Top 40 Under 40: Amy Dryer: Creating with tenacity

Amy Dryer

My encounter with yyc artist Amy Dryer possibly changed my life. It might do the same for you. The “formal,” published result of our interview  is here:

Avenue: Top 40 Under 40, Class of 2014: Amy Dryer


Amy Dryer: Creating with tenacity

Amy Dryer paints in a ventilation mask and a snowsuit. She throws paint at a canvas until it talks back and moves with her. And if you tell her it must be hard to make a living as an artist in Calgary, she’ll answer, “Big skies, big opportunity.”

“I had initially bought into the myth that to succeed as a Calgary artist, you really had to leave Calgary,” Dryer says. London, Paris, New York. Even Toronto, Vancouver. And she’s left—followed up her ACAD degree with a stint at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, got her BA on Canada’s East Coast. But she’s always come back, and it is in Calgary that she has flourished. “In any of those places, there is such an established culture, style,” Dryer says. Hierarchy, even? “As a newcomer, you have to find a way to fit into what already exists.” The advantage of Calgary’s comparatively a-historical art scene is that “you are free to be who you need to be—free to create the style, scene. And to lead, even at an early stage of your career.”

And Dryer has led, developing a unique and identifiable style. Perhaps just as importantly, she has led with her lifestyle—showing burgeoning local artists that talent, when coupled with tenacity and hard work, pays off in this city. Her work is shown and sold through galleries in five cities—Masters Gallery (Calgary), Elevation Gallery (Canmore), The Front Gallery (Edmonton), Assiniboia Gallery (Regina), and Canvas Gallery (Toronto)—and her canvasses sell internationally, fetching prices from $600 to $6,000, and climbing upwards. “I have tried to set reasonable prices that are determined rather objectively, through the canvas size,” Dryer says, rather than the attachment/effort of any one piece. “The prices increase over time, as I continue to establish myself as artist.”

If you watch Fargo, you might have spotted several Dryer paintings in the background of Billy Bob Thornton’s character’s apartment. But if she has a niche—she’s not sure she does—it might be capturing “significant and simple moments in time.” Those are the commissions that she remembers with the most fondness: painting a wedding on Prince’s Island “live,” capturing a dying man’s spark and spirit for his family, celebrating a child’s birth, recreating the memory of a canoe trip with a loved one for someone who fell in love with one of her Yukon canoe paintings…

Her art gives. Metaphorically—one of her recent paintings was purchased by a woman fighting cancer and undergoing therapy, “to give her hope throughout the process” —and literally. Over the course of the year, Dryer donates works of art to organizations such as the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the Calgary Opera, the Doorway, the Banff Centre, Mount Royal University, the Glenbow Museum, the Medical Ministry International (USA), and others. Over the past 12 years, these art donations have raised at least $50,000 for their recipients. “I hope that my painting donations will continue to raise funds and awareness for the many organizations going on within our city and beyond,” says Dryer.

When she’s not creating and giving of herself in that way, she’s teaching—art to adults who need to remember how to play and be bold on canvas, literacy to children who are struggling with words on a page as she did when she was a child. “I love listening to my little reading ‘buddy’ at the Read With Me Program express himself and his voice,” she says. “In the span of a year and a half, my young buddy went from barely being able to read, to novels. His expressive voice, reading about dinosaurs and heroic mice, made me feel that my work had made a difference.”


Candidate: Amy Diane Dryer

Age: 35 years old

Job Title: Artist, Fragments of Soul

Why she’s a Top 40: Talented and tenacious, she lives her talent, gives her talent, and changes the lives of the people she touches with her art, her personality, and her generosity. If anyone ever tells you artists can’t thrive in Calgary—introduce them to Amy Dryer, and she will change their minds.


What the best piece of advice you’ve received?

“You’re a Dryer, hold your head up,” my four-foot-nothing Grammy would tell me. Whenever I feel upset, a little nervous entering a solo art show or giving an artist talk… I would think of her and hold my head a little higher. … I am her granddaughter, heart in hand, head up, creating and loving fiercely.

What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned?

With all my tenacity and determination, I can’t control the outcome of many situations. Though I have plans, lists, and goals, I also have to let life unfold, as it will. I continually “let go” into the process. Sometimes life breaks your heart and sometimes it lifts it, lightens it. Paintings reflect that process. You let yourself fall into the mystery of creativity without often knowing the outcome.

What inspires you to work so hard?

My work is where I play and struggle simultaneously; the desire to make marks in my studio is where it all starts, but I also want to share the work and process with the public. Though the paintings start in a place of solitude, the desire to share, show, talk about and sell the work spurs me on. To share this best part of myself – my expression – is the gift that I can give while I’m here.

There is so much more to Dryer than this snippet above. And before I could write that, I had to write this: An afternoon with Amy Dryer