded to a graduate of York College’s art program. The Fellowship supports both the downtown York Arts District and the continued artistic growth of the Fellow. The Annual Appell Fellowship Exhibition is the culminating experience, opening with an artist talk. Amber’s exhibition was due to open today, May 27, at 5:00PM but remains indefinitely postponed as we monitor developments with the coronavirus. Our hope is that we will be able to reopen our galleries this fall and hold Amber’s exhibition at Marketview Arts, where she made the work as artist-in-residence. Until then, please enjoy this interview with Amber and preview of her exhibition.
Conversation with Amber Wiesberg
By Gallery Director Matthew Clay-Robison
MCR: I would like to begin this conversation with your background. Where are you from and what attracted you to York, PA?
AW: I am from New Windsor, Maryland, a small town about an hour from here. I did not know much about York until I was looking for a college to go to. At the time I didn’t know what I wanted to study in school so I was focusing a lot on location to decide where to apply. I got an envelope with information about York College and I liked that it was close to home, but also somewhere that I had never been. I applied with an undeclared major because I knew I loved making art, but I was scared to make the jump into doing art seriously. I toured campus with the hope that I could see the art building to help me make my decision on if YCP was the school for me. When I toured campus they neglected to show me the art building, but I held out hope. On accepted students day I was able to finally go into the building as well as tour other spaces more in depth. York felt more like a place I could see myself and that day the decision was made! The second semester I had at York was my first one as a Fine Art major and it reassured me that I was where I was meant to be. It honestly was one of the best decisions I have ever made because I wouldn’t be the person or artist that I am today without it.
MCR: I’m very interested in learning more about your journey as an artist, but I’m also intrigued by the statement that your art education at YCP has moulded you as a person. What do you mean by that?
AW: The biggest thing that my art education at YCP gave me was confidence in myself and my abilities. All of us students are really put into a space where you have to be comfortable with the vulnerabilities of showing your creative process and I think having such an open space allowed me to grow and feel like I had a grasp on what I was doing. Also, being around other incredible artists all learning and developing their practice in the same space was very encouraging. Believing in yourself as an artist is so important because for other people to understand you and your work you have to be comfortable with stepping up and saying that you are skilled and great at what you do. I am very thankful to YCP for giving me the tools to build up my skill set and to be confident in my artmaking abilities.
MCR: A year ago you were exhibiting your work in the Senior Exhibition. Looking back on your education at YCP, what were some of the critical moments during your journey that influenced the direction of your thesis work?
AW: My junior year at YCP was definitely the year I started finding the puzzle pieces that would later come together to make up my final thesis. In the Fall I had painting 2 with Professor Fryar. He really pushed me to find a subject matter that I was interested in. Through that class I discovered that I enjoy the slow process of painting patterns. I used that class as a way to experiment and play with color and texture. During that same semester, Amy Boone-Mcreesh’s exhibition was in the gallery in Wolf Hall and seeing her use of color with such a variety of materials had a big impact on me. I still have the catalog from that show in my studio to look back on. I had her as a professor for my professional development course and during that semester she had taken us to see her studio in Baltimore. Seeing her containers of fabric and cut patterned paper and in progress pieces gave me that “ This is what I want to do” moment. I left that day so creatively motivated.
I created the style and process I used for my senior thesis and continue to use now in the Fall of my senior year. I was in full experimentation mode and ready to find that specialty that I would use for my show in the Spring. I ended up creating this layering process that utilized the organic shapes that I really adored in nature, as well as incorporating the bright colors and bold patterns that I loved to paint with. Over the next few months I played around more and more with different materials to add variety and see what I was capable of with this process. A lot of those pieces were done very quickly and they really were therapeutic. The big motivator became this feeling of happiness and joy. My goal with these pieces became showing what happiness feels like to me with the hope that I can put something positive out into the world and bring joy to others.
MCR: Soon after graduating you were named the 8th Annual Appell Arts Fellow, a prestigious award. Please tell me about the experience of being the Fellow and how your work has grown over the last year.
AW: My experience being the Fellow has been so amazing. I have really enjoyed being able to take more time with my art and build it to be better than it was before. I have tried to take up every opportunity I have had while I have been here, from running multiple programs to attending workshops, meeting so many local artists and even having a solo exhibition at a local gallery.
One of my favorite events that I ran was the Sink Mural Project. I used one of my designs and, with the help of a bunch of Fine Art students, we spent an entire Saturday painting it on the wall above the sinks in the YCP Studios section of Marketview Arts. I had said in my application that I wanted to work bigger so having a whole wall to work with was even bigger than I had imagined!
