As Margery Amdur explains, her work doesn’t fit neatly into one category – and that’s just the way she likes it. In more than 20 years as an installation artist, she has learned to live in that “fluid space between sculpture, painting, and printmaking,” combining aspects of all three mediums into her work.
“I began my career as a painter and a printmaker and, in graduate school, migrated into creating room-size environments,” says Amdur, an associate professor of art at Rutgers University–Camden. The truth is that I have always understood myself to be a painter. However, I am not readily able to maintain marks and forms on a two-dimensional picture plane.”
Amdur’s extraordinary mixed-media constructions are now on display in the solo exhibition, “Abundance,” through Nov. 23 in the intimate E. Avery Draper Showcase at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (DCCA) in Wilmington, Del.
Assembling hundreds of colorful cosmetic sponges into asymmetrical compositions and adhering them to canvas, Amdur fabricates a kind of porous skin, which she then sculpts into undulating wall-mounted and floor-based forms, according to Maiza Hixson, the Gretchen Hupfel Curator of Contemporary Art and acting associate director for programs at the DCCA.
Her site-specific wall drawing serves as a visual echo of the repeating shapes and patterns evident in her three-dimensional sponge formations, writes Hixon. Amdur’s emphasis on mark making as an extended process rather than a single, definitive gesture appears in her ghost-like erasures across the gallery wall.
“The piece encourages the audience to step into an experience, as opposed to standing at a distance, appreciating an object on the wall,” says Amdur, who teaches painting at Rutgers–Camden, where she is head of the studio art program.
In a painstaking process, Amdur initially amasses her “cast of characters” – pre-packaged cosmetic sponges – into miniature formations, and then glues them one-by-one onto a canvas backing. She then, as would an abstract painter, begins the slow process of visually massaging a non-objective landscape to life. At this point, she shifts to working with more traditional art materials – ink, gouache, and pastel pigment. It is the rubbed-on, vibrant range of powdered pigments that seduces. When installing the work, she performs a rigorous, time-consuming ritual, bending, folding, and pinning the artwork to gallery walls to create hills and valleys, pushing some shapes and colors to the fore while others recede.
The resulting constructions, reminiscent of a bird’s eye view of a typographical map, lies somewhere at the intersection of architecture and nature, she explains.
“The geometric forms of the sponges feel like architecture when they lay flat,” she says, “however, when they bulge and become voluptuous, they feel more as if they are formed from nature.”
Embracing digital technology, and prior to coloring the work, Amdur scans the three-dimensional constructions, capturing the undulating rivers and valleys. Working with high-resolution scanned images, she then traces on top of them in Photoshop to create line drawings. At this point, she is able to project the drawings onto the wall, and retrace the lines, solidifying the constellations of geometric forms into monumental, yet temporary, wall drawings. When Amdur’s installation is dismantled, the walls will be painted white, and her work will disappear just in time for the next artist to imagine the space.
The resulting process-oriented piece – featuring both the three-dimensional constructions and the elementary drawings – lends an ephemeral quality to the work, says Amdur. “There is a sense of the artist thinking through the process, as if you are walking into an artist’s notebook,” she says. “You start to see the relationship between the drawings on the wall and the three-dimensional constructions. One of the things I find fascinating is that the drawings actually come after the constructions are fabricated. I enjoy the fact that most people will think the opposite when they look at the piece.”
Amdur notes that she has further plans to add digital, time-based technology into her forthcoming installations – continuing to add new mediums as she has done time and time again throughout her career. “This day and age, artists have become multidimensional,” she says. “The question for me is ‘How do I work with technology from a personal vantage point, and does it expand the vision and meaning of the work? If not, why use it?’”
A resident of Philadelphia, Amdur recently created Walking on Sunshine, a colorful resin floor installation spanning 4,000 square feet, in a Philadelphia subway station. In addition, she has had more than 50 solo and two-person exhibitions, and has appeared in numerous group shows. Her international exhibitions have been in Turkey, Hungary, and England. She has curated and organized national exhibitions and is the recipient of more than a dozen awards and grants. In 2012 and 2013, she was a fellow at international artist residencies in Iceland and France. Her work has been reviewed in national and international publications, including the most recent volume of International Painting Annual, New American Paintings, Sculpture Magazine, Fiber Arts, and New Art Examiner. Originally from Pittsburgh, Amdur received her bachelor of fine arts degree from Carnegie–Mellon University, and her master of fine arts degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.