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Susan Amons

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Susan Amons is a master printmaker whose large-scale monoprints invite the viewer to explore a mysterious menagerie of long-legged birds, fearless crows, and roaming beasts. In her panoramic monotype Caribou Migration III, ghosted shapes allude to waves of these migrating animals headed north, one of the greatest wildlife sights on Earth. Birds inhabit many of her scenes, and like the willowy blue herons and egrets they depict, her avian monoprints are graceful arrays of layered colors, marks, and ghosted shapes. The effect can be otherworldly.

Amons’ monoprints are made from mylar shapes that she inks, prints, and re-inks. Each print is built with layers of colors, ghosted shapes, and alternating spatial relationships with pastels into the surface. She uses a variety of techniques, including monotype, drypoint, and transfer / chine colle. Susan Amons developed her unique combination of printmaking techniques while on fellowships at the Women's Studio Workshop in New York, and the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation on Great Cranberry Isle in Maine.

Amons’ work has been in countless solo and group exhibitions, publications, and she has been the recipient of numerous Maine Percent for Art Commissions, awards, grants, and fellowships. Amons’ work is included in the collection of the Portland Museum of Art.

“These are all major works by an artist with a singular and committed vision. . . . In Amons’ most fully realized works, the result is bewtiching” — Philip Isaacson, Maine Sunday Telegram

June 16, 2016
by Edgar Allen Beem
link to original article

Printmaker Susan Amons mixes technique and allegory in her otherworldly artwork.

Susan Amons lives between the sea and the salt marsh in Biddeford, where she toils in her home studio to make exquisite paintings and prints — often of birds she can watch nearby, such as eagles, herons, terns, and ducks, but also of caribou, coyotes, lynx, and horses.

Amons is not, however, a wildlife artist. Rather, her prints take on an almost mythic feel as she applies a keen eye and hand to conjure what she regards as totem animals, the companion species of legend with whom we share both physical and psychic space.

“She is a truly original artist doing work that isn’t like anybody else’s,” says Anne Zill, director of the University of New England Art Gallery. “She has a mastery of materials that makes her sketchbooks, prints, paintings, pastels, and collages tactile with a larger-than-life power to them. The birds fly. The coyotes pounce. The horses gallop.”

Though Amons excels in multiple mediums, the imagination and individuality of her prints most recall the contributions of two other Maine-based depicters of animal life: Bernard Langlais, who carved massive, folksy, genre-defying wood sculptures, and Dahlov Ipcar, the painter, children’s author, and illustrator known for her vivid colors and angular renderings. Both are good company to keep in the wild world of Maine art.

For Amons, work always starts with observation. She heads to the woods, a field, a marsh, or a beach. When she spots an animal that grabs her attention, she does several loose sketches to get a feel for the way the subject moves, drawing free and fast to capture its liveliness. The goal is to achieve a sense of the animal outside its temporal context: “Simplify the forms,” Amons says. “Seek the spirit of the animals. Place them in dream time with no horizon lines and no sense of time.”

Ephemera Caribou Migration I, 2002. Monoprint, 36 x 78 in. Photographed by Jay York.

Her red-tailed hawks serve as fierce protectors, caribou as ancient travelers, crows as messengers, night herons as Charons that accompany souls across the spirit river, and Atlantic salmon as embodiments of renewal. Egrets make one of her most frequent and important subjects, elegant symbols of feminine power (“My mother and her best friend were painters and allowed me to paint with them when I was a child,” she remembers. “My earliest experience was to see women as painters.”).

Symbolism aside, Amons’ actual printmaking process is deliberate and exact. She distills her loose sketches into a simplified, single-line shape drawn on a transparent plastic sheet and cuts it out with a blade. She uses an etching tool to add texture — for the barbs of a feather, for instance. Then she inks the cutout shapes and prints them, re-inking and reprinting up to 15 times with different colors to create layers and depth on the thick, soft sheets of paper. Once she completes an impression, she almost always goes back and draws with pastels to add finishing details, furthering each print’s one-of-a-kind nature.

