"Scenic Route" Preview: Studio Visit with Amze Emmons
Posted: Mar 26 2015
My studio practice is built on systems of research; I scan the media-scape for cues, images or phrases that draw connections between human migration, community, mobility, transience and the over-arching politics of architecture. In making, I work at the point where drawing and the mechanical language of print intersect. The images have a sense of magical/minimal realism that is inspired by architectural illustration, comic books, cartoon language, street art, information graphics, news footage, consumer packaging, instructional manuals.
For the past several years my artwork has found its metaphors in the architecture of cities and global material culture. Responding to our age of precarity, I am drawn to interrelated public phenomena that evidence local agency and adaptation, such as portable and ephemeral building structures, refugee architecture, rubble and detritus, improvised street furniture, and more recently, street markets and informal sites of exchange. These phenomena create a network that visually connects my home city, Philadelphia, to global locations I’ve only experienced through documentary news footage. Media images depicting the topical tragedies of the moment—the smoking shells of buildings, car bombings, and refugee migrations—echo the shapes, forms, and horizon lines that I notice in my own city.
While comparing the local with the mediated global, I perceive a common improvised, vernacular aesthetic that reveals a shared perseverance in the face of uncertainty and hardship. I find these public phenomena most often in communities losing the debate between local needs (for food, shelter, community, commerce) and global shifts (economic change, climate change, political estrangement). My artwork is not intended to glorify calamity, but rather to distill and catalog the peripheral patterns in our daily world, making them perceptible.
Through erasure, drawing and collage, the world of the source begins to change. Editing and combining imagery to make visual connections between seemingly disparate events, constellations form and something new emerges. These new images are then run through the graphic filter of Print. I will often quote directly from printed visual culture materials to determine formal constraints. By working with the anonymous authority of printed graphics, I merge my invented/collaged images with a documentary realism. I want to trouble notions of absolute certainty; I want the viewer of my work to question the sensation that global narratives are completely removed from our subjective realities. We normally see these kinds of documentary images as topical, disposable, something to process and consume quickly. By sifting through the pictorial evidence of displacement and strife I discover what is hidden in plain view: essential visual elements that let the eye linger and keep the viewer from turning the page.
Amze Emmons is a Philadelphia-based, multi-disciplinary artist with a background in drawing and printmaking. His images evoke a sense of magical/minimal realism inspired by architectural illustration, comic books, cartoon language, information graphics, news footage, consumer packaging, and instruction manuals.
Emmons received a BFA from Ohio Wesleyan University and a MA and MFA from the University of Iowa. He has held solo exhibitions in, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, among other locations. His work has been included in group exhibitions in innovative commercial galleries, artist-run spaces, and non-profit institutions. Emmons has received numerous awards including a Fellowship in the Arts from the Independence Foundation; an Individual Creative Artist Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Arts Council; and a Fellowship at the MacDowell Colony. His work has received critical attention in The Huffington Post, Itsnicethat.com, Coolhunting.com, New American Paintings, as well as many other print publications. He is currently an Associate Professor at Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. Emmons is also a co-founder and co-contributing editor of the popular art blog, Printeresting.org.