Artist's paintings are both nebulas and nebulous

Amandda Leigh Tirey is surrounded by paintings, and not a one of them is finished.

The artist's studio at 400 West Rich is a frantic sanctuary. Tirey, wearing a tank top and cargo pants blotched and smeared with myriad colors, is explaining to the reporter what's left to highlight, layer or draw out of each of the numerous in-progress works she's readying for her “of space and blood” exhibition, which at the time is about two weeks out from installation. (The show is now hanging at the Cultural Arts Center, which will host a reception on Friday, July 7, from 6-8 p.m.) Occasionally, Tirey drops something along the lines of, “I could let this one be finished right now, but I probably won't.”

The exhibition represents, generally, work made over the past two years, including pieces that have been actively worked on that entire time. It's a process that works for Tirey, despite admonitions from, among others, her father.

“He would always tell me I was overworking things,” Tirey said. (The artist's father died in 2014.) “He would take things, and there are things hanging in my mom's house that still aren't finished.”

John Tirey was one of his daughter's biggest inspirations. The elder Tirey did custom-car painting and sign work and, despite his passing, the younger Tirey preserves his presence in her studio via a handful of his canvases, some work they created together, photographs and an inherited Miss Piggy doll she called her studio mascot.

“I have a little piece of him in every corner,” Tirey said.

Tirey didn't follow in her father's footsteps until she was an undergrad student at Ohio State University. Originally a music major, she was hindered by dyslexia, which made the theory portion of her studies difficult, and generalized anxiety, which made solo performance even more so. It was her first experience with the work of Pheoris West that turned her heart to painting.

“I said, ‘Oh my god. I want to do that,'” Tirey recalled, enamored, in particular, with West's use of color.

Many techniques she developed via an exploration of her father's work, whether the clean line of his automotive pinstriping or the wilder shapes of the more fantastical paintings he did on canvas. Indeed, his sometimes science-fiction-inspired work helped give rise to Tirey's own fascination with science and fiction.

“I'm just fascinated with biology and space,” Tirey said. “I like looking at cells and petri dishes and slides of all that stuff. Plus, I'm a fan of horror flicks.”

Tirey called space and blood the “main characters” in this body of work. Asked if her use of the term “characters” implied that there is also a story, the artist replied in the affirmative.

“Yeah, there's a story, and I want everyone to stand in front of a painting and try to figure it out,” Tirey said. “I can suggest with titles, but I'd rather someone just take it for what they want it to be [and] what it invokes in their imagination [and] tell me what the story is in each painting.”

While each work is based primarily in blue or red — space or blood — there is a crossover, an undefined use of the word space that allows the pieces to not simply be one or the other.

“I like the ambiguity of not knowing if it's inner or outer space. There is a lot of stuff going on inside you that you can't see, and there's a lot of stuff in outer space you can't see. And there can be all of these things going on [in any given painting],” Tirey said. “I like it to be confusing so you can't tell what it is. Sometimes you could say, ‘That looks like blood,' but then there are these fireflies [and] now it looks like succulents at night or something.

“It all shifts. … [There are] these little germs and these little orbs — creatures that could be cells or entities. I like messing with perspective, too, so that things aren't clearly one thing or another in this strange universe. I'm just creating a story about some unknown space [where] maybe germs or some kind of weird creatures are living [and] dancing around each other, struggling for attention.”

In more recent years, Tirey's father would study her work, asking about technique or color or what-have-you, the inspiration clearly becoming a two-way street.

“Toward the end of his life, he was starting to do some of the things I was doing,” Tirey said, adding that some things never change. “He would say, ‘Oh that one is perfect. It's done.' And I'd be like, (sigh).”