Amons joined the Maine arts milieu nearly 40 years ago, when she moved to Ogunquit after graduating from Massachusetts College of Art. Her work at the time consisted largely of landscape paintings, and she fell in with the Ogunquit art colony, her first local foothold. In 1979, one of her etchings, an island landscape, appeared in the All-Maine Biennial, an important exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art that galvanized the state’s contemporary art scene.

In 1985, Amons and her husband designed and built their home in Biddeford. A few years later, she began making prints and paintings of animals that came to her in dreams, and in the early 1990s, her career took off after she received her first of 14 residencies at the Women’s Studio Workshop in the Hudson Valley, where she could continually refine her printmaking technique.

Amons’ eloquent, animistic prints soon made her a fixture on the arts circuit. Galleries from Portland to Rockland to Ellsworth exhibited her pieces, the Portland Museum of Art and the Farnsworth Art Museum purchased her prints, and significant group shows — like University of New England Art Gallery’s landmark Maine Women Pioneers exhibition series in 2013 — displayed her work.

Her success owes to a willingness to part with convention and an ability to evoke the mundane and the spiritual simultaneously. The late Portland Press Herald arts critic Philip Isaacson pronounced Amons’ prints “ethereal,” “dreamlike,” and possessed of a “lyricism I cannot assign to anyone else.” Her animal subjects, he wrote, “share a world that is a touch beyond the real.”

Amons’ style pushes her prints beyond easy categorization, into the realm of the inimitable: “I like the uncomfortable middle ground,” she says. “It’s not abstraction and it’s not realism, so there isn’t a pigeonhole to put you in.”

May 25, 2003
by Philip Isaacson

Susan Amons: Vernal Migratins

Susan Amons’ new monotypes are ethereal. To my eye they begin where Audubon’s essays in the surreal leave off. They have a dreamlike quality that fits that term, but that’s only a part of what I see. I also see Japanese screens and a lyricism that I can’t assign to anyone else. I don’t suppose that surrealism and poetry often find a common home, but in Amons’ work, they are convivial. Her beasts—principally, caribou– and her birds– snow geese, egrets, and heron—share a world that is a touch beyond the real. It isn’t quite a classic Peaceable Kingdom, but there is a tranquility in their world that speaks of that idyll. The motivation is consistent with it, although the presentation draws from Japanese or Chinese suggestions about landscape and depth. In Amons’ most fully realized works, the result is bewitching.

The artist’s use of the monotype process and the scale of the work cater to this. The principle images in the largest prints (actually, they are touched with pastel) find themselves repeated—sometimes in reverse – in restrikes or ghosts and this contributes to the ephemerality, to the vision, of a work. For example, in “Caribou Migration,” the figure of the animal appears in various intensities and on various missions. Your eye tells you that this is one and the same creature but it’s reappearance in various guises is the compound from which the surreal arises. One caribou in many places and in many states of substantiality all at the same time moves the work well beyond the real.

The artist’s use of the monotype process and the scale of the work cater to this. The principle images in the largest prints (actually, they are touched with pastel) find themselves repeatedsometimes in reverse—in restrikes or ghosts and this contributes to the ephemerality, to the vision, of a work. For example, in “Caribou Migration,” the figure of the animal appears in various intensities and on various missions. Your eye tells you that this is one and the same creature but it’s reappearance in various guises is the compound from which the surreal arises. One caribou in many places and in many states of substantiality all at the same time moves the work well beyond the real.

This is so to a somewhat lesser extent in “Snow Geese II” and “Snowy Egrets II.” In them, the relationship between these large prints (some as large as 37 inches by 76 inches) and screen paintings is more expressed.

These are all major works by an artist with a singular and committed vision.

Catalog

Susan Amons: Tidal Edges
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