The work I am making now is similar to what I was doing for my senior thesis. It has grown a lot over the past year since I have had the time to dedicate to it. I have been using this time to think more about color relationships and making more decisions, rather than leaving it all up to intuition. Lately, I have been using materials like glitter and stick on rhinestones. I hadn’t really seen those types of elements in the fine art world and I have enjoyed using them in different ways to push the boundaries of what it means to make “fine art.” I have also been experimenting with sculpture and painting on 3D objects. It started with this large flower that I made out of paper mache and has now evolved into a collection of small house sculptures that are made out of cardboard and foam core board. I then painted the bright colors and patterns that I commonly use onto the houses. I wanted to know how my paintings would translate outside of a 2D space. I am happy with how they turned out and I can see myself continuing that in the future. The most recent experimental pieces I have been doing are using embroidery. I had touched on using embroidery in my paintings a year ago, but I really started going all in on it these past few months. It is definitely a lengthy process, but the small intricate details are worth it! Overall, I have had so much fun growing and experimenting with my work. I feel like I have a lot of my curiosities answered and after the fellowship I will be able to move forward in my art career more knowledgeable and experienced.
MCR: What have you learned in the last year by working in the heart of York’s art community?
AW: I have learned a lot about networking from being in the York art community! I have met so many amazing and unique artists while working in Marketview. It’s very encouraging to be in a city that allows you to be a part of a network of people that you are able to stay connected to. Also, the community here is super supportive. There’s this overall feeling that is if one of us succeeds, we all succeed. Being able to talk with a bunch of different artists and hear how they make it work by being an artist is inspiring and comforting to know that it is possible to keep art as my job. Hearing their processes helps me plan for my future as an artist and what steps I need to hit before I get there!
MCR: Are there any artists you haven’t already mentioned that you are particularly inspired by at the moment?
AW: I have a large number of artists I look to for inspiration. My favorite is EttaVee/ Jessie Raulet. I found her work on Instagram about a year ago and have been following her work since. I finally got the chance to buy a small piece of her work that is now hanging up in my apartment and I love it! Her style uses bright and rich colors with a lot of thick brushstrokes to create some abstract pieces, as well as some patterns and representational pieces. I look to her work a lot to see different color palettes and how she arranges the color. She also shares about the business side of art. That has been very helpful to me because she will show the behind the scenes of different projects she’s working on and explain how to do things such as licensing your work for commercial purposes. I absolutely adore her work and I highly recommend checking it out!
MCR: Your Appell Fellowship exhibition was originally due to open on May 27, but is now indefinitely postponed because of the coronavirus. Eventually this work will be shown at York College, but I’m wondering where else you would like to take it and different ways you might show it. I can imagine some of your work being installed in a conventional manner; with 18-24” of spacing between them at a consistent eye level on a white wall, but I can also imagine you creating site-specific installations with this work in which the paintings abut and the 3D objects sit just in front, visually melding into the wallpaper of paintings in a way that challenges spatial cognition; a visual texture overload. Are you interested in experimenting with different ways of showing your work, and in different settings from a typical gallery to empty storefront pop up? And do you mostly imagine showing it regionally or do you have dreams of exhibiting in larger cities like Philadelphia and New York?
AW: I have definitely thought about pushing the boundaries a bit with my work. It has started slowly with a few sculptural pieces. One of the first pieces I made during my fellowship was an over two foot tall flower that is covered from top to bottom with my bright colors and patterns. Later on, I started building a collection of houses that I had intended to show in the center of the gallery, almost like when you would see a model train set up. I wanted the viewer to be able to look into the little happy village I had created. I love the idea of making an installation that is Yayoi Kusama-esque where it is a fully immersive space that is decked out in mesmerizing colors and patterns. I think my work has the ability to be shown in a variety of different ways. I am interested in the idea of creating this 2d-3d meld between some sculptural pieces put in combination with paintings or wallpaper. I think that would create a strong feeling of space where I would be creating this alternate world with my designs.
I can see myself showing my work regionally for a while, but I do have dreams of having exhibitions in larger cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia. One day my work can make it up to New York too! I can see my work being a part of the current art scene so I just need to work to make those dreams a reality. I am excited to see where my art takes me and what opportunities I get in the future to show my work!
MCR: York is not a large city, but having an apartment
in downtown York is still a more urban and culturally diverse experience than what you experienced growing up in New Windsor, right? What has that experience of living at Marketview been like?
AW: Oh absolutely! New Windsor is a farm town, though my family has never been farmers, we have our own smaller version with a vegetable garden in our backyard. Living in York is a change of pace. I have really enjoyed being able to live so close to a variety of restaurants and galleries. The best part is having Central Market right across the street. There is much more to see and do in York compared to my hometown. It is much more culturally diverse as well. I have been able to meet and learn about the different experiences of those around me. York is so lively and culturally rich that just taking a walk around the block can be inspiring.
