Amanda Marie's work may initially appear subtle, whether it's on the street or in a gallery, but once you look a little closer, her style is unmistakable. Known for juxtaposing innocent, children's book-looking images of kids with elements implying imminent danger, her work has reached the point that all artists strive for—the intersection of great meaning and real simplicity. 

To coincide with her "I Was Just Thinking" exhibition at White Walls Gallery in San Francisco (open until February 1), we interviewed Amanda about where the darkness in her work comes from, whether or not she's influenced by Kara Walker, and how her stenciling style developed.

There is some part of most of us that remains immature and maybe even innocent.

What were your visual art references as a child—did you learn about art from any specific children's books, TV shows, or magazines? How did they inform your idea of "wholesome American innocence"?
Nothing in particular, but I'm certainly influenced by classic golden book illustration, people like Tenngren, Malvern, Leonard Weisgard, and Charlie Harper. When I was very young I wanted to be a Disney animator.  

How did you arrive at juxtaposing themes of childhood and danger in your work? Do you see a clear divide between maturity/immaturity or innocence/loss of innocence?
Feelings are complex, people are complex. I want my paintings to reflect the subtlety and complexity of our time here.  I don't see a clear divide; there is some part of most of us that remains immature and maybe even innocent.  

How do ideas for the scenes you paint come to mind? Are any of them specifically from experiences you had growing up, or more of a personal perspective you've attained over time?
It's sort of random. I start with one idea, and as I spend more time working on a piece, the puzzles get solved. There is a very personal part of my work. The stories I find in them are life: good, bad, the whole of it.

Health

Do some of the children in your pieces intentionally resemble you? If so, why?
Yeah, I sit down to create, and that is what comes out.

[Stencils] allow me to use the images and characters in different ways, where I can build different stories.

When you started showing work outside of Colorado, especially outside America, did the international audience ever show a different reaction than you expected, especially reacting to the "American" side of this innocence and perhaps a global difference in mid 20th-century children's literature?
Sure, but no matter where the work is shown, there are people who like it and people who don't. I would love to see how Eastern cultures would react to the work.

What has informed your choice to use spray paint and stencil as your medium? Is there something about the texture or process that relates to your thematic juxtapositions?
I love how I can repeat the images. A simple idea can make such an impacting image. The use of stencils makes my images look so much more graphic than the original drawing. They allow me to use the images and characters in different ways, where I can build different stories.

Plus, spray paint is just awesome. With the stencils, I can continually add to my visual vocabulary and build a language with the stencils as the tools or building blocks. In this way, I am always adding new elements while still trying to maintain a connection with the images and ideas that have already become associated with my work. 

The 10,000 Commandments Of Pretty Baby

How do you title your work? For example: The 10,000 Commandments Of Pretty Baby.
Hyland really helps. We look at what is going on in the work, and he comes up with the perfect words.  

How do you decide what streets you paint? Are the works ever site-specific or responding to the specific location you're painting in/on?
It depends. When traveling for a show, I try to get at least one piece up on the street. Those walls are usually just someone saying I can paint—they give me the location, I bring my stencils, and I start laying them down. For larger walls, I generally have to come with some sort of plan. Usually I keep it simple and graphic. One or two images repeated in a line or a grid works the best. 

My True Self is My Animal Nature 

I like to call the Xs in the eyes 'sparkles.'

Are you at all influenced by the work of Kara Walker?
It's funny you should mention that. We are working on a show proposal for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum in Eugene, Oregon, and their upcoming exhibit is Kara Walker. I would not say I'm influenced by Kara Walker, or Henry Darger, whom I also get compared to, but certainly you can see commonalities from artist to artist. Naturally I'm a fan of both of those people. 

What have you hoped to accomplish with the "I Was Just Thinking" exhibition at White Walls? There appear to be many pairs of characters and series of Xs in their eyes. How does it all come together for you?
"I Was Just Thinking" is just as the title says, a big exercise in mashing thoughts. Some of the thoughts are very clear and concise, others are way more textured and layered. For the show, I painted like that, with ideas that are simple and clear as a bell like My True Self Is My Animal Nature. At other times, the pieces are much more layered and complex like Great Notions 1 and 2 or the murals in the space which are collages of ideas.  

Great Notions 1 and 2

I like to call the Xs in the eyes "sparkles," and they have been a common theme in my work for many years. Sparkles are wonderful tools for me to help inform movement and enhance the visual focus of the characters in the paintings. They indicate excitement or interest.

Bring Down the Fever 

View "I Was Just Thinking" at White Walls in San Francisco through February 1, 2014.