Amy Lin's Growing Sphere of Influence
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007; Page WE20
Amy Lin is infatuated with dots. "Hybrid," a colored-pencil drawing that's part of the artist's show, "Amy Lin: Silence," at Heineman Myers Contemporary Art, features almost 350 of the li'l devils, strewn across the paper in blue and green strings like strands of broken costume jewelry.
And that's just a medium-size work. At nine feet tall, one picture, titled "Persuasion," boasts -- well, you count them; I started to get a headache when I tried.
That's all the 28-year-old artist draws. A couple of years ago, when she was first starting out, Lin says she got a lot of "questionable comments" from folks who just didn't get her chosen medium. Although her dot-based pictures can call to mind everything from microbes on a glass slide to Mardi Gras beads to an overhead shot of crowds milling on the Mall, they are almost stoic in their open-ended abstraction. So much so that her dealer, Zoe Heineman Myers, was discouraged by those closest to her from even giving the artist a solo show, Lin's first in a commercial gallery.
Such misgivings may be starting to fade with the appearance of another kind of dot around Lin's work these days: the little red ones traditionally used in galleries to show that a work has been sold. At press time, five of the 13 works on view had found buyers.
An art lover since childhood in Upstate New York, Lin says her dot obsession didn't begin in earnest until three years ago. That was after a segue to Carnegie Mellon University, where a degree in chemical engineering led to a move to Fairfax and a time-consuming day job in the lubricants and specialties division of Exxon Mobil. Hey, it was either that or pay for college herself, says Lin, whose high school dream of attending the Rhode Island School of Design had earlier run smack up against fiscal reality.
"My dad sat me down," she recalls, "and he was like, 'Okay, you can decide to go wherever you want, but we're not going to pay for you to go to art school.' " A post-college attempt to reconnect with her true calling inspired her to create, in 2003 and 2004, a portfolio of children's book illustrations. One of them, long since abandoned, featured a girl and her teddy bear falling down a hill while carrying three large red apples. It brought about an unexpected discovery.
"When I drew the apples, they didn't particularly look like apples," Lin says. "They were the same dots that I draw now. It was basically just like that, except red. A big sphere that had a faded-out center. I just remember that, out of everything that I had drawn over that entire year, I had the most fun when I was drawing those three big red dots. The minute I finished that drawing, I decided to leave illustration. I just took out a big piece of paper and covered the whole thing with those red dots."
Since then, her rise through the art world has been, if not meteoric, at least steady, with a series of increasingly high-profile shows. In the May issue of Washingtonian magazine, she was chosen as one of the magazine's "40 People Under 40 to Watch."
Lin, however, isn't about to quit her day job. Besides, she says, her art career doesn't seem to be moving all that fast from her vantage point. "I guess it comes back to not having gone to art school," she explains. "When I was just starting out, I kept feeling like I was four years behind everybody else."