Sarah Amos’ new prints are laced with dotted lines that run through the works like paths on a map, tracing routes or outlining dangerous landforms. They are allusions to landscape, but also to multiplicity and the importance of context: each dash might tell its own story, but is part of something larger.
Each of these lines is hand-stitched, and it can take Amos up to a month to build up a background before beginning to print the other elements of the work. They are not stitched into paper either, but a heavy acrylic felt.
Amos has never been a traditional printmaker – she has never released editions, for instance. The decision to begin printing on textiles was partly the result of being awarded the Painters & Sculptors grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation in 2014, which gave her time to research and develop the new technique. But it also comes from a longstanding desire to push the boundaries of what printmaking can be and do. As she puts it: “You always want to see what it [an image] would look like on other surfaces.”
Her collagraphs on felt, canvas and raw linen are cut out and arranged over her textured background before being stitched down. Some pieces are padded, giving the work a sculptural dimension. To her mind, it is the same way of layering and working with an image that she developed with her earlier hybrid prints which combined collagraphs with gouache, but with the additional flexibility of being able to move elements of the work before committing to a composition.
And like with her hybrid prints, Amos dextrously manipulates the relationships between the different elements of her work. She sees it as vital that her works are immediately arresting and hold up at a distance, but that they are just as compelling from a few centimetres away. It sets up a cascading sequence of interplay: between bold graphic statements and absorbing detail; between sharp-cut printed lines and rough-spun texture; between the macro and the micro.
It’s telling that the sense of the work shifts depending on the vantage point. In Amos’ works, nothing quite has a solid meaning. They are complex webs of intersecting, overlapping and competing relationships – both between the elements of the work itself and the viewer as well. Within this framework, definitions and identities appear entirely contextual.
Printmaking is perhaps the perfect medium for someone working with such shifting sands. She describes it as an art form designed for the hidden metaphor, and talks about the palimpsest effect that is created when an image is dissected into layers during the printmaking process. There is a certain obliqueness, a hint at what might be left unsaid, that she seems to revel in.
Amos’ works might appear to fall within the genre of abstract landscape. There’s no doubt she’s a something of a nomad. She mainly works out of her studio in Vermont, but returns to Australia for months at a time, and the influence of these two very different environments is always present in her work. But while specific landscapes often provide a starting point for her work, her research can range over iconography, textiles, culture, or whatever else captures her imagination.
Her interest is in distilling the experience of a place, but this always spans more than just the physical. There is logic to this, when you consider culture as an extension of landscape, as stemming from a human response to the challenges and opportunities provided by a particular geography. But it also begins an interesting discussion about our relationship with landscape, what makes place, and what makes identity. Like the dotted lines, it would seem that each part is meaningless without the other.
Essay by Jane O’Sullivan, 2015