In the Studio: Sarah Amos

Sarah paints a deep blue geometric shape onto light blue-washed paper, on a table surrounded by small containers of paints, dyes, and brushes. Behind her are a group of geometric abstract works on paper clipped to the wall. She has fair skin, light blonde-grey hair, and dark framed glasses.
Sarah Amos in her studio at the Joan Mitchell Center, October 2022. Photo by Cfreedom Photography.

Sarah Amos is an Australian-born and Vermont-based artist. Amos received the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Painters & Sculptors Grant in 2013 and was an Artist-in-Residence at the Joan Mitchell Center in Fall 2022. We interviewed her about her work and creative practice in October 2022. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.

I have been a printmaker for over 30 years. I originally trained as a master printmaker who specialized in lithography, collagraph, and monoprint on paper. Nine years ago, I made the transition to textiles and now I am exploring a wide range of surfaces and textures for printmaking. My current interest is in creating unique hand-printed textiles that combine printing with applique and stitching. I am now seriously committed to this green technique and it remains my primary focus.

I have always loved paper for its organic feel, luminous character, and rich history, but I have become intrigued lately with non-traditional surfaces for printmaking such as canvas, linen, and hessian, which is a rough cloth similar to burlap. I had been searching for an aesthetic that could slow down the mind and hand, making works that are considered and deeply layered. I finally chose felt because of its inherent richness, tactility, and intimacy.

On a bright yellow paper substrate in the foreground, a rounded abstract shape cut from canvas is marked with thick and thin lines and lumps, suggesting a rounded figure. A cluster of yellow yarn on the left and a long tassel of white yarn in the center hang off of the work.
Work-in-progress by Sarah Amos. Felt and canvas collagraph with yarn, 66 x 78 in. Photographed in her studio at the Joan Mitchell Center. Photo by Cfreedom Photography.

My current body of work is an amalgamation of contemporary and historical stitching on acrylic felt with collagraph printmaking. Collagraph is an intaglio-inspired process, whereby textured materials and incised marks are inked and printed. This technique acts as a platform on which the rest of the drawing can be built. I employ a free-form stitching approach focusing on both linear and organic patterns, using blends of bamboo thread and subtle color shifts to create an optical feast and three-dimensional finish. Thread is stabbed, dotted, dashed, and dimpled across the printed surfaces. In some works, appliqué prints on canvas and linen are stitched onto the felt surface directly to act as another spatial extension.

I want to use the thread like a web sending out information while connecting both the print below and the drawing above. What is important to me now is to make one image at a time that reflects not only the attention to detail and materiality but a sense of labor and the passage of time. After working on the large felts, I realized that the thread had replaced the drawing material and the felt had replaced the paper. A new direction that I had always sought was amassing in front of me.

Sarah works with bright yellow yarn on a large white textile stretched out in front of her. Behind her is a large bright yellow square with abstracted shapes, and several smaller geometric abstract works on paper.
Sarah Amos in her studio at the Joan Mitchell Center, October 2022. Photo by Cfreedom Photography.

Pattern is germane to this body of work as it generates visual movement around the works and satiates my love of repetition, historical stitching, and visual buoyancy. I find my direction within the pathways of pattern, while at other times I take the stitch off-road.

I use large-scale, stitched prints / textiles featuring chimeric forms and organic figures as a foundation for exploring fantastical aesthetics and allegorical commentary. I am interested in the intersections of science and nature as well as the relationship between organic and inorganic elements, and the various abstract permutations that arise when they collide on the page. I am constantly building my own personal narrative through this exploration.

10 rectilinear paintings on paper - biomorphic shapes and geometric patterns are tangled together with large pops of red contrasted with blue, white and yellow.
Sarah Amos, Sketches for larger scale works, gouache and acrylic. Photographed in her studio at the Joan Mitchell Center. Photo by Cfreedom Photography.

Lately, my process has been to keep a series of sketchbooks for recording new ideas and color compositions. From there, I will make a series of smaller paintings on paper and will work on several at a time to create a dialog across many surfaces. After the images are established on paper, I then make them into large-scale prints / textiles. I prefer to make collagraph prints from re-purposed cardboard because of their spontaneity, ease of use, and rough complexion. I will make a series of cardboard plates based on the paintings and bring them along with incisions and textured surfaces. They will then get printed onto linen, canvas, or felt. After multiple passes and layering techniques are added on my etching press, they are then ready to receive the thread or fabric collage that are employed on the finished surface.

I was in the mode of research and development when I arrived for my residency at the Joan Mitchell Center. Since I work on large scale images that need a large etching press I was unable to bring these bigger pieces with me, but was determined to experiment and research new avenues for upcoming works. This time was extremely valuable not only for my psychological well-being but for the progression of new ideas. Over the residency period I was able to meander, consolidate, edit, and finally reconfigure new works that I anticipated making upon my return.

4 sculptures hang on the wall, each have a sort of head formed from rounded shapes marked with various geometric patterns in white, black, yellow and burgundy. Fringes or bundles of yarn hang down from each shape in yellow, black and white.
Sarah Amos, Cardboard reliefs (work in progress), gouache and yarn, 14 x 7 inches. Photographed in her studio at the Joan Mitchell Center. Photo by Cfreedom Photography.

In the studio, I created two distinct bodies of work. Firstly I made a series of small wall maquettes out of cardboard, gouache, and yarn. I was wanting to experiment with some new, larger configurations that I had just started in the home studio. Upon returning home, these small pieces would be made into 3.5 x 4 ft. experiments and then eventually onto their desired sizes 6 to 9 ft. wall pieces.

The second body of work was my gouache paintings that are 17 x 23 inches on paper. These small paintings are crucial to my studio practice. It is here that I work out color, shape, composition, and narrative and decide which direction I want to pursue for a series of larger pieces. After these paintings are completed, I will consider the arrangement of the more successful images and begin to translate them into larger textile / print works—around 66 x 78 inches.

6 rectangular works on paper, each feature a mostly rounded abstract figure over a backdrop color. Each figure is marked with contrasting geometric patterning or colors, creating a composite of shape and colors in yellows, blues, black, red and more.
Sarah Amos, work-in-progress photographed in the artist’s studio at the Joan Mitchell Center. Gouache acrylic on paper, 17 x 23 inches. Photo by Cfreedom Photography.

The Joan Mitchell Center residency was crucial in establishing which pieces would be taken to the next level of fabrication. These pieces can take a year to make so it was important for me to set up a visual strategy and calculate what will be required in advance of my return to the home studio. The shaped pieces are quite technically challenging, so it has been a steep but exciting learning curve. During my residency, I was also working out some serious technical wrinkles (learning to sew on a sewing machine in 3-D) that I had experienced prior to coming to the Joan Mitchell Center that I finally resolved while in the studio.

A rounded abstract form evoking a huddled figure is composed of contrasting graphic patterns of black and white, with swaths of red, black and beige interrupting the form. A large fringe of black yarn hangs from the center of the form, which sits in front of a bluish-charcoal washed background.
Sarah Amos, Full Dress, 2023. Collagraph on felt and canvas with yarn and hand stitching, 66 x 78 inches.

I have a busy schedule for 2023, including an exhibition in March at the Patricia Sweetow Gallery in Los Angeles and the release of two books. The first book will showcase my drawings, paintings, and sketchbooks, while the second will be a chronological history of all my textile works since 2014. I am constantly seeking new ways to challenge myself and experiment with different materials. I am looking forward to exploring new ideas and, hopefully, more trips to New Orleans, Australia, and Japan this year.

Interview and editing by Jenny Gill. Learn more about Sarah Amos’s work here.

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