October 06â€“October 30 . 2011
Amze Emmons . Kevin Haas
Disintegration and Sprawl
Amze Emmons Kevin Haas
Disintegration and Sprawl A conversation between Amze Emmons and Kevin Haas.
KH: I have always been curious how you got involved with your particular subject matter of temporary shelters, tents, detritus, and neglected spaces. AE: It seems that I’ve always been interested in place and dislocation. I’m sure there are a number of contributing factors. At one level I find the politics and concepts surrounding ‘Place’ very intellectually compelling. From another more personal vantage point, I come from a long line of people who picked up and moved with each generation, so I didn’t really grow up with a strong sense of being from a place. And for various reasons, paying attention to architecture was ingrained into me at an early age. At this point I’ve been exploring these ideas in my work for a very long time. So the threads between theoretical interests and personal motivations were interwoven long ago. Specifically, the Refugee Architecture work came from a kind of dislocation and procedural prompt. When I moved to my home (Philadelphia) about six years ago, I was really out of sorts. It felt like I had moved almost yearly for the previous decade, and my studio was reduced to a pile of boxes. I needed to work my way out the place I found myself in. It occurred to me that the only constant in my life at that moment was the weekly delivery of the New York Times Sunday Edition. So I set myself up with the prompt of having to start something new every week using a clipping as the jumping-off point for a new image. This was in 2005 and the year was full of wars, bombings, tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. I found myself horrified at the number of people who were being displaced, but also drawn to the way communities would seem to grow out of the rubble. That was probably the start of my research into refugees and the architecture of displacement and since then the work has taken on its own life. How about yourself? Where does your imagery come from? Also, one thing I’ve always loved about your work is the minimal graphic reduction. What led you there? KH: Wow, my connection is so different. It comes from growing up in suburban St Louis, but regularly commuting into the city past the very industrial and neglected north side along the Mississippi River. I can distinctly remember driving past an abandoned cement plant on the north edge of St Louis when I was a child sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car. I don’t remember how old I was but it left a lasting impression on me. I visited it again when I was an undergrad
and did some drawings and a print of it. It wasn’t until grad school that I actually completed a series of pieces based on that cement plant, which helped solidify a lot of my interests. I printed large photographs of it on paper using ‘Liquid Light’ and paired them with screen prints of diagrams from a Department of the Interior manual on cement construction from the 1950s. Despite all the careful tests and studies, here was the place the concrete came from - torn open and derelict. AE: Not to turn it around, but the connections actually seem fairly similar. Each project had a prompt from a distinct childhood memory or experience. And we both seem to be trying to make the familiar strange. And we seem to have developed our own distinct forms of ‘field work’ to research our inspiration. It’s no wonder I love your work so much! KH: For me the minimal graphic reduction functions in a number of different ways. Initially it relates to architectural plans and drawings, and of the seemingly endless potential for commercial development. But ultimately, it hopefully comes across as something that is empty, unfulfilling, and weak. I have also been using a lot of silhouettes that for me float in this space of modern purity. But that progress hopefully gives way to a kind of emptiness and failure. AE: There is a lot to think about here. I also find myself coming back to this idea of ‘modern purity’ and its emptiness and failure. I think in a way I’m really interested in the failure of the modernist project as well. In my work, the solid, stationary, ‘permanent’ architecture always seems to loom large, but carrying the empty promises of progress, stability and security. And of course, these buildings are surrounded by rubble and the shanty communities that have hacked their way into the spaces left behind. KH: While I create my work from photos and videos I shoot in these places, it sounds as though you experience the places you depict in a very mediated or
Amze Emmons, The Sleepwalker’s Language, 2010, graphite and gouache on paper, 18.5 x 24”
second-hand way. How do you reconcile this detachment with the grittiness and neglect we can see in your work? Is there a balance between fiction, metaphor, and the reality of these environments for you? Does the environment of Philadelphia and its surroundings play into your work? AE: Good question. After a few years of working solely from mediated sources I found myself craving a kind of local particular. So I took up my camera and sketchbook again. I began to go on walks, or dérives, around the city looking for examples of vernacular architecture or place-hacking that I could weave into my drawings. My process began to take on a collage aspect in which the local and global were collapsed into a new invented place through drawing. KH: It’s funny that you should mention dérives. I suppose the way I gather video and photos to use is not unlike a dérive, but I feel that my travel is so controlled and predetermined by systems of highways and access to shopping that I’m always on a bit of an anti-dérive. AE: The distant authority of the graphic, print language that my work often uses (key lines, flat shapes of color) seems to be a critical element in locking those components together. I wonder if the way you reference architectural schematics, or your use of the bold, minimal silhouette, operates in a similar way? Is it important that the work makes those references to those elements from visual culture? KH: I’m interested in this combination of the local and the mediated global image that seems to be emerging in your work. For me the sprawling commercial landscapes are definitely local in that they exist in a particular place, but they are also completely ubiquitous – inescapable in North America – and always reference a dependence on global resources and production. I think an uncertainty about modernism is an overwhelming theme in both of our practices – and its
Kevin Haas, ID8-03, 2009, lithograph on mulberry paper, 10 x 12.5”
