“I am fascinated by the imperfect perfection in nature.”
By Jennifer Nelson, WTP Feature Writer
Amy Genser plays with paper and paint to explore her obsession with texture, pattern, and color. Evocative of natural forms and organic processes, her work is simultaneously irregular and ordered. She uses paper as pigment and constructs her pieces by layering, cutting, rolling, and combining paper. Amy’s love affair with paper began in a paper-making class at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she received a masters degree in Graphic Design. Amy lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three sons, and spends her summers on the beach in Rhode Island.
Nelson: Describe the process of creating your art, featured in WTP Vol. V #8. How do you transform rolled-up paper into images evocative of nature? I understand it involves layering, cutting, and rolling of paper.
Genser: Each rolled and shaped section takes on the layered effect of a highly textured painted canvas. The work usually begins with a choice of substrate, canvas or wood depending on the dimensions, and is painted with the beginnings of a composition. A mixture of acrylic and gel medium creates the first layer of texture that the paper will be adhered to.
Next the papers are rolled. Pieces are cut or torn into about twelve-inch strips of varying widths and then stacked with other colors from my stash of multi-colored papers to provide contrast and visual interest within each roll. I keep in mind the overall effect needed as various levels of color are combined in ever-changing ways as they are rolled with each other. The rolls are then sealed and cut into varying sizes to provide the “pigment” for placement.
Nelson: I was interested in the fact that you use mulberry paper collected from around the world. Where do you go to find this paper? How do papers differ from different countries? How did you become interested in working with paper?
Genser: I find the papers through art and paper stores, where they are imported from all over the world. The papers differ because every continent has it’s own resources and methods of paper-making. For example, I use a lot of kozo paper from Japan. It is from a plant that has been cultivated in Japan especially for paper-making.
The kozo is used to create many different kinds of papers. When I was in graduate school, I made paper using kozo. It was a long, complicated process, so I have a lot of respect for papermakers.
A staple in my work is Thai unryu, which incorporates mulberry bark into kozo paper. Another favorite is Lokta from India. It is made from bushes that exist in the higher elevations of the Himalayas.
I first became enamored with paper in a class at Rhode Island School of Design while an MFA student. While the paper itself is interesting, I loved playing with the medium sculpturally. I loved creating 3-D forms from the paper.
Nelson: You look to the natural world for inspiration. Please comment on this fascination with nature, including patterns found outside and such phenomenon as the flow of water, the organization of beehives, and the organic irregularity of plants, flowers, and rock formations.
Genser: I am fascinated by the imperfect perfection in nature. Texturally, I am drawn to repeated forms. There are unlimited amounts of these forms and patterns in nature that change and grow over time. And of course nature never clashes, so it is a prime source for color combinations.
Nelson: The vibrant colors of your artwork immediately entice the viewer. Can you comment on your use of blues and greens, and how you decide which colors to emphasize in each particular work?
Genser: Color is an intuitive exercise for me. Bright colors bring me joy. Blues and greens just feel so good; my favorite color is “beach.” I tuck unexpected colors into my compositions as a surprising element. I try to hide colors for the viewer to discover. They can be that little twist that makes a composition pop.
Nelson: Some of your artwork reminds me of paintings by nineteenth-century Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, as well as planets and bowls by contemporary glass artist Josh Simpson. Please comment on which artists inspire you.
Genser: I am a fan of both Klimt and Simpson. Other artists I love are Tara Donovan, Jennifer Prichard, Sean Scully, Bernhard Edmaier, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, Eva Hesse, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Agnes Martin, and Kelly Wearstler. I take different ideas from different artists. Sometimes it could be color inspiration, or even a concept. Repetition is a theme in a lot of the artists I admire. I also look at a lot of interior design and photography in both magazines and on Instagram.
Nelson: You have large installations at several hospitals, including the Ronald McDonald House in San Francisco and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. Do you see yourself creating more installation works in your new studio warehouse space?
Genser: I’m back to working in my home studio. I prefer to work at home. I only rent space when I need it for a large project. I don’t know what will come my way installation-wise. I am definitely open to the concept.
Nelson: It’s interesting that you earned your masters in graphic design rather than in fine art. What was the initial appeal of a graphic design degree rather than an MFA? And how has this training informed your statement as an artist?
Genser: I loved working as a graphic designer. It is great to be able to take a concept and translate it into a visual language. The only difference is that with my own work, I have to come up with the concepts. I wasn’t able to make my work as textural either as a graphic designer.
I studied and worked as a graphic designer because while I had visual skills, I never thought of myself as a fine artist. I didn’t feel I had anything profound to say. But playing with the paper sculpturally allowed me to find a way of creating the images I saw in my head, and of the beauty I saw in the world. I never would have taken the turn had I not taken that paper-making class, and been open to creative exploration.
Nelson: Describe your working day in this space. What are you working on now?
Genser: My usual work day is during the hours when my three sons are in school. Depending on the day, I can be found painting a canvas, rolling paper, cutting paper, placing circular elements onto a canvas, or gluing a piece together. I also tend to administrative tasks during the day. I have a wonderful assistant who supports me with every part of my process.
I have a number of commissions in my queue, both residential and public spaces. Right now I am working on a triptych for a capital investment firm in NYC. The total piece is 48” x 96” x 2–5”d. You can view it in progress on Instagram @amygenserstudio.
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