Artist Amanda Maccagnan works primarily in stained glass — an unusual choice for a young, unconventional talent whose aesthetic is more a blend of street, Pop, gothic and Queer than anything traditional to the medium. Experimenting with imagery and inventive techniques to create new kinds of texture, color, and gesture playing on the luminosity and emotional pull of chromatic glass, Maccagnan sometimes practices her craft in homage portraits to her favorite cultural figures — for example, characters from John Waters films, whose outrageous, ungovernable style has inspired her since forever.
So when the Academy Museum was deep in exhibition design mode for their just-opened career survey John Waters: Pope of Trash, an idea was fleshed out to pay homage to the fact that Waters’ early films were often screened in Baltimore’s progressive churches. The entrance to the show is conceived as a darkened gothic chapel, with pews for watching an extended highlight reel before going on to the full exhibition. The room is flanked by rows of nearly life-size stained glass windows, backlit and glowing, whose deep colors and rich textures depict a pantheon of Dreamlanders —original John Waters stars and muses — in opulent, majestic dress and commanding poses befitting the saints of any cathedral, even a cathedral of smut.
Maccagnan got that life-changing call a year ago, and her life went from zero to 100 overnight. From a lone, make-it-work independent artist to executing a major contract at the highest possible level, of insane ambition, and in honor of a personal hero… It was a lot. But inspired by Waters himself and his fearless, raw vision and unyielding dedication to making art his way, Maccagnan threw all her creative tools at the project, paying special attention to the fact that her portraits honor real people, brave and boundary-blasting humans who changed the world on-screen and off, and paved the way for a much more interesting future.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
AMANDA MACCAGNAN: Oh, well, you know, I’ve always had this artistic spark in me, and I grew up in a wonderfully creative family. They always encouraged me to explore my artistic side. But I think the moment I truly embraced the title of “artist” for myself was back in 2014 when I decided to take the leap and pursue my art full time, independently. It felt like the right time to fully embrace my passion and take that audacious plunge. Of course, like many artists, there are still days when I grapple with imposter syndrome.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
I’m a stained glass artist and a painter, a true jack of all trades. In the shortest of explanations, my work is all about finding balance. Whether it’s designing a stained glass portrait that guides the eye without overwhelming or creating a painting that balances chaos and control, it’s about achieving equilibrium. Both of these artistic processes, although vastly different, also help me find balance within myself. I love the challenge of it.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
Haha, if I weren’t an artist, I’d probably be off on some whimsical adventure as a wizard or maybe even living the mermaid life by the sea.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
Actually, I didn’t attend art school. I pursued a science degree at the University of Toronto. Art as a career wasn’t something I considered when I finished high school. It wasn’t until my late 20s when I started an apprenticeship at a stained glass studio in 2011 that I really dove headfirst into the world of art. It completely consumed me, and one art form inspired another, leading to me creating art all the time.
When was your first show?
My very first show was held in a vape shop in Toronto back in early 2015. It was quite the unique venue! After that, I had the privilege of meeting some amazing artists in Toronto, collaborating on some really cool projects, and showcasing my work all over the city.
When is your current/most recent/next show or project?
Currently, I’m thrilled to be a part of the Academy Museum’s John Waters: Pope of Trash exhibition. It’s an exciting project that features a gothic chapel and six stained glass portraits of the original Dreamlanders — Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Jean Hill, Mink Stole, and Edith Massey. Each piece measures 2 feet by 5 feet and depicts the actors as the iconic characters they portrayed in Waters’ films. There’s a seventh piece, an oil painting of The Pope of Trash himself. It was a truly magical moment when I learned that John Waters himself approved of the final piece.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
I have a constantly evolving playlist that accompanies me while I work. Lately, it’s been filled with a mix of sad, angry, sexy, girly, heartbreak music with a few growls thrown in for good measure.
/Editor’s note: The disclaimer below refers to advertising posts and does not apply to this or any other editorial stories.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.