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Amze Emmons

         Refugee Architecture and Other Systems of Daily Experience



Amze Emmons' graphite, gouache, and acrylic works present dilapidated urban spaces in various stages of re-composition, from a razed lot boasting only concrete rubble and an abandoned ice machine (Having Fled Already) to a shantytown fully “developed” out of discarded materials (Gift World).
Emmons engages in what he calls “hybrid methods, working at the point where drawing, print, and painting intersect.”* This approach calls attention to the multitude of materials that constitute contemporary built environments—concrete, metal, wire, brick, plastic, and more—not in their beginnings, but as they fall into ruin and are rearranged and repurposed into sites that, as Emmons says, “draw connections between human migration, community, mobility, transience, and the overarching politics of architecture.”
Emmons notes that in composing his minimally and magically realistic pieces he considers architectural illustration, comic books, cartoon language, street art, information graphics, news footage, consumer packaging, instructional manuals, and cinematic space and time. From these he draws out cues, hints, or phrases that hint at deeper cultural narratives, then amplifies and de-familiarizes his chosen visual components by rendering them in bright, cheerful colors. Purposefully depopulated, these pleasantly hued pieces create eerie galleries of makeshift, temporality, and debris: Modern Popular Movement (on the cover) illustrates a run-down, ballroom-like space turned into a shelter full of inviting, made-up cots; and The Great Machine creates a pseudo voting space complete with sky-blue, anthropomorphically “conversing” booths, without a human in sight. The backdrop to almost every one of Emmons’ pieces is the silhouette of a city skyline, leaving to the imagination the socio-economic functionality of that realm just beyond, as well as its relationship to the dilapidated space at the fore. Who will come to these spaces, or is there anyone left to come? Are the objects fated to interact only with themselves? Apocalypse, then, is also a consideration in Emmons’ work—a potential consequence of impermanence and displacement in the twenty-first century.

Amze Emmons holds a BFA from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MA and an MFA from the University of Iowa, and he is currently an associate professor at the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township. He has had numerous solo and group exhibitions at venues including Works on Paper Gallery in Philadelphia, Kesting/Ray in New York, and OHT Gallery in Boston; his work is in collections ranging from the Baltimore Museum of Art to the Tama Art Museum in Tokyo. He is a co-founder of the art blog, and currently resides in Philadelphia.


*See Emmons’ artist statements at and

Copyright © 2013 by Amze Emmons. All images photographed by Karen Mauch. Most images are graphite, gouache, and acrylic on paper, 22˝ x 30˝; the last, Gift World, is graphite, gouache, and acrylic on panel, 20˝ x 24˝. As photographed, the images vary slightly in scale.



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