It was an adjustment living in the same building that I work in though. As many other people have noticed with our current situation, you start to get a bit stir crazy. Before the shutdown, I was going to nearby parks and finding time to explore, a favorite being Cousler Park. I loved being able to try new restaurants nearby and walk through the shops. There are a lot of passionate people in York. Overall, living in Marketview has been a very positive experience! When my fellowship is over I will keep coming back to York for a long time.
MCR: A big part of your responsibility as Appell Fellow is community engagement, which is not necessarily part of a typical art education. What were some of the challenges of that aspect of your role? And what successes are you most proud of?
AW: Some of the challenges initially when it came to community engagement was that I didn’t know many people downtown prior to my fellowship. Talking more with Ophelia Chambliss helped immensely! She knows just about everybody in this city. She taught an art business workshop during the Fall that I was a part of and it was full of artists from York. That’s where I made a bunch of connections. Ophelia had me set up and run a Linoleum Block Party where some of those same artists got involved and I was able to get to know them more. A few artists from that workshop participated in the All in a Day’s Work: From Home event that I ran in April. I am glad that I was able to make connections with them back in October because it was great having them be a part of All in a Day’s Work!
I feel the most proud of the success that All in a Day’s Work had. I took this event that Marketview has hosted for the past few years, and had to alter it to fit the regulations that Pennsylvania was under at the time. I was expecting a few students to join in, maybe a couple members of the community, but I was blown away with the response! We had about 20 people participating in the event. I was in charge of recruiting people to participate, managing Marketview’s social media accounts during the event, managing the two Zoom calls we had to check in on the artists during the day, painting my own piece, and after the event, organizing the images and label information for each of the participants for the online exhibition. It was a busy few days working in it all. The whole process was very rewarding though. Hearing that the artists had a great time participating and were looking forward to doing another was exactly what I needed to hear after it all!
I am very thankful that I had people who trusted me to run events here and were there to guide me along the way while I learned the ropes. I feel much more confident now about taking charge and running different events.
MCR: Do you have any parting words of wisdom for the next Appell Fellow who will succeed you? It’s difficult to know right now what impact the coronavirus will have on the coming year, but what are some things that you wish you’d known as you began your fellowship experience?
AW: The best piece of advice I can give to the next fellow is to use the time to make opportunities for yourself. This is a great chance to plant seeds that can later blossom in the future. Go to the workshops. Go to the show openings. Be ready to discuss your art with people because there are so many people here who want to hear about it. Create events that you are excited about, other people will be excited about them too. The fellowship is what you make of it so take advantage of any opportunity that you can!
Also, try to not compare yourself to others. I struggled sometimes looking at the amazing things that past fellows were able to do and I would have the thought of “How am I supposed to live up to this?” It took a while to step back and look at what I was able to accomplish and feel proud of it on it’s own. Each fellow’s experience is unique and it is important to step into this position open to new opportunities that are guaranteed to push you out of your comfort zone and in turn, help you grow as an artist and a person.
Something I wish I knew before my fellowship began was how possible it is to make ideas happen in Marketview. There is such a strong support system here and every person wants to see you succeed. I was nervous about the responsibilities that being the fellow holds, but you are never thrown out into the deep end. There is always someone here to help whenever you need it. Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way!
MCR: What is next for you? What are your goals for the future, both short-term and long-term?
AW: The immediate future after the fellowship is still up in the air at this moment. A job I currently have set for the summer teaching and being assistant camp director at an arts summer camp in Maryland seems like it may not happen. If it does then that is where I will be through August! I am likely moving around the Lancaster area with my friend for a bit after the fellowship is over. I still will frequently be back in York. I would love to get a studio space so that I can continue making a mess while I make my art. Regardless of getting a studio space or not, I will still be making art! The pieces may get smaller or less covered in glitter, but they will still be as funky and bright as always.
Short term goals are to continue making work and having pieces in galleries, whether it be group shows or solo shows. I would love to have a job in the arts where I could work with people and encourage them to be involved in the community. A big long term goal is to be a full time studio artist that teaches workshops and classes. I have really enjoyed having so much time to dedicate to my work so having this taste of it is a great motivator to make it work in the future! Teaching is also something I have done here over summers and I would love to be able to teach more in depth workshops on certain topics in art to get people excited about being creative!
MCR: Thank you very much for this conversation, Amber. I look forward to seeing where your art career takes you and I’m very happy to hear that you will remain connected to the York College and York art communities. Best of luck to you!
AW: Thank you for this opportunity! I look forward to seeing what the art world has in store for my future!
To see more of Amber’s work, please visit her website at https://amberwiesberg.com
To learn more about Marketview Arts and the Appell Fellowship, please visit https://www.ycp.edu/about-us/offices-and-departments/center-for-community-engagement/downtown-locations/marketview-arts/
To learn more about York College’s Fine Art program, please visit: https://www.ycp.edu/academics/school-of-the-arts-communication-and-global-studies/programs/fine-art/