legacy still has a significant presence in the built environment despite living in a post-modern/late-capitalist society. Perhaps our work underscores the current economic crisis and looming environmental concerns over resources and sustainability. We both witnessed an unprecedented amount of growth in the cities across North America through the 90s and 2000s. Now the building spree has changed gears, yet we will have to live with it for decades to come. I haven’t thought as much about the authority of the printed image, although I would definitely say it is an important part of my ‘Inventory’ series of prints. I have always been interested in how creating prints – a form of production – parallels the places I depict. First it was industrial sites in St Louis and Chicago. Now it’s about depicting things and places that are mass produced – the tension between making something by hand but potentially making many of them, and trying to have a sense of self or agency in these ubiquitous environments. I don’t try to make any overt references, but I do try to work within graphic traditions. Another thing that could be seen as similar in our work is that the places we depict seem very inhospitable, but we both do things to make them visually appealing – me often with transparency and subtle grays, you with a bright and playful use of color. Do you think there is both some love and some hate going on here? AE: Oh definitely! But I would maybe favor saying that my (our?) work sits comfortably within its complexity. I feel like I’m creating images of places that people spend a lot of effort to ‘un-see.’ I want my audience to see these things with fresh eyes, and color and composition lend themselves to that goal. And honestly, I am captivated by the way people who are displaced will make places for themselves; the way detritus can be adaptively re-used; the way people persevere and communities form. Or to answer that question in a more succinct way, the relationship between form and content is intentionally complicated. Collage
Amze Emmons, Diminishing Marginal Returns, 2008, graphite, gouache and acrylic on panel, 20 x 24”
is a kind of world creation, but made from bits from the world we live in. Handpainted signs, street vendors, and scraps of fabric I see while on a walk around the city inform my color decisions – another layer in the collage. One last question, what are you working on next? KH: Great question – whenever I’m particularly busy, like now, and don’t actually have time to work, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I would like to be working on. I just finished another faux billboard that will be up in Portland, Oregon in October. The first was of an abandoned Shell gas station. The new one is of a disused billboard – hence the title ‘Double Billboard.’ I’m just starting to work on more pieces like this – but smaller in scale – to emulate the proliferation of ‘for sale’/’for lease’ signs we now see. I am also fixated on gas stations, and you will probably see more of them soon from me. My subject matter of the built environment has remained constant for nearly 20 years – but it always suggests so many possibilities for me. How about you – any surprises on the horizon? AE: In the very short term, Philly has city-wide open studios in a few weeks, so I need to clean-up! But I’ll be continuing to work on this body of work in my studio where I have a handful of half-started new drawings. This past summer I just built a screen printing set-up in my studio, so I’m looking forward to making some new prints as well. And I’ve also had some interest in creating another iteration of the Refugee Reading Room installation project I created at Space 1026 last fall. Lots of exciting things coming up.
Kevin Haas, ID8-09, 2009, lithograph on mulberry paper, 10 x 12.5”
Amze Emmons, Having Fled Already, 2011, graphite and gouache on paper, 22 x 30â€?
Kevin Haas, I90: Exit 280, 2011, lithograph on mulberry paper, 15 x 20â€?
Kevin Haas, Spokane: North Division, 2008, lithograph on mulberry paper, 15 x 40â€?
Amze Emmons, National Treasures, 2010, graphite and gouache on paper, 18.5 x 24â€?
Amze Emmons, Suitable for Mass Transit, 2008, graphite, gouache and acrylic on panel, 30 x 36â€?
Amze Emmons, Chemical Heritage, 2011, graphite and gouache on paper, 22 x 30â€? Kevin Haas, I90: Exit 285, 2011, lithograph on mulberry paper, 15 x 20â€?
About Amze Emmons Amze Emmons (b. 1974, Amsterdam, NY) 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, street art, information graphics, news footage, consumer packaging, instruction manuals and cinematic space-time. Emmons received a BFA from Ohio Wesleyan University and a MA and MFA from the University of Iowa. He has held solo exhibitions at Space 1026, Philadelphia; OHT Gallery, Boston; and Works on Paper Gallery, Philadelphia. His work has been exhibited in group exhibitions including EFA Project Space and the International Print Center, New York; the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, Wilmington; the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines; Wendy Cooper Gallery, Chicago; and The Print Center, Philadelphia. 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 New American Paintings, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe, among other publications. He has taught at the University of Vermont and the University of Iowa and is currently an associate professor of art at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. Emmons is also a co-founder and contributor of the popular art blog, Printeresting.org. About Kevin Haas Kevin Haas (b. 1971, St. Louis, MO) grew up in the rust belt of the Midwest, inspired by the abandoned industrial areas of St Louis, Chicago, and Gary, Indiana. He earned his BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a MFA from Indiana University where he studied printmaking and digital media. He is currently an Associate Professor at Washington State University where he coordinates the printmaking department. Since 1995 his work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions across the US and in Canada. He has been included in exhibits at OHGE Ltd. and Davidson Galleries in Seattle, the Jundt Museum in Spokane and Deluge Contemporary Art in Victoria, BC. He is a recipient of both the Artist Trust Fellowship and GAP grants, and was an artist in residence at the Frans Masereel Center in Belgium in 2010. CHRISTINA RAY is an innovative gallery and creative catalyst in New York. Our mission, grounded by the concept of psychogeography, is to discover and present the most important contemporary artists exploring the relationship between people and places.
front cover: Amze Emmons, Asset Based Approach, 2010, graphite, gouache and acrylic on panel, 18.5 x 24” Kevin Haas, I5: Tacoma, 2010, lithograph on mulberry paper, 14 x 28” back cover: Amze Emmons, Fear of Thunder, 2006, graphite, gouache and acrylic on panel, 20 x 24”
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