KMAC Artist Spotlight: Fiber Artist Michelle Amos,
Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft's Artist-in-Residence
by Margaret Phillips
In a triptych of her most current artwork, 'Ohio River Rising on a Tree Line,' Michelle Amos' Ohio River flows in a silent rush. Each of her sculptural fiber vessels reveals warm-hued river water moving steadily over soil, roots, trunks, branches. From one vessel to the other, it is easy to imagine the left-behind history of the river: the rich dark water lines etched into tree bark, the gradual channels being carved into the submerged limestone. Amos' vessels bring to life the conversation taking place between tree and river, soil and stone. In the grace of movement, each sculpture reveals the beauty in the asymmetry of the other's biology: water and tree, each singly perfect in their interlocked states.
Louisville-native Amos, KMAC's newest Artist-in-Residence, credits her father with influencing her love of the water through a childhood spent reading Mark Twain's stories. Rounding out the Mark Twain experience, she once spent on a two-season stint on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska. One event that furthered her fascination with large bodies of water was the experience of traveling through a locks system to reach the Pacific Ocean.
'We have the locks [in Louisville], but the only time I've traveled through a locks system was in Washington, on a commercial fishing boat leaving the port of Seattle heading for the open ocean,' she says. 'It's an amazing system to go through.'
Amos' vision for her current sculptural work will eventually include two more sets of large-scale Ohio River-based triptychs, as well as smaller-scale woven pieces. Part of her inspiration will come from her KMAC studio's close proximity to the Ohio River, as well as from her journals documenting numerous hiking trips along the river's banks. Some of her smaller scale vessels include what she calls 'peepholes,' after the peephole knots in wood and shells that she's discovered while hiking.
'I've moved away from Kentucky many times, and each time that I come back, I love it more, embrace it more,' Amos says. 'Several things influence my interest in the river: my love of large bodies of water, my love of Kentucky, and just how powerful and awesome the Ohio River is.'
A visual and performance artist, Amos' work is centered in her background in fiber arts. Initially interested in physics and art as an undergraduate student, Amos discovered her love of fiber art in a class taught by Lida Gordon at the University of Louisville.
'My first thought was that I would study fiber to inform my sculpture,' Amos says, 'but Lida turned me on to the work of so many interesting fiber artists. Joan Livingston was one artist whose work I immediately took to. Lida was nurturing; she challenged me to be a better student and artist. I found my home in the fiber studio, and it was sculpture that ended up informing my fiber art.'
KMAC's Artist-in-Residence program, made possible through a generous grant by the Windgate Charitable Foundation, has nurtured the talents of four other artists since its inception in January 2008. As an Artist-in-Residence, Amos enjoys museum-based studio space, a stipend for supplies and work, exhibition invitations to one or more shows at KMAC, as well as the opportunity to demonstrate her works-in-progress to the public.
'I'd like to think that my work reminds people of nature,' Amos says. 'We live in a very masculine world, and if you're in or near a city, you become so removed from the source. I feel that my work seeks to find a feminine balance in the world. Not all of my work is about the natural world; sometimes, it is about issues, feelings or relationships that are deeply personal, but I almost always use natural elements to express those ideas.'
As an artist educator who will graduate from the University of Louisville in August 2010 with a Masters in Teaching Special Education, she feels a kinship with KMAC.
'I have an enormous respect for what the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft does and represents in its gallery spaces, retail space, and especially its support for education and local artists,' Amos says. 'The work represented at KMAC is high quality, with a good mix of national, regional and local artists. Often, the work that I've seen at KMAC is interesting, quality work that I've seen nowhere else. I'm extremely proud to be a part of KMAC as an artist who teaches workshops and now as the Artist-in-Residence. It truly is an honor to be here.'
Amos will continue to work on her sculptural fiber vessels in her third-floor KMAC studio space until August 15, 2010. The public is invited to stop by to observe her works-in-progress and to learn more about fiber arts.