For anyone, moving across the world is a daunting process. Imagine your upbringing in the coastal Australian hinterland, Byron Bay. Amongst the “red dirt”, farmland that stains the soles of your feet. Where you can look out onto the Pacific Ocean and perceive that the horizon continues forever. Surrounded by a creative family who informed Amos’s early artistic endeavours, encouraging the freedom to inquire into the materiality of the environment; incorporating these organic materials into the production of his voice.
“I went into a stage of working so much, then I did one painting that I thought was very original. It didn’t have a conceptual meaning or anything, but I found importance in that, that originality, and artists having a practice that is unique, and they can find that specific voice. You can acknowledge that person as that specific voice”.
Compare such an existence to the caged chaos of New York City, a chaos that called out to Amos, always “the place I wanted to go”, as it has been for many artists, an epicentre of creativity and conceptual vanguards. These differing frequencies vibrate at almost incomprehensible levels. Such a change in location can displace the foundations of self, disposing of all that you once held true. As if such a transition would not already be filled with testing times and difficulties requiring support and company, or at least the opportunity to immerse yourself so deeply into that new place that any notions of the past become impossible to remember, for there would not be a moment to reflect in the all-encompassing movement of the City. However, that would not be possible initially for Hunter Amos, whose arrival in New York coincided with COVID-19.
“It was kind of the most dramatic and best way to be able to grapple with being in a city for the first time because there wasn’t even a moment where I could like, ‘Oh I miss home, I want to go back’. I knew I couldn’t think like that because I had no other option other than to interact with the City, enough to get used to it and comfortable with it to be able to thrive in that environment. I feel like just thinking about it at the moment with this show. It is the theme of the show, it is that moment.” That period of isolation, restricted movement and active searching has now become the foundation of Amos’s latest exhibition, a solo showing, at Anna Zorina Gallery, New York.
Through replicating and developing the process from its early formulation, Amos transplanted these notions of utilising the materiality available into his new environment. His early work was dedicated to an intuitive thoughtlessness, “not thinking why but just because these are closest materials that I can access.” The earlier works focussed “on how I can just find my voice and that’s all it really was. I was just a fucking teenager; I didn’t have this understanding of what was theoretically happening in the art world.”
A provocative approach to creation, this openness instructed Amos’s ability to grasp his personalised artistic style in its nascent stages without being overly influenced by the procedure itself. It gave rise to an innate voice, a voice that is true and when faced with these works, it becomes immediately apparent who created them. Moving to New York enabled reflection on the theories behind the work itself, now “being in New York, actually being able to go to exhibitions of new artists that I was excited about. To see the work of people I had watched interviews of when I was a teenager, I was speaking to in the City now.”
The naturalness of those early works became instructed and influenced by an artistic culture, meaning the work could grow, a development which is narrated through each succeeding piece, the narrative of voice that becomes more self-aware, a technique that becomes increasingly intentional whilst never silenced, not gagged by the overwhelming noise of multiple influences and inspirations. It is plausible that Amos is able to remain in touch with his voice due to the replication of his praxis, the appearances may develop but still doing, “the exact same as what I was doing at home, literally going and just like finding what was the most accessible material out front, which was just rubble and concrete… I went and brought concrete from the hardware store, and started interacting with that, introducing it into my practice.”
Using the materiality of New York as the foundation, Amos began a series of self-reflective work which spoke directly to the emotions that he was feeling, capturing a lived-experience, initially instinctual and becoming the unimaginable. For not even he could have conceived of the final products at their conception. Bodies solidified in the concrete cells of New York.
Using self-portrait photographs of those early days, which naturally captured the essence of Amos’s soul at the time, there was not a desire nor intention to portray a certain feeling, whether it be isolation, loneliness of the new but instead, Amos, “didn’t find any difference in trying to depict it, and just depicting anything, and it just happened to be exactly as I was feeling. Because I was just trying to depict these people confined in a city environment for the first time and what that experience felt like.”
These were the emotions that were being captured, “whether I like it or not, the work that I’m going to make is going to unconsciously have that, that underlying emotion of what the artist is experiencing. I feel like those are the concrete blocks that I was really trying to achieve, and I was trying to go, this is what I’m experiencing, and to put all this conscious effort into depicting that perfectly.” When coming across inspiration, or experiences that provide motivation to create, there is a necessity to pay tribute to those experiences, to give an articulation to the feelings of shared experiences, although Amos’s experiences were singulary his own, they speak to an alienation that is universal.
As the works began to form, Amos took those emotions, and translated that “into the materialisation of doing the concrete pieces. I was really interested in that and I was going instead of applying the concrete, applying the concrete with the kind of emotion that I want the material to convey, but in the practice of applying it also having that emotion of you know, this oppressive sort of act of putting it on the canvas. It did, I think, kind of made a difference in the way in which I perceived it, in the way in which material functions.” Yet, even still Amos grappled with the understanding and depiction of emotionality that he was conveying. There appeared to be a schism between the feelings captured, the feelings manipulated through the process, and the feelings represented into the paintings.
