Emma Amos (b. 1938)
Amos designed a glass mosaic bench, bronze chair, and gazebo with mosaics and plantings, situated on three large ovals, as part of the Ralph David Abernathy Memorial Plaza in Atlanta. Completed for the Olympic Games in 1996, this permanent art and landscaping installation was commissioned by the Corporation for Olympic Development in Atlanta to honor civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy.
Family and Education
Amos was born on March 16, 1938, in Atlanta to India DeLaine Amos and Miles Green Amos. Biographical references permeate much of Amos's work. In Atlanta, where her family has lived for generations, she grew up in the rich cultural environment surrounding the middle-class African Americans of the city. She and her older brother, Larry, were nurtured and uplifted by this insular community. She pays homage to her family in the print series Odyssey, created in 1988.
Amos's maternal grandfather,
Amos's paternal great-grandfather, an Irishman whose surname was Donnelly, reared his daughter Minnie to be a servant for her white half sisters. Miles Green Amos, Minnie's son, left Atlanta for Ohio, where he graduated from Wilberforce University and the Cincinnati College of Pharmacy. Upon his return to Atlanta, he married India DeLaine Amos, and the couple, who were cousins, co-owned Amos Drug Store. The family had the means to enjoy rich cultural experiences within their community but also experienced the inequality of living under segregation. This included, for Emma Amos and her brother, an often second-rate education in the public school system.
Even as a young child, Amos knew that she would be an artist. When she was eleven, she took art lessons from Ruth Hall
In 1954, at the age of sixteen, Amos left Atlanta to attend Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where she majored in art and took courses in weaving. As part of the work-study program, she also spent part of each academic year working in Chicago, Illinois; New York City; and Washington, D.C. In her fourth year, she enrolled at the Central School of Art and Design in London, England, where she studied painting with William Turnbull and etching with Tony Harrison. Amos graduated from Antioch in 1958, then returned to London to complete her studies; she was awarded a diploma in 1960. During her time in Europe she became increasingly aware of the expressive properties of color and the sense of movement in the work of the abstract expressionists.
Amos next spent a year in Atlanta, where the New Arts Gallery held the first solo exhibition of her prints in 1960. She then relocated to New York City, where she continues to live. In New York she embarked upon a career as a textile designer with noted designer Dorothy Liebes, and studied etching with Letterio Calapai at Atelier 17 in Greenwich Village and lithography with Bob Blackburn at his Printmaking Workshop. She also attended New York University and received a master of arts degree in 1965.
After a five-year courtship, she and Robert Levine married in 1965. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Amos curtailed her activities while the couple's two children, India and Nicholas, were young. She taught weaving in Greenwich Village and at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art in New Jersey. For the 1977–78 season, she created and cohosted Show of Hands, a program produced by the educational television station WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts, that explores the intersection of traditional crafts and art.
In 1980 Amos began teaching at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she is a professor and former chair. Interested in feminist issues, she played a prominent role in several feminist collectives, including the magazines Heresies and M/E/A/N/I/N/G. In 1994 she was appointed chair of the board of governors for the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and in 1996 she continued as cochair with artist David Reed.
By the 1980s Amos's style was fully developed. Complex in design and meaning, her work demands much of the artist and the viewer. Amos often works in overlapping series of mixed-media prints and paintings that explore such issues as family and friends, flawed heroes, self-censorship, feminism, racism, multiculturalism, and political identity. She carefully titles her work with subtle references to popular culture, African history, and politics, and often responds to acclaimed masterpieces of modern art.
Amos's technique incorporates her diverse training and contains distinctive features. Multihued figures that populate many of her images are often seen in motion, floating, falling, and extending beyond the picture plane. Textiles are used to add color and texture. Woven fabric, either African textiles or her own weaving, borders her work and is meant as an anchor and a point of context and connection. Powerful symbols proliferate—Xs, handprints, eyes, and flags vary in placement and meaning.
Amos's work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and she has received numerous awards and accolades, including a Georgia Women in the Visual Arts Award in 1997.
Her work is part of many public collections, including those of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.
Emma Amos, Emma Amos: Paintings and Prints, 1982–92, exhibition catalog (Wooster, Ohio: College of Wooster Art Museum, 1993).
Emma Amos and Bell Hooks, Emma Amos: Changing the Subject: Paintings and Prints, 1992-1994 (New York: Art in General, 1994).
Karen Towers Klacsmann, Morris Museum of Art
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.