Weekly Update – Amze Emmons at Works on Paper

This week’s Weekly has my review of Amze Emmons‘ solo exhibit at Works on Paper Gallery. Below is the copy with some pictures. More photos at flickr.

Pretty Vacant
Amze Emmons finds eerie beauty in urban voids.

Amze Emmons, Secret Writing, gouache, graphite and mixed on paper. at Works on Paper gallery.
Amze Emmons, Secret Writing, gouache, graphite and mixed on paper. at Works on Paper gallery.

The world’s a bleached-out, bombed-out survival zone in Amze Emmons’ paintings at the Works on Paper Gallery. Yet the colors are pretty, the rocks and debris lovingly depicted, and the gouache and graphite works have a cheery, almost childlike pleasantness. If you were to make a coloring book of parts of North Philadelphia (or Baghdad), and then color it in carefully, this is what it would look like.

Amze Emmons
This work suggests the plein air meeting’s over. Notice the pretty lavender dumpster.

Emmons’ keenly detailed, people-free drawings are eerie. The makeshift shacks and dumpsters and the abandoned 7-Eleven store are littered with empty water bottles, overturned chairs and a sleeping bag. It’s as if something happened and everybody just fled, leaving behind the mess because they didn’t have time or didn’t care to clean it up. It’s a world of things gone wrong and things about to go even more wrong.

Pidgin Satellite.jpg
Pidgin Satellite, gouache and mixed on paper. Emmons’s silhouettes of the urban skyline are ghost characters in almost every work. He uses raw paper to get the effect turning the city into a void.

There’s no suggestion Emmons is depicting the future. In fact the empty urban lots are quite familiar, as are the details—the phone kiosk, the unlicensed street seller with rows of pocketbooks on a blanket. This is a spoiled Eden, but there’s happiness to be found in small moments—decorating your tent or organizing your possessions.

Our culture values style and beauty, and yet our social policies promote transience, rootlessness and disposability. Emmons captures this perfectly in works that combine design consciousness and a need for comfort with a shrug-shouldered acceptance of debris, loss, rootlessness and void. But these works don’t really accept the status quo; Emmons seems to be critiquing our schizoid culture and its faux prettiness.

Protective Clothing.jpg
Protective Clothing.

Survivalist embattlement has been on the art world’s radar for years. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Andrea Zittel and TODT all make objects that presuppose a nomadic culture of DIY and share a common experience of want, desire and resignation to a world order that’s not so orderly. Zittel and Tiravanija’s works embody both critique of and fascination with our culture, while TODT offers full-blown condemnation. In Philadelphia, Mark Shetabi’s peephole environments and grisaille paintings of parking garages, and Amy Walsh’s miniature cardboard squatter encampments, work similar terrain.

Amze Emmons
Looks like a 7-11 used as a crash pad after some breakdown of order.

Gallery owner Evan Slepian’s 12-year-old venue shows works by national names like Chuck Close and Ed Ruscha, and local artists Astrid Bowlby and Tom Baril. Emmons, who teaches at Muhlenberg College, was selected for this solo show after the blue-chip-but-under-the-radar gallery put on a search for a local artist to feature for the summer. He’s a good fit for the gallery, as his work is both beautifully crafted and unsettling.

Amze Emmons: “Recent Work”
Through Aug. Works on Paper Gallery, 1611 Walnut St. 215.988.9999.