However, through the journey of creating the paintings themselves, Amos post-creation came to a profound realisation, that all the emotionality being presented through the various stages was that of truthful representations, “I only recently came to the understanding of why am I trying so hard to depict that, when I'm obviously fucking experiencing it? Whether I like it or not.” A moment of succinct self-awareness that to Amos, can only be experienced at the end of the process, upon reflection of the pieces themselves, reflecting as it were on his abstracted reflection.
Upon a serendipitous encounter with a method acting coach, purely out of curiosity, Amos engaged in some sessions. These sessions, merely an interest, allowed for a development in his creative procedure. They allowed for the ritualistic part of creation to become nature. To play oneself meant “trusting yourself to be able to put yourself in a position where you can actually be comfortable enough to trust yourself with what will come out. I didn’t have that trust for a while, but I feel like the ritualistic components of it, you know, just sort of allowing yourself to go with whatever your unconscious place is… Just to be able to go with that. I think that’s one of the ritualistic things that leads to things coming out in a more unconscious way, a lot of the time can make the work more, you know, true to its foundation of starting.”
This encouraged the inception of an artistic ideology that is primarily natural. Being in a space where you are no longer standing on the safety of the sand bank, but just far off enough that your feet cannot quite feel the ocean floor below. Being about removing yourself from the safety of replication. Trusting in oneself for the completion that erects the image which reflects that which is felt. A creation that for Amos is only possible by, “trying to radically steer in the opposite direction of comfort… avoiding comfort of all kind, to all kind of degree.” Being in a daunting place and “revelling in that”, an ethos that bleeds into Amos’s paintings, his personality personified in the enclosed figures.
These understandings of creation are aligned with the decision to be a painter as opposed to an alternative creative medium. To Amos, painting is a simple medium, its compositions are instructed by three principle aspects, “line, colour and form.” Yet, within that simplicity lies the daunting labour of capturing what is being conveyed.
"Even with the concrete, it’s just concrete mixed with paint. So any kind of material that I’ve sort of followed, definitely changed my practice, it is always an extension, an enhancement of what the capability of paint is, a lot of even like, the forms of the piece, it’s like concrete mixed with plaster and that creates this whole different form."
Manipulating the paint to give life to once unimaginable images renegotiates our understanding of the possibility of painting itself. It is these interactions with material which operate to enlarge the capacities of what we deem to be acceptably imaginable, yet even our imaginations cannot comprehend the abilities of recoding materiality. However, such imaginaries are only possible by remaining rooted to ideas which are tangible, to a process which prevents a destruction of painting itself, hence Amos’s daunting simplicity of, “how can I simply use line colour and form to capture what I’m creating.”
Through using these parameters, alongside the organic materials, there’s a real concreteness to the abstract forms that Amos’s paintings can begin to embody. By having these intentional considerations, “the forms that are inside the concrete structures, they’re definitely a body but the abstraction is intentional. The type of abstraction that I’m depicting has its own meaning within it as well. You could convey a body, but what if you could convey a body whilst also conveying these forms that have their own resonance to them. Then you can achieve two things at once.” Trusting in the technique allows for the work to hold, to not be lost in the endless void of abstraction, while still allowing the interpretation of the work to be boundless. The technique draws you in, and the conceptuality makes you stay, peering into portraits of bodies.
Amos’s solo show at Anna Zorina galley is an important step in his journey as an artist. In a highly digitised age where artists can show their work is new forms on social media, there is still a necessity to witness works physically, in a gallery space. Amos agrees, “I still really believe in the very stock wide galley space, the banality of that.” The Gallery exists as a space to dissolve the noise of the outside, a quietness to reflect solely on the works and not the photo below, it forces patience and stillness, removing the temptation to simply swipe for the next. Hence why the Amos’s showing is intensely important to his work, “I create the work for people to experience as the work just on its own.” You may see his work online, and as an introduction that visibility and reach is valuable to an artist on the rise, however, the be in the room with their toil creates an unparalleled experience.
Amos is only at the beginning of his artistic career, however, his distaste for being immobile or repetitive, constantly searching away from comfort should allow for a violently graceful continuation. To, “consciously search for new subject matter that you can put yourself in, to hope that by chance something could come across that would give you that kind of motivation to make something out of it.” To find new subject matters, new mediums, new materials to capture what Amos desires to display. “It’s very important to me, to have this as a bookmark of a period that I’ve actually captured closely, I almost accidently perfectly depicted this as a point in my life. Where it’s going? I don’t know. I just want to be able to have the same, to be able to create something, and then once I’m finished, will look at it and go, I couldn’t have imagined myself creating that… I think, the overall objective of it is to be as new as I can, and to achieve things that I haven’t before.”
“To once again have the perfect representation of the space that you find yourself in?”
"Yes, perfection in its imperfections as well.”
Words TEDDY MALONEY
Artwork HUNTER AMOS