Amy Gross is a textile artist I simply love.
Her studio and her work remind me of the atmospheres in Harry Potter, of the David Attenborough's documentaries, and Emilio Salgari's adventure books. All these different elements may seem to have little in common, yet I found that in Amy Gross's creations come perfectly together, at least in their spirit: describe the nature around us with a great magic touch, a very unique and personal realistic approach, and respectful devotion. You are going to fall in love with Amy and her imaginative world. Here is the interview!
Hi Amy, where were you born and what did you study?
I was born on Long Island, New York, in a town called Oceanside, forty minutes away from Manhattan and twenty minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. It was the perfect place to grow up because of those two influences; close to museums and theatre and near the sea and the salt marshes and the open sky. I studied art at The Cooper Union for The Advancement of Science and Art, a college that combined engineering and art and architecture, in downtown New York City. I majored in graphic design but had a change of heart and switched to painting in my senior year there.
Your textile sculptures with pearls and embroidery are one of a kind. Their beauty left me flabbergasted! Tell us about your voyage to achieving such exceptional manual technique.
It's so interesting to be asked that, because I was a surface designer for many years, designing children's textiles and toys. Everything that I produced was designed in my computer, every line, color, surface completely virtual. I was grateful for the idea of endless supplies of color, of being able to fix mistakes and zoom in and out of scale with the click of a keyboard, and I still use software as a part of my process. But I realized that everything I created I could not hold or touch. Designs were emailed away and then printed in mills on the other side of the world. I needed to make things with my hands again, real things I could pick up and turn and touch. I had just moved to South Florida, and, inspired by the intricate tropical plant life here, began making embroidered and beaded fabric necklaces. They grew into shadowboxes, and then to free-standing sculptures. I had never studied beadwork or embroidery in any formal way. I learned what I managed to do from books, and the rest I improvised. When your goal is to reflect the complicated plants and flowers and insects around you, then nature shows you what to do, and is the best teacher I can imagine.
Coral colonies, butterflies, birds, bees, mushrooms. Leaves, crystals and honeycombs. A triumph of colors and a moving homage to Biology. Why did you choose this branch of science to express yourself?
If my brain had been wired in a different way, I might have been a biologist. But I ran from science in high school, assuming that the things I was most interested in, art and literature, belonged to a different universe. But I worked at a Long Island nature preserve during the summers of my college years, and became immersed in the ecosystems of salt-marshes. There were fiddler crabs and bird's nests there, star fish and sea horses and horseshoe crabs. I spent hours digging up mud that hadn't been exposed to the air in decades, ran from protective mother birds when I came too close to their nests, watched hornets building their paper hives. I painted and drew as much as I could. My experiences there demonstrated the power and the fragility of the natural world fighting to survive suburbia - on the edge of all these houses and backyards and shopping centers was a world so vivid and complex. I'm still drawing inspiration from that time in my life.
Your Vivariums remind me of 18th century glass bells used to decorate aristocratic homes. If you could choose, what home would you prefer for your Vivariums?
I would love my Vivariums to live in homes of people who love to surround themselves with objects that mean something to them. The home does not have to be filled with things that are necessarily expensive, but tell the story of the places the homeowners have been, and artwork that reflects what they love about the outside world. A home that could belong only to them, to no one else.
Your works are extremely rich in detail and realism. Such competency must require detailed documentation in academic terms in some way, am I right?
Yes and no. Yes, in that I love looking closely at natural things, understanding that no matter how skilled I may someday be in crafting objects, I will never make anything as complicated and beautiful as the flora, fauna, webs, nests, feathers, corals that I see in nature. Every trip to the swamps here in Florida is both an education and an exercise in awe. My studio is filled with shells and moss and fossils and feathers and butterfly wings. And I love searching the internet for plant-life and insects and mushrooms, things so wonderfully strange that they don't seem real. But part of my process is to make up my own life-forms, to make hybrid versions of the things I see and collect. I can't compete, so I go off on my own, I guess. I'm trying to tell my stories with the natural world as my vocabulary, so it all ends up imaginary in the end.
Spora Mutatus is one of my favorite works of yours. Can you tell us about it?
Spora is the first work that I have made that is meant to relate to the room or space it occupies. In the past, most of my sculptures could be placed anywhere, on table, on a shelf. But the story that Spora tells will always include the place it lives in. I wanted to tell a tale made up of many pieces - it begins as a white sphere that could have come from anywhere - it's not modeled on anything real thing on earth that exists on our visual scale. But it's put in a corner of a room and opens, and its bright red and pink spores escape and climb the wall. As they climb they adjust to the world and they thrive and grow, develop and change, understanding more about life here as they do. They begin to mimic the plant life here. In my studio, as I was making Spora, the piece grew close to the window. Outside that window is a beautiful croton bush. The sculpture started sprouting leaves at that point, croton-like, but not exactly. It wanted to belong here, I think, to look like life here in this place. The leaves are a little bit off, more like clones, in a way. It's really the story of adaption and change, all the things that we do to fit into the ecosystems we live in.
As you mention on your website, the subjects that inspire you and your works embody change, the frailty of life, and its transient quality. What do you hope to find after this Life?
That's a wonderful question. I've been worried about how quickly time passes since I was a child. I know I make my objects because it's the only way I can pretend to slow things down, or freeze things as they grow and change. It must be an attempt to protect them. My imaginary plants never really die. But the irony is that while I'm here, it's the reality of frailty and loss that makes me love and appreciate life so much. After I pass,I hope to find everyone I have lost, I think, in the places where they were happiest.
Coral reproduces with the world’s biggest simultaneous fertilization. At this time in history, what is the sentiment that you wish simultaneously invaded the world?
A: I wish beyond wish and hope beyond hope that we can someday truly, deeply understand the world's worth extends beyond the small circles we live in, the small circles of place and custom and even the time we live in. That we're not competing tribes, that we don't have to be afraid of others. That there is no "other", ultimately. But this seems to be the hardest thing to achieve.
If you liked this interview, you might also be interested in our interview with Laurence Aguerre.