• Record Collector: Artist Amberella

    The facades of some of Philadelphia’s run down buildings, boarded up windows, and doors with flaking paint have long been begging for love, and it's the local artist, Amberella, who gave them some. Just as candy hearts became the sly mementos of our childhood, Amberella’s Goth Hearts — a project she started around Valentine's Day last year — are the loving messages of hope and vulnerability. In line with her other bodies of public street art, Amber Lynn, the woman behind the namesake, forces even the most casual of passersby to dig into their emotions, even just for a little. 

    “Life is so hard and there are so many issues and so many challenges throughout our lives,” Amber says. “I’m just working through it along the way and sharing it with you. If my voice affects you in any way, makes you think or feel a certain type of way, sparks a conversation, creates action, then my purpose as an artist is complete.”

    We asked that Amber take her craft to our lavender EP-33 turntable, turning the blank canvas it into a romantic and thought-provoking work of art. See her transform our record player, talk about her work and what music influences her below. 
    Photos by Melissa Anne Tilley

    Do you remember your first dive into the visual art world? 
    Honestly, I think of some of my first “projects” were my mom letting me have a wall knocked out in my bedroom that led to a secret crawl space above the stairs. I got a beaded curtain for a door and I plastered the inner secret walls with poetry, song lyrics, photos, magazine clippings, paintings, objects, and more. I had my boom box and record player in the cubby space, pillows and would sit in there and make stuff, play guitar, read, write, burn incense — typical early ‘90s stuff that I still do now. But being able to express myself in so many different ways without being stifled made me a bold person. 
    Tell us about what inspires your work. Why are these important themes? 
    My work is truly inspired by what I am going through personally or feelings that I have about popular culture or social justices. For example, I’ve created work that’s commented on sexual encounters, sexual stigmas, the male gaze, feelings, and relationships. I’ve spent time creating buzz and conversation about catcalling, self-worth and women empowerment in general. I feel incredibly lucky to have a way to share my voice and to be a voice for others. 

    Why do you think the hearts work well in such a public forum — like on the sides of buildings?  
    I think that they work well because they are unexpected and therefore cause an extremely real and vulnerable response from the viewer. I’m providing something that triggers a completely unique and one-of-a-kind response for each individual person based on their very own personal relationships, past or present.

    How do you choose where to paste them? 
    It varies, but I’m extremely purposeful with my placement. That comes from a background in photography, styling and an extreme attention to detail and meaning. I’m not into guerilla style wheat pasting. Something is most likely in a specific place because I’m creating a beautiful “to be” photograph. When I am out putting up a heart, I am framing the shot before the paper even hits the wall. I’m placing my personal feelings out there, which can be uncomfortable, so I want to walk away with a beautiful memory of what I’ve done. I also love to see how others shoot the vignette that I’ve created. 

    Sometimes these hearts are unspokenly meant for certain people. Often when I’m out and about I have fun dual meanings occur and I love that, and it can make the nature of the work less serious. For example, a pissed off “Eat Me” heart becomes more playful when placed on a candy shop in South Philly. I also love working with local businesses throughout the city. I’ve been in Philadelphia for a long time and love and appreciate what and who makes the city go round and who is shaping its character. 

    Why was it important to incorporate feelings of longing and love into your work?  
    Most of my work stems from my personal life experiences. I am just working through my emotions and feelings from relationships. Honestly, that’s what the Goth Hearts are: my therapy, to get a whirlwind of the most intense feelings out there. 
    The newer series, “Power Hearts” are not about relationships and love with another person, they are about working on myself. They are truly for me and my relationship and feelings about myself. It’s about rebuilding myself, my worth, my strength, (especially as a woman right now), remembering who I am, what I stand for, what I have to offer, that I am worthy of so much more than I was thinking.

    What are you working on now?
    There is a project that I’m working on right now that is guerilla style, but very 
    purposeful. It’s about empowerment, strength, and endurance, not giving up and rising up. I’m working with three other Philly female street artists: the project called #NowWeConquer is a collaboration between myself, Ishknits who works in yarn bombing and Aubrie Costello who’s work is in silk graffiti. These are two other women that I know professionally and personally. I am inspired by them and find strength in and with them. 

    Tell us about your designs for the EP-33 record player. What led you in that direction?
    I decided on the designs “Reality Bites Without You — Stay.” Reality does bite without certain people and you want them to stay. I feel like I turn to music to fill the void of those that are gone or to work through feelings about relationships. You’ll notice that more often than not, a photograph of a Goth Heart on my Instagram is accompanied by song lyrics. So music plays a key role in this body of work and who I am as an artist. 

    Yes, let’s talk music! How important is it in your creative process?  
    Very important. It can set the mood and relate to any of my work and especially to the Goth Hearts or Power Hearts. I have playlists that relate to different bodies of work. For example, any female-driven pieces, such as the “Cat Call,” or “Make it Reign” series, I want to listen to fast, aggressive riot girl music or something fierce and empowering. Think Sleigh Bells, Hole, 7 Year Bitch, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Bikini Kill, Sex Pistols, Descendents, and The Joy Formidable. Whereas the Goth Hearts I’m stuck in a love coma that’s either really high or really low, so dreamy stoner type sounds with appropriate lyrics like Mazzy Star, Lorde, Lana Del Rey, Fiona Apple, The Velvet Underground, The Cranberries, Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton, The Promise Ring, Tigers Jaw.

    Do you have any go-to albums that help get the juices flowing? Any sentimental or rare record finds? 
    I really love the Frank Ocean album still from last year, Drake, Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty. Music with sick beats put me in another realm. Sentimental would be records I have of my mom's that I remember looking at and listening to as a child. Two that bring back vivid memories of spring days with the windows open in the home I grew up in are Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends and The Mamas and the Papas. 

    What’s the one album you can’t live without? 
    I can’t live without Amy Winehouse, Back to Black. I just never get sick of it. It’s a raw album to me on so many levels. I feel connected to her, not only what she has to say but the vibe she gives. She’s badass, tortured, wild and speaks freely, coy yet strong. I feel like I’ve lived every single song, which makes me feel not so alone. Overall the album makes me feel sad but empowered and understood. It evokes some type of nostalgia for the love sick tortured times that I lived through. And I kind of like that — it means I’m alive. 

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