IN THIS MOMENT OF CHALLENGES, uncertainty, and promise, Ryan Lee Gallery is presenting a timely exhibition of works by Emma Amos (1937-2020). “Emma Amos: Falling Figures” brings together figurative paintings that depict bodies in free fall—indeterminable states of abandon, loss, anxiety, rescue, and trust.

This exhibition is the first dedicated to the falling figure motif in her work, beginning with her Falling Series (1988-1992) produced three decades ago.

On Nov. 26, 2011, Amos spoke to Patricia Spears Jones about the Falling Series during an oral history interview for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. They were in conversation in the artist’s loft studio on Bond Street in New York City. Amos said:

    I liked the idea of using the sky instead of having everybody just standing. So I also had a feeling that we were going into a bad period. And I’m not sure whether that was the proper metaphor, but it seemed to be right because I could use the figures as escaping or use the figures as going to a better place, depending on the color or who was holding who or whether it was two or three characters going by.

    I liked the idea that if you were falling through the air, that there would be somebody who was trying to catch you or there was somebody holding onto you, so there was two of you together. It just seemed to be an interesting idea, and also to think of the body, as to how you would turn it, where was it going. Were the people afraid? Did they look unhappy? And in general, nobody ever looked unhappy in this series.

“I liked the idea that if you were falling through the air, that there would be somebody who was trying to catch you or there was somebody holding onto you, so there was two of you together.” — Emma Amos

Many of the paintings presented at Ryan Lee are being shown publicly for the first time. A digital catalog accompanies the exhibition. The publication includes citations from the bell hooks, Lucy Lippard, Thalia Gouma-Peterson, and the artist herself. A few of their observations of the Falling Figures works are featured below.

This gallery show follows the passing of Amos earlier this year and explores a significant aspect of her practice in advance of a major upcoming museum exhibition. The traveling retrospective, “Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” opens in 2021 at the Georgia Museum of Art. CT

 

TOP IMAGE: Installation view of “Emma Amos: Fallen Figures,” Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, N.Y., 2020. Shown, EMMA AMOS, “The Overseer,” circa 1992. | Courtesy Estate of the Artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 

“Emma Amos” Falling Figures,” Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, N.Y., Sept. 10-Nov. 7, 2020. View Catalog

 


EMMA AMOS, “Into the Dangerous World I leapt (Blake) & The Design Falls,” 1988 (acrylic on canvas with hand-woven fabric and African fabric borders Diptych, top 33 x 65 inches / 83.8 x 165.1 cm; bottom: 33 1/4 x 67 1/2 inches / 84.5 x 171.5 cm). | © Emma Amos, Estate of the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 


Installation view of “Emma Amos: Fallen Figures,” Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, N.Y., 2020. | Courtesy Estate of the Artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 


EMMA AMOS, “Clouds of Joy,” 2002 (acrylic on canvas with African fabric borders, 66 3/4 x 43 3/4 inches / 169.5 x 111.1 cm). | © Emma Amos, Courtesy Estate of the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 


EMMA AMOS, “Tumbling After,” 1986 (acrylic on canvas with hand-woven fabric and African fabric borders, 74 x 49 1/2 inches ? 188 x 125.7 cm). | © Emma Amos, Courtesy Estate of the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 


Installation view of “Emma Amos: Fallen Figures,” Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, N.Y., 2020. | Courtesy Estate of the Artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 


EMMA AMOS, “The Root of All Evil, Art Against Apartheid, 1989 (acrylic on canvas with African fabric borders, 30 x 24 1/2 inches / 76.2 x 62.2 cm).| © Emma Amos, Courtesy Estate of the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 


EMMA AMOS, “The Overseer,” circa 1992 (acrylic on canvas with photo transfer, hand-woven fabric, and African fabric borders, Triptych, Overall: 84 x 168 inches / 213.4 x 426.7 cm). | © Emma Amos, Courtesy Estate of the Artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 
    “Charting in her early work the social construction of the artist’s identity in relation to the private world of kin and family, of loved ones chosen outside the realm of the familiar, the dangerous. Placing her own image in paintings and prints that depicta world where she could ever “belong,” Amos resists objectification and subordination. Subversely announcing her subjectivity via the imaginative appropriation of the space of power occupied by white males, she emerges from the shadows to call attention to subjugated knowledge. In painting The Overseer, she links repressive white supremacy to attempts to control and define images of whiteness and blackness.”

    — bell hooks, Art on My Mind, 1995

 


EMMA AMOS, “Women and Children First Howardena’s Portrait,” 1990 (acrylic on canvas with hand-woven fabric and African fabric borders, 74 x 71 1/2 inches / 188 x 181.6 cm). | © Emma Amos, Courtesy Estate of the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 
    “Amos is still working with falling figures. But the people eventually became “not just figures, but real people,” recalling some earlier work. “I do feel there is nothing new. We are running out of text that is ourselves and we modulate slowly over a period of time.” While much of her time now is spent making watercolor portraits of women artists, there are still overlaps with the “falling series.” [Here picture is her friend Howardena Pindell.] “I’m certainly not saying women artists are beginning to fall or artists are going to help. But our civilization, our way of life, our values, are up in the air. I would like to move away from them as a metaphor for civilization, flying through the air and being disconnected,” she says, “but somehow I just can’t end it.”

    — Lucy Lippard, Floating, Falling, Landing (1991)

 


Installation view of “Emma Amos: Fallen Figures,” Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, N.Y., 2020. | Courtesy Estate of the Artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 


EMMA AMOS, “Thurgood and Thelonious, Some Names to Name Your Children, 1989 (acrylic on canvas with hand-woven fabric, paper collage, and African fabric borders; Triptych, Overall: 83 x 82 inches / 210.8 x 208.5 cm). | © Emma Amos, Courtesy Estate of the Artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 


EMMA AMOS, “Targets,” 1989 (acrylic on canvas with hand-woven fabric and African fabric borders, 57 x 73 1/2 inches / 144.8 x 186.7 cm). | © Emma Amos, Courtesy Estate of the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 
    “Having lept into the dangerous world, Amos saw other endangered people of many colors hurtling through space, becoming targets (Curtains, Targets, 1989) falling into a brilliant red Sky (Red Sky Falling, I, II, III, 1989), holding on to each other for help (Catch, 1990). But in spite of great uncertainty and grave danger for all these falling people, the colouristic brilliance of the paintings provides an element of hope and the ever-present frames of woven or printed African cloth add a tangible context, something for the figures to hold on to. They are the margins which remained firm, as a center collapses.”

    — Thalia Gouma Peterson, Reclaiming Presence: The Art and Politics of Color in Emma Amos’s Work, College of Wooster Museum of Art catalog, Emma Amos: Paintings and Prints 1982-1992

 


Installation view of “Emma Amos: Fallen Figures,” Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, N.Y., 2020. | Courtesy Estate of the Artist and Ryan Lee Gallery

 

BOOKSHELF
A digital catalog was published to accompany the “Emma Amos: Falling Figures” exhibition at Ryan Lee Gallery. In addition, a catalog will be published to accompany the forthcoming exhibition “Emma Amos: Color Odyssey.” “Emma Amos: Paintings and prints 1982-92” documents the artist’s 1993 solo exhibition at the College of Wooster Art Museum in Wooster, Ohio. Paintings by Emma Amos were recently featured in two major museum exhibitions. “Soul of the Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” was published to document the landmark traveling exhibition. Two publications were produced to coincide with “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85,” a Sourcebook featuring an invaluable collection of historic articles about Black women artist’s activities, insights, challenges, and triumphs navigating the art world, along with New Perspectives, a collection of original essays.

 

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