IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair Online Exclusive: Emma Amos
Mary Ryan Gallery is pleased to present a selection of prints by Emma Amos for the 2020 edition of the IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair online exclusive, surveying an artistically and historically important career. Part of an earlier generation of black American artists who have only recently begun to receive recognition for their contributions, Amos has been a wildly inventive and experimental printmaker for over 60 years and has self-published most of her prints, expanding the canon of printmaking in both materiality and subject matter. She includes lithography, etching, woodcut, silkscreen, collagraph, monotype, offset lithography, weaving, collage and photo transfer in her printmaking practice. From an initial interest in Abstract Expressionism while she was studying at the London Central School of Art in the 1950's, to more politically and culturally engaged works that came to fruition in the 1970s and 1980s, Amos’ range in artistic interests and direction speaks to the incredibly versatile career she has led.
In this exhibition, a selection of Amos' prints from the 1960s through the 2000s are included, representing the wide variety of media Amos has mastered. Amos delves into abstraction in Untitled (1962), one of the earliest prints in her career. She tackles the tenuous position black women find themselves in within American society in Josephine & The Mountain Gorilla (diptych) (1984), and co-opts the Confederate flag with photo-transfers of family photographs bearing witness to America’s painfully racist past in X-Man (1992) and Captured (1993). In Beauty (retirage) (2001), Amos celebrates the black body in all of its natural beauty.
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Etching and lithograph
20 1/8 x 26 1/8 inches (51.1 x 66.4 cm)
Edition size unknown, only a few
impressions made, 3 known APs
3 Ladies, 1970
Etching, relief and silkscreen on vinyl mylar; Print in 5 parts
Composition: 63 x 39 1/2 inches (160 x 100.3 cm)
Edition of 20
Amos’ early works from the 1960s and 1970s frequently experimented with handmade paper, new materials, and printing one image across multiple sheets. The ambitious work 3 Ladies combines etching, relief and silkscreen as well as Mylar (a polyester film) to depict the figures of three women across five sheets. Amos also explored representing several varied skin tones across one body, a motif she frequently returned to as a challenge to the preconceptions of race.
Silkscreen on vinyl mylar
23 x 27 inches (58.4 x 68.6 cm)
Edition of 11
Etching and aquatint
20 x 26 inches (50.8 x 66 cm)
Edition size unknown, likely just a few proofs exist
This etching features a work within a work: a woman sits in the background of a bedroom and gazes over to a painting Amos made of her four-year-old daughter, India. The two figures simultaneously look out at the viewer.
The fact that Amos chose to draw a depiction of her daughter rather than directly including India in the scene is important. In this way, the print records a powerful interaction between the seated woman and the painting of Amos’ daughter: a black woman studying the painted representation of a black child. As an artist and activist, Amos has long been preoccupied with representation in the arts and the way black women are conceived of in popular culture.
Girl with Checkered Tablecloth, 1978
Etching and silkscreen
22 1/4 x 29 inches (56.5 x 73.7 cm)
Edition size unknown, only a few impressions made, 6 known APs
Secrets (4 parts), 1981
Etching, aquatint, chine collé and handmade paper with collage and hand weaving
21 x 20 3/4 inches (53.3 x 52.7 cm) each
43 x 42 1/2 inches (109.2 x 107.6 cm) (including spacing)
Edition of 15
This four-paneled etching on hand-made paper is distinguished by the weavings that Amos collaged onto her composition. This print marks an era in Amos’ career where she began including her own hand-woven fabrics in her paintings—an innovation that speaks to her boundary pushing practice as an artist.
Amos spins a sense of mystery in this work, as a woman peaks out at the viewer—her face duplicated in two places, her form interrupted by the multi-panel aspect of the work, her body covered in amorphous shapes and textiles that ambiguously served as the woman’s clothes. The woman here is deconstructed, her partially cloaked face beckoning the view to make sense of the puzzle she poses, hinging between abstraction and realism.
Josephine & The Mountain Gorilla (diptych), 1984
Monoprint, pencil, crayon
30 x 44 inches (76.2 x 111.8 cm) overall
30 x 22 inches (76.2 x 55.9 cm) each
In this print, Josephine Baker—the French-American icon, global star and arguably the most visible black entertainer of her time—stars as a new way for Amos to reconstruct blackness and femininity in her work. By depicting Baker’s elegant figure next to that of a gorilla, Amos reclaims the juxtaposition of black people and jungle animals—so often used in racist colonialist tropes to demean rather than celebrate. This work evokes the grace, beauty and strength of both woman and animal. Baker herself owned various wild animals, including a cheetah and a chimpanzee.
X Man, 1992
Monotype with photo transfer
30 x 22 inches (76.2 x 55.9 cm)
Edition of 4
X Man uses a photo transfer of a George Shivery photograph taken in the 1930s in either Mississippi or Tennessee, where he worked as a photographer. Set against a deep blue backdrop, Amos’ inclusion of her uncle Shivrey’s picture embeds her print with the historical and traumatic truth of segregation and pays homage to Shivrey's art as well. The X slashing across the print is reminiscent of the Confederate flag—a racist symbol Amos frequently incorporated in her own artistic vocabulary as a tool for protest and denunciation. Indeed, Amos has used the X slashing in her paintings and prints for over 50 years to indicate the erasure of women and black people from history.
Classic and Universal (diptych), 1995
Unique, photo transfer and oil
20 x 52 inches (50.8 x 132 cm) overall
20 x 26 inches (50.8 x 66 cm) each
Baby (diptych), 2001
Unique stencil printed on fabric with woven African fabric border
Woman: 61 x 26 3/4 inches (154.9 x 67.9 cm)
Man: 61 1/2 x 35 1/4 inches (156.2 x 89.5 cm)
Beauty (retirage), 2001
Unique, oil on rice paper
65 1/2 x 46 inches (166.4 x 116.9 cm)
Beauty (retirage) is a print impression taken from another print. Amos first used the stunning almost life-size silhouette visible in this oil on rice paper in Baby (diptych), where she used lithographic ink on felt. She then took an impression (a retirage) of Baby’s isolated female figure to create this—a depiction that seems so effortless, the woman’s silhouette looks like she was caught mid-dance.