In the May-June 2000 issue of Weatherwise, “The Magazine About the Weather,” there are articles about the history of wind and the view of clouds from space. And nestled between items on global warming and computerized forecasting, there’s a story on the stormy artwork of Amy Marx, a Bethesda-based artist who has attracted an unusual amount of attention from the weather world. The 46-year-old has seen her work displayed at conferences of the American Meteorological Society, and she’s done several television appearances, including one with then-Channel 9 weathercaster Doug Hill. With all that meteorological interest in her meteorological artwork, Marx’s rationale for her paintings comes as a bit of a surprise: “It’s not about weather at all.”
“I wanted to make visible the invisible force that animates the universe,” says Marx, as the sky darkens outside the lobby windows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where 13 of her paintings are currently on display. “It’s palpable right now, when it’s about to storm.”
When the idea for the series came to her, in 1998, the skies were less ominous than Marx’s mood. She’d spent some time pounding the pavement between New York City galleries, with limited success. “I was driving down the Garden State Parkway, coming back,” she says. “[I was] unbelievably exhausted. I just started to see these big images of storms in my head.”
In the next year, Marx created a series of oil sketches, drawing on inspirations as varied as weather calendars, storm-chaser documentaries, and a vast ice field from a Björk video. One feature that recurs throughout the cycle is the darkness of the skies relative to the ground. In this regard, Marx says one of the paintings in the show, Iowa, is the progenitor of the rest. The photograph she was working from when she made it showed a storm-free cornfield, so Marx surprised even herself when she painted an inky, almost black, sky. “A friend lost a major lawsuit, and I was very angry,” she says. “I pushed the anger into the sky, especially. I think the anger is what turned it into a storm.”
“I did several paintings of storms first,” she says. “Once I was fully involved with that, the idea kind of grew into bigger and badder storms, which naturally led to tornadoes.” Marx’s works, which stretch as large as 4 feet by 6 feet, convincingly capture the essence and power of tornadoes. In White Cyclone, the use of exaggerated color and fanciful locationa waterspout is depicted over landadds layers of emotional depth.
Throughout the series, in fact, Marx portrays the emotional impact of the weather while only alluding to its potential destructiveness. Perhaps her most stirring piece is F4, in which a wispy gray tail dips down from a smoky orange-and-yellow sky as gas-station and strip-mall lights dance along the canvas’s bottom edge. Though the photographs she worked from often included people and houses, Marx excluded such elements from her paintings. “I think I left the destructive aspect of the tornadoes out…because I didn’t want to take a position on whether the force of nature is good or bad, constructive or destructive,” she says.
Marx has gone back to more conventional landscapes recently, not least because she’s found it tough to support herself with just her weather work: Despite their professions of interest, no meteorologists have bought any of her paintings. “I haven’t found anyone who’s willing to have a tornado in their living room,” she says. “If this show were to be a huge hit, I’d love to go back into this.” Josh Levin