Artist Ace Amillion sees the world through faces

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PITTSFIELD — When artist Ace Amillion sits across from someone, she really sees them — the shadows on their face, the way skin tones reflect different colors.

"I study people's faces all the time," Amillion said, while giving her signature, full-attention stare to this reporter. "It's the way my mind is always working."

The Pittsfield-based artist, whose given name is Amber MacNeil, has made faces, and somehow the light and life that comes from within them, her signature. But, she's quick to add, that while she loves doing charcoal-based portraits, her style is constantly evolving.

"I just started working with paint," she said. "I want to work with as many mediums as possible while I'm honing my own style. I'm still exploring."

Amillion's current style was on full display at Uncorked Wine & Beer Lounge on North Street in Pittsfield, where her gallery of large-scale, acrylic canvas portraits were recently on view. The exhibit "Women's Empowerment," is comprised of six portraits of women who Amillion said inspired her by how they used their voices, their power, to make change: Maya Angelou, Malala Yousafzai, Hellen Keller, Yuri Kochiyama, Rosa Parks and Anne Frank.

"These women deserve to be spoken about, acknowledged, even if it's just a moment in time," Amillion said, imagining her artwork hanging on the dark walls of the wine bar, sparking conversations among patrons about the women and their legacies.

The 29-year-old also has work hanging in Prado's Cafe in Lee, where she waitresses four days a week when she's not also working as a personal care assistant. The work in this cafe is more intimate, smaller in scale, but just as big in meaning to Amillion. These framed smiling faces were studied by the artist last year in Guatemala, when she went on a volunteer trip to help build a school with Ecobricks, plastic bottles that are densely packed with used plastic to create reusable building blocks.

"It was such a humbling experience," she said, smiling while looking up at the portraits. "I love the community there." She'll return to the school she helped build in a few weeks, this time with her completed artwork to be hung on the Ecobrick walls. Amillion feels strongly about travel and volunteer work, "I really don't want the tourist experience," she said.

Someday, she said, she hopes to join the Peace Corps. This year, she plans on three trips — a lot for this working artist. "It's a big goal, so I'm really trying to get my artwork to pick up," she said with a laugh.

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Like the faces reflected in Amillion's portraits, the artist is full of life, energy and a drive to see and do more.

"I believe in myself," she said. "I wanted to see the world, but had no idea how to do it."

Amillion moved to Berkshire County eight years ago and started taking art classes at Berkshire Community College. She had always been drawing, she said, and was born into a family of artists. During one of her art classes, she was handed charcoal — something she didn't like at first: "It's messy, and drawing a straight line is so difficult."

But then, something clicked.

"You can get your hands in it; get messy in a good way," she said.

Her work started popping up around Pittsfield and she started making connections with people in the community, meeting mentors and other artists. A decision to walk into the former Tyler Street Lab storefront led to having studio space for some time, and meeting community members that helped her get her artwork into more spaces where it can be seen.

"I heard they had a few vacant offices to be rented," she said. "I loved the space and the energy and the people, so I picked a space and went through the procedures, of course, but it happened very quickly and then all of the sudden the lab was an important part of my life."

The chance meeting of the space and the people is something that is important to Amillion and how she lives her life, as an artist, volunteer and student of the world, she said. She feels deeply that when a person feels spontaneous, attracted to something, they need to turn their attention fully to it, to jump in charcoal deep, so to speak.

"Pay attention to that feeling, and act on it," she said.


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