A myriad of images surround us every day, still and in motion. The artist frequently sees the wonder in both the grandest and most mundane subject. Using a paintbrush or a camera, these images can be preserved to be admired again and again. Today we will meet Amanda Erlinger, an artist and photographer. Amanda Erlinger is a native Los Angeleno who thanks her grandfather for teaching her various artistic techniques and principles. Amanda Erlinger’s grandfather, the late Frank Sinatra, was not only a singer and actor, but also a painter. Amanda has compiled a book of photographs along with Robin Morgan, entitled simply “SINATRA”. It is the official luxury book commemorating 100 years since the singer’s birth.
If you could paint a picture of what your childhood was like, what would it look like?
It would be full of all the colors of the rainbow. I’m very blessed to have grown up with a wonderful family, wonderful parents, an amazing older sister and I really have to hand it to my parents for making sure that my sister and I always stayed grounded and got a good education. Both my sister and I are college graduates and that was a first in our family.
We had a lot of fun, a lot of good times, all of us together. Both my grandma and my grandpa on my mom’s side – my grandpa Frank and my grandma Nancy – they also spent a lot of time with us and we had so many wonderful moments together.
My father’s family lives on the East Coast, so we didn’t get to spend as much time with them when we were younger, but I have very fond memories of my childhood and I’m forever grateful to my parents and my grandparents for making sure I always had a good head on my shoulder. A lot of that is thanks to them, I really can’t take an enormous amount of credit for that. They always made sure that we knew where we came from and that not everybody was in the same position as we were. It was a wonderful experience growing up in my family and I’m really blessed and lucky.
You mentioned the word “memories” a couple of times. Please share with us a very vivid memory from your earlier years.
I have a very vivid memory of being in Palm Springs with my entire family. There are memories of different holidays, like Christmas time or New Year’s Eve, and being around my dad, my grandpa, my mom, my sister, my aunt, my uncle, my grandma, just enjoying our time together and feeling so relaxed and happy. My grandpa was on the road a lot, so whenever he was home we always made a point to go and see him, because he would get in touch with us.
My grandpa didn’t live very extravagantly, he had a very simple life when he was home, so we would just have wonderful dinners together or we would take a walk together, or swim in the pool. We are a big Italian American family and a lot of my beautiful memories of childhood took place there or in Los Angeles. I have a lot of great memories, so it’s really hard to pick one, but I do remember those holiday times.
How did your passion for visual arts begin?
It started when I was really young. When I was in elementary school I sort of gravitated towards visual arts. The rest of my family are all of them extremely creative, but they gravitate more towards the performing arts, I’m a little bit more shy and behind the scenes. I remember getting my first paint set and learning how to do that when I was quite young and always wanting to go that route and being able to have my own studio and work.
Then in college I studied fine arts, which was a focus on painting and photography and then also art history, which I’ve always loved as well.
You mentioned in an article published recently that some of the things you learned about painting were from your grandfather, Frank Sinatra. What was the greatest lesson that he gave you?
My grandpa has his own painting studio at his home in Rancho Mirage. He started painting very early, when he was probably in his early 20s. He went back and forth to it, it was not so much a hobby as it was a passion of his. I think it gave him a little bit of time of doing something outside of what he was normally doing, which was performing. He enjoyed doing that at home, where his family was.
In his art studio in Rancho Mirage is where my sister and I would spend a lot of time with him and where he basically taught me how to paint and how to work with the materials and the techniques. The lesson that I took from him and that I still hold with me was his respect for his materials. He would always tell me: Take care of your brushes, your pallet knives, take care of your paint, make sure you’re always keeping things clean and organized in your studio. Don’t expect other people to clean up after you, you have to clean up after yourself. Take pride in your work, but also take care of your materials and make sure you don’t take them for granted. He was very neat and clean. He did have people that helped him, but when it came to his studio, he cleaned everything on his own and took pride in that. I really respected him for that. And he was like that in all of his work.
What was the inspiration behind the book that you recently compiled, “Sinatra”?
I was very lucky to have a co-editor working with me, Robin Morgan from the United Kingdom, very skilled at what he does. He was a huge asset that we had. The inspiration behind the book came from my entire family. We had talked about the fact that no one had ever done a book of this kind, a fine art photography book that would celebrate my grandpa’s life and that would be from a very personal perspective. Because I was in charge looking through our family’s archive for so many years, my family came and said: Would you be interested in doing the book? Of course I was very honored to do it.
My grandma has an amazing photo archive that no one had ever seen before, not even I. A lot of those are included in the book. She handed them to me and it was really exciting to look at all of them. It’s a beautiful book, beautifully designed and I think that the team we worked with did a remarkable job. I hope people enjoy it. It’s a limited edition, it’s only 1,000 in print and it’s expensive, but the really die hard Sinatra fans who are willing to invest in something like this, I hope they will be happy.
There is not a lot of information about Nancy Sinatra Sr. I was hoping that maybe you can tell us, who is this woman at heart?
