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Emma Amos: Self-Portraits at Frieze London

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Please find RYAN LEE’s Emma Amos: Self-Portraits at Booth G22
Frieze London, entrance off Park Square West, The Regent’s Park

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Emma Amos in her studio, c. 2000

RYAN LEE is pleased to present Emma Amos: Self-Portraits, a selection of landmark paintings by the pioneering artist and activist Emma Amos (b. 1937—d. 2020). A celebrated artist, Amos was known for her experimentation in both subject matter and material throughout her work. She was an original Guerilla Girl and the only female member of the influential African American artist group Spiral, alongside Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and Hale Woodruff. Amos, whose work ranged from graphic, to expressionist, to figurative, has always understood that, as she put it, “to put brush to canvas as a black artist was a political act.”


A dynamic painter and masterful colorist, Amos’s commitment to interrogating the art-historical status quo yielded a body of vibrant and intellectually rigorous work. In each painting presented in RYAN LEE’s booth, Amos uses her own likeness to demonstrate her longstanding interest in making art that reflected the experience of black women, even when such art elicited little to no response from her male peers and critics. Spanning three decades, these works place Amos’s body hurtling through space, donning a likeness of Lucian Freud’s wrinkled white body, clothed in her own hand-woven cloth, mourning a friend, and overlaid with photo transfer images of enslaved children. These works are simultaneously defiant and radiating with anxiety at the black woman artist’s tenuous position in society. Throughout her oeuvre, Amos intentionally painted her figures in a range of skin tones in order to combat the reductive notion of blackness being propagated by a white male-dominated New York art world.


According to critic bell hooks, Amos “moves into history, becoming at each stage of her life artist, subject, more and more a woman of power, decolonized in that no group of people determines and contains her will to paint, to represent. That’s why there’s such a sense of history being made visible in her work.”


Born in Georgia, Amos spent most of her life and career in New York City. In 1959, she was introduced to the vivid gestural lines of Abstract Expressionism while studying at London’s Central School of Art. This early influence remained with the artist throughout her entire career. Further, she had a background in weaving and textile design, and often included fabric elements in her work. The sumptuous and colorful African cloth both grounds the images and reestablishes a connection to one aspect of Amos’s cultural roots.


This will be both RYAN LEE Gallery and Emma Amos’s debut exhibition at Frieze London. The landmark paintings on view in the gallery’s booth have never been exhibited anywhere in Europe before. Amos’s works were recently on view in a major retrospective organized by the Georgia Museum of Art, which traveled to the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in late 2021. The retrospective was accompanied by a catalogue with essays by Lisa Farrington, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Laurel Garber, Kay Walkingstick, and Phoebe Wolfskill. Amos’s paintings were first shown in London in 2017 when it was included in the important exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Tate Modern.