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Emma Amos

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Emma Amos (b. 1937 - d. 2020) was an artist whose practice includes painting, works on paper, weaving and experimental print-making. She was the youngest and only woman member of Spiral, the historic African American collective founded in 1963. She later became a member of the important feminist collective, Heresies, founded in the 1980s. Influenced by modern Western European art, Abstract Expressionism, the Civil Rights movement and feminist ideals, Amos explored the politics of culture and issues of racism, sexism and ethnocentrism through her paintings and works on paper. Her six-decade career considered color theory, texture and innovative printmaking techniques to engage the art historical canon and how women and Black bodies have been represented within it.

A wildly inventive artist and printmaker, Amos’s oeuvre boasts a remarkable range in scale, medium and technical innovation. Adept in both figurative and abstract works, Amos worked from small to very large scale in both her paintings and prints. Her printmaking practice includes a substantial use of lithography, etching, woodcut, silkscreen, collagraph, monotype, collage, offset lithography, weaving, collage and photo transfer. Amos found her voice in breaking rules in terms of her use of medium and her choice of subject. She did not shy away from incorporating craft in the fine arts even as she fought to be taken seriously as a black woman artist. She didn’t hesitate to turn her focus on the politically fraught and institutionally inconvenient subject of the subjugation of women and black people. Indeed, with her remarkable mastery of color and form, Amos’s works are frequently a celebration of the black body, consistently reminding the viewer, the critic and the art world at large of the undeniably important presence of black and female body that has so often been overlooked.

Born in segregated Atlanta, GA, Amos graduated from Antioch College in Ohio in 1958 and the Central School of Art in London in 1960. She subsequently moved to New York and became active in the downtown arts scene, working alongside prominent Spiral artists such as Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Norman Lewis, Alvin Hollingsworth, and Charles Alston. In 1965, she earned her Masters in Arts from New York University and taught art at the Dalton School in New York. She was also a Professor and former Chair of the Visual Arts Department at the Mason Gross School of Art at Rutgers University, where she taught for 28 years. Amos received the Georgia Museum of Art’s Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson prize in 2016, and in the same year the Studio Museum in Harlem honored her as an Icon, along with Faith Ringgold and Lorraine O’Grady. As her health declined in 2014, her artistic production began to slow. She moved to New Hampshire in 2019.

Her work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the Bass Museum of Art, Miami; Birmingham Museum of Art, AL; Blanton Museum of Art, TX; British Museum, London; Bronx Museum of Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Cleveland Museum, OH; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, AR; Fowler Museum of Art, Los Angeles; James F. Byrnes Institute, Stuttgart, DE; Museo de las Artes, Guadalajara, MX; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Nasher Museum of Art, NC; Newark Museum, New Jersey; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, among others.

In 2020, Amos has been included in the current exhibitions Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition at the Phillips Collection, With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972–1985, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is currently on view at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, and will next travel to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Emma Amos: Color Odyssey, a retrospective of Amos’s work, will open at the Georgia Museum of Art in 2021 and will travel to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Munson-Williams- Proctor Arts Institute in New York.

RYAN LEE Gallery represents Amos’s paintings and original works.
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