Riffs and Relations: Emma Amos

The Phillips Collection mourns the loss of Emma Amos (1937-2020). Her work Malcolm X Morley, Matisse and Me. is a highlight of Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition, on view at The Phillips Collection through January 3, 2021.

Emma Amos, Malcolm X Morley, Matisse and Me., 1993, Acrylic on linen with African fabric borders and photo transfer, Private collection, Delaware, Courtesy of RYAN LEE Gallery and Art Finance Partners, New York

At 23, pioneering activist artist Emma Amos was the only woman member of “Spiral,” the important African American artist’s collective founded by Romare Bearden, Charles Alston, Norman Lewis, and Hale Woodruff, all of whom are featured in this exhibition. Impacted by the Civil Rights and feminist movements of the 1950s and 60s, Amos addressed women’s empowerment, race in America, and her role as a female artist of color in her imagery.

In Malcolm X Morley, Matisse and Me., Amos conducts a visual conversation with ​the artists and the ideas that inspired her including Malcolm Morley (a British-American painter known for reworking images from popular culture) and Henri Matisse. Painted on linen and bordered with African textiles, Amos quotes Morley’s El palenque (1988–89) and Matisse’s Large Seated Nude (1922–29) and Blue Nude (1907). Also included is a transfer of a photo by George Shivery, a photographer who documented scenes of black life in the American South during the 1930s and 40s. ​As the title ​of ​Amos’s work implies​, one of the images represented might be a self-portrait. Well aware of Matisse’s interest in African art and his powerful place in the history of modernism, Amos is involved in dialogue about art, gender, and power with this influential artist.

In the Riffs and Relations galleries, Henri Matisse’s Large Seated Nude (1922-29, cast 1930, Bronze, 30 13/16 x 31 5/8 x 14 in., Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore) in juxtaposed with Emma Amos’s Malcolm X Morley, Matisse and Me.

Leave a Reply