Amanda Niekamp is a Vancouver-based painter and illustrator whose works typically focus on architecture. Far from your standard technical renderings, Niekamp’s depictions – informed by his natural surroundings and his passions for international design and modernism – are full of whimsy and color, tangibility and childlike vulnerability.
His personal exhibition, Procession, will be on the walls of the Tranche de vie gallery from August 25 to 30. Learn more about the artist and his process in our interview below, then book your ticket (just $5 each) to experience his new series in person here.
First, tell me a bit about yourself. What is your artistic and architectural background?
I’m originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where there are horses, fields and suburbs. To me, the meadows are gothic railways, quaint tiny churches and simple bungalows with a quiet, precious whistle. It’s a tangible place that formed the basis of my unsupervised art style.
How long have you lived in Vancouver, and what is your relationship with this place and its particular design?
I moved to Vancouver 13 years ago to study illustration at Emily Carr. During my undergraduate studies, I started working in a modern design furniture store that was frequented and partnered with the architectural community. I found my way to different events with local and international architects, and was educated on the history of design and the relationship these objects have in a space. I became interested in Vancouver’s history and design, influences of West Coast modernism, artsy decorating styles and reinvigorated design. From there, the world of architecture opened up to me and I started researching an array of locations around the world.
The Procession The series centers around the architecture you have explored or seen during the Covid pandemic. What influence (if any) has this context had on your overall creative process and the resulting art?
Through the Procession I pay homage to places I’ve dreamed of seeing in person. I traveled in Europe during a quiet buzz when hardly anyone was traveling, and the architectural spaces I visited were free from the crowds that can detract from the experience. I was able to visualize and value the spaces for what they were without the people. The resulting work in this context is skeleton, raw structures, materials and landscape. Only the viewer’s agency serves as occupation.
You were partly on a mission to potentially discover a “universal language of design that would work for everyone, anywhere.” What conclusions about the possibility of the existence of such a thing have you come to? What new questions or ideas did this quest present to you?
Unsurprisingly, every place I visited was drastically different. The language of design in Spain is different from what you see in France or the UK, and I discovered a variety of lifestyles and values that varied from culture to culture. In Barcelona, building permits require a minimum number of daylight hours for residential accommodation, as well as access to outdoor space. Most apartments have balconies and terraces, private green space courtyards or at least one park within walking distance. I’ve seen that in France too, apartments with private courtyards or parks, different in style but with the same common value. The available green space and access to light are just as important as the amount of space inside an apartment.
The notion and terminology of “procession” in architecture evoke thresholds of transition or liminal space; the passage. I believe that society is constantly working and challenging our human comfort and lowering the thresholds of livable design and well-being in the spaces we live in. I constantly question the livability of North America…
“Our inspiration dries up seeing and experiencing the same places… I think it’s important to find new spots, parks or different neighborhoods and visit them on foot… It’s very important to surprise yourself when you arrive on these spots. The less research, the better. Find a hidden treasure for yourself!
I love how your SOL biography describes your perspective as “flawed and unguarded”. This makes sense to me because when I look at your work I see a very sympathetic eye that makes the buildings you describe look less like objects and more like subjects, as if they were consenting living beings – everything the opposite of what you’d normally associate with the often clinically technical representations of architecture in general. What are the visual aspects of a building that inspire you to make it the subject of a painting? What are the non-quantifiable (i.e. emotional/visceral/personal) elements?
I have always liked to evoke places from my childhood memories and this fuzzy or dreamy vision of simplicity. I try to capture the same response and cherish that unguarded perspective when directing or experiencing a piece of architecture. Reading a building and perceiving how it viscerally makes me react through romantic or youthful eyes.
Color has a huge influence on me. Either I look for it, or I create it. It acts like the life or energy in a painting, and ultimately the foundation of a building or room. Almost distinctly, I look for attention-grabbing aesthetics such as patterns, sculptural installations or prominent landscaping in a place. These parts become the very essence. Where the color is lacking, I will accentuate or add it. Take brutalism – forms and structure are worked out and broken down into bare materials, not decorative design. This is the point where I reinvent or add new light to the raw structure.
What is more difficult for you, starting a new work/series of works, or knowing when to finish? Why?
Probably when to finish. I can get very excited about a place or series and dive into it pretty quickly. It can be hard to trust minimalism in work, and I often contemplate Mies van der Rohe’s saying that “Less is more”. I constantly criticize if the essential elements depicted are strong enough, so I try to sit down with the piece and take my time rather than working quickly and pushing too hard.
How much of your process is focused on research, reflection and planning, and how much is devoted to the creative process and execution?
Execution and the creative process definitely take precedence. I’m going to discover a piece of architecture or a place of wonder through a book, and meddle fairly quickly with my bank of paint colors, source photographs, and other information. I don’t reproduce pieces in exact perspective or color value, but I like to experiment and play with color changes. My goal is not realism or to be an architect. I’m much more trying to find where I fit or feel in the place through painting.
Do you ever feel uninspired by your surroundings on the West Coast? If so, how do you manage to rekindle the magic?
We are creatures of habit and often only frequent our neighborhoods on a day-to-day basis. Our inspiration dries up seeing and experiencing the same places. I think Vancouver and the big cities on the west coast can also be very uninspiring because we see heritage buildings disappearing. Gentrification is widespread and our historic places are becoming scarce. The identity of the city is constantly evolving.
I think it’s important to find new spots, parks or different neighborhoods and visit them on foot. Often, I take my camera and find myself on a path or a road that I know nothing about. It is very important to surprise yourself when you reach these places. The less research, the better. Find a hidden treasure for yourself!
What is the most beautiful piece of architecture/space in Vancouver, in your opinion, and why?
I don’t know if it’s the “prettiest” room, but what interests me the most is the Pink Palace apartment tower in West Vancouver, with its pepto pink concrete and its railings in white patterns. I became captivated on a walk in my undergrad, and it became my very first architectural painting subject. I discovered that the apartment complex was heavily influenced by MiMo Architecture (Miami Modernist Architecture). This movement added fun themes of glamour, color and excess material to otherwise boring and stark minimal places. The MiMo movement has radically changed the way I view color and form. Unfortunately, the Palais Rose is about to be demolished around 2026 – so don’t hesitate to visit it!
What about your least favorite?
My least favorite building in Vancouver is Vancouver House, the new neo-futuristic residential skyscraper completed in 2020. I guess the design is based on a triangle that rises from the ground and gradually turns into a rectangle as it rises towards the top. Box-shaped balconies are meant to represent a honeycomb texture. I’m not a fan of skyscrapers in general, but this one particularly bothers me because it obstructs the view of the mountains so perfectly. The materials are so reflective and distracting. The design screams for attention in all the wrong ways.
Finally, what is the space/building anywhere in the world that you haven’t visited yet, but know you MUST, and why?
The number one building I want to experience in my lifetime would be the Muralla Roja (The Red Wall) by Ricardo Bofilll. He’s my absolute favorite architect. La Muralla Roja is a housing project located in the development of La Manzanera in the Spanish municipality of Calpe. A series of interlocking purple and indigo stairways, platforms and bridges transform the skyline like a maze. The different colors painted on the exterior surfaces are intended to give a determined relief to all the distinct architectural elements, according to their structural functions. The place looks like candy. I can also imagine David Bowie throwing a really nice party there…
Learn about Amanda Niekamp’s work and travels by following her on Instagram @acniekamp.