My grandma is amazing! She is 98 years old and still going strong. She is just the heart and soul of our family. She is the touch down for so many of us. She is intelligent, she is funny, she has a great sense of humor, she is strong, organized, skilled, loving, generous and so caring and kind! I’m so lucky to have her as a grandmother. And I think she is a very large reason why my grandfather was able to do what he did.
My grandpa, if he was still alive, would agree that because of a lot of the things that my grandma did and of the ways that she lived her life and how she would take care of family and friends and her existence and his existence, he was able to achieve a lot of his goals. She is a wonderful, amazing person, one of the most genuine souls that I know. I am honored to know her and call her my grandma. I love her dearly, as do all of us.
Is there a picture in the book that you find yourself looking at again and again?
There are a few. I like more of the very early photographs, there are some of the later ones that I also like, but there is one of him when he was very young, swimming in the ocean in New Jersey, that my grandmother took of him. And I love that one because I live at the beach and I’m a surfer and a swimmer. It’s so lovely that we have those photographs of him, there were a few that I had never seen before!
I also like some of the classic images of him from the 1950s, there are some beautiful photos from those times. Later in his life I think when he had a chance to relax a little bit more and there are a few photos by John Bryson in Rancho Mirage that I really love. He looked so relaxed and happy, like he was in his favorite place to be when he wasn’t on the road. There is also this photo of my grandparents together in the late 1990s and they are just greeting each other, I think it’s after my sister’s college graduation. They remained friends their whole life.
When someone picks up this book, what do you want them to get out of that experience?
My vision, when I created this book, was to show sides of him that people didn’t know, so a little bit of his personal side, but also his career. Different aspects of his life are presented in the book. It is a high end book and it is a collectors’ item, so I really wanted people to feel that they were getting something special, and my family and the editor felt the same way. There are a lot of contributors who wrote for this book – some of his friends, his family, and people in the music industry. I hope readers will walk away with the feeling that they learned something that they didn’t know about Frank Sinatra. And also just enjoy the images and the quality of the book. I hope the readers know that my family really wanted to do something special. Hopefully it resonates with the readers.
There are so many that contributed to this book – Martin Scorsese, Quincy Jones, Billy Joel, George Clooney. Is there one that was the most touching for you to read?
I love all the contributions. George Clooney’s was amazing, Quincy Jones is so personal and honest. The one that really hits to me is my grandmother’s contribution, which I sat and recorded and transcribed. It is so emotional and so heartfelt. I love what she has to say. I loved listening to her for a couple of hours that day, talking about her life and about my grandpa and how she remembers it and how she feels about it. That’s the one that really hits home with me.
There are a few photographs in this book that Frank Sinatra took himself. Is there any communality that you noticed in his style of photography or in his subjects?
I think he was a constant observer. And I think he had a sense of playfulness too – some of the images he shot are playful and fun. He loved taking pictures of his kids. He was more like a documentarian and I think he would be so modest about his photography skills. He would probably say: I always carry a camera, because I just want to document people in my life and places that I go to. I love looking at his photos, because they definitely show another side of him.
Charles Granata told me that your favorite album of Sinatra is “Watertown.” This is probably an impossible question, but of all the songs he recorded, could you pick a song that means the most to you?
Oh, my goodness! I honestly don’t think I could pick one. I have so many songs that I love, there are different renditions of songs that I love. On “Watertown” I love “For a While,” that’s probably my absolute favorite. I love “Put Your Dreams Away” and some of the real fun songs too, like from “Come Swing With Me,”“Five Minutes More”, “Sunny Side of the Street”. It’s so hard for me to pick just one, and I know that’s so boring!
For anyone who is listening or reading this interview, what would you say to them?
What my grandpa always said to me is this: The key lesson in life is to not be afraid of anybody or anything. I remember him saying that and I think it’s a good thing to always remind yourself when you are down. Never be afraid and keep going, live your life and enjoy every minute. That’s what he did and I try to do that, I really do.
What is the best thing about being Amanda Erlinger?
The best thing is that I have an amazing husband. He is the love of my life, he is my best friend. I’m lucky that I met him early on in my life, when I was 19 years old and he has always been there for me. That’s the best part of my life, and I have a wonderful family and a wonderful existence because of them. These people make me who I am and without them I wouldn’t be who I am. They are the best part of my life.
My last question: who is Amanda Erlinger?
Paul, these questions are very deep! I like to think that I’m a good person, a person of substance, that I strive to do my best every day and when I fall I pick myself back up. I hope that I’m a good wife, a good friend, a good sister and daughter, granddaughter, aunt, niece. And I hope that, in some small way, part of who I am is the work that I’ve done in my life, my creative work, but also the work that I’ve done with my family and the things that I’ve accomplished. Even though they seem modest, they are part of me. And I hope to continue to be proud and make the people in my life proud. I like to think of myself as an artist and a person with a good soul. I will continue to strive to be the best that I can be. And also have a little fun along the way!
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Listen to my interview with Amanda Erlinger here:Semnat de Paul Leslie