Art of Paper Design – Interview with Amy Genser
Earthscape, Deck #9, 55” x 98” x 2” ea., paper & acrylic on sintra, (2020).
In this edition of Art of Paper Design, we interviewed Connecticut-based fine artist, Amy Genser. Having begun her paper-art journey over 20 years ago, Amy creates captivating artwork that has been commissioned in residences, businesses, and institutions across the country. Her work is constructed by layering, rolling, and cutting paper – combining it with various other materials to create large expansive pieces inspired by the environment around her.
“I never thought I would be a fine artist because I never felt as if I had anything to say. However, the work just kept coming when I worked with paper.”
All images © Amy Genser, shared with permission
Read on to learn more about Amy and the process behind her captivating compositions.
Tell me about yourself and how your art journey began.
I’ve been making art my whole life. I always enjoyed creating and building with my hands. My mother is a studio jewelry designer so I grew up watching her transform and combine fine metals and precious stones into beautiful works of art. We visited museums and galleries. My father is a neonatologist, and I loved looking at his medical books, especially the photographs and illustrations of cellular structures and patterns.
I studied art in high school, college, and in graduate school. I worked as a graphic designer for a few years before heading back to graduate school. I was planning on becoming a design professor, but I discovered sculptural paper and switched gears. I never thought I would be a fine artist because I never felt as if I had anything to say. However, the work just kept coming when I worked with paper.
After graduate school (in 2001), I got married and set up a studio. My plan was to give myself 2 years to create my own work and see if it could be successful. I started exhibiting at high end craft shows and small galleries. 20 years later, I’m still rolling, cutting and combining paper! I currently sell my work on my own, through art consultants, designers and gallerists. I also achieved a personal goal this week – I created a site-specific installation at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA. It will remain in place for 2 years.
I live in West Hartford, CT with my husband and three teenage sons. I treat my studio practice like any other job. I have pretty regular hours and stick to them. In the summer we spend as much time as possible in Rhode Island.
Can you tell us a bit about your current work process?
The process of a piece depends on where the work is going to live. I usually begin with a rough compositional outline and palette. I just start working and the design emerges. It’s like I’m doing a jigsaw puzzle where I don’t have a final image, but somehow I know where pieces go and when it’s complete.
In terms of my distinctive paper process, I roll layer of thin mulberry sheets, incorporating different hues. I’m essentially treating the paper as pigment. I combine the colors to make new colors to fit my needs. I cut the rolls into various lengths so you can see the cross section of the rolled up paper. Using this circular module, I create compositions and undulating topographies across the surfaces of my substrates. This usually occurs on a backdrop that is painted with acrylic.
What inspires you to create/design each of your art pieces and/or installations? Has it changed over time?
I am usually inspired by a color palette in nature. I try to capture the feeling of a landscape I have seen. Other times, I will focus on dimensionality and texture. I also love to work large, showing how my micro pieces combine to form macro imagery and concepts. In my latest installation, I really wanted to play around with how my work functions in a space, having it “grow” around the room.
Earthscape 1 – 14,
55” x 98” x 2” ea.,
paper & acrylic on sintra, (2020).
What was your first installation artwork? Why did you choose that piece?
Do you mean my first commissioned? If so, I was contacted by an art consultant to design a piece for a new hospital, Nemour’s Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children. They wanted a bright, uplifting piece for their cafeteria. The piece looks like a view of the earth from above, and also underwater.
The first true site-specific installation I have created is the one at the Fuller Craft Museum. My work covers the staircase and an entire gallery. I wanted to see my work “out of the grid” and unconstrained by a canvas. I experimented with many kinds of materials before landing on a silkscreen mesh as a surface. I created free form pieces that I could bend and sculpt. I then nailed the pieces into the wall to create compositions. The exhibition is entitled “Shifting” which represents my movement toward more sculptural work. This work also explores the mutable beauty of the museum’s natural surroundings. I referenced the power of the New England seasons by showing each season as a color palette, and the transitions in between.
Synapse, Promega Corp., 6’ x 15’ x 1.5”, paper & acrylic on sintra, (2021).
You use “paper as a pigment”. Can you tell us a bit about what this means to you? With all of the different options available to express one’s creativity, why do you choose paper as your primary medium?
I primarily work with paper because it can become anything and looks like everything. People are always surprised when they find out my work is built from rolled paper. I love the circular module as my basic cell. I also love the color of papers, the subtly of their colors, inclusions, and textures.
I will often combine other materials into the mix. I add pyrite, glass, metal, wires, mesh, nails, and mirror.
I’ll Flow My Way and You Flow Yours, 40” x 80” x 2”, paper & acrylic on sintra, (2021).
Not to divulge any secrets, but what is your favorite part of the artistic process? What motivates you to continue creating?
My absolute favorite part of the artistic process is pushing around pieces until a piece reveals itself. I love trying different color combinations, patterns, and shapes. It’s so much fun to explore and experiment. This is when my mind is most quiet and intuition runs the show.
What has contributed most to your evolution as an artist?
Exploring nature has contributed most to my progression as an artist. Every time I discover something new, I have new ideas. All I have to do is go for a walk to get inspiration.
Flow, Nemours DuPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, Delaware, Cafeteria, 10’ x 45’, (2014).
What are you seeking to portray to viewers of your work? Do you have any memorable responses?
My favorite aspect of abstract work is that viewers all see something different when they look at it. They will bring their own experiences and vision to a piece. I love hearing what people are thinking when they look at my work.
Sometimes my work references a particular environment. For example, the mural I created for the University of Iowa Health center references the Iowa river and the colors of their landscape.
The most memorable and important response I’ve ever received about my artwork was from a mother whose toddler was undergoing treatment for a brain tumor at the Nemours Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. She wrote, “When the new hospital opened, I sat down in front of your piece (“Flow”), and I was shocked at how moving I found it. I have never been so affected by an abstract piece before. For me, your work evokes a curious blend of micro and macro, the cells that make up our consciousness and sometimes malfunction, the dust that forms the galaxies, and the curious order that emerges from disorder. I want to thank you for helping me to find a certain peace during a time when there were no real answers.”
What has been a seminal experience in your artistic career?
“Shifting”, the newest museum installation is definitely a turning point. I have wanted to create an immersive environment with my tiny pieces for 20 years. I’d like to go even larger and more dimensions, but this is a step towards that direction.
Where do you hope to see your creations in the future?
I hope to see my artwork in more museums moving forward. That way my technique can be viewed by many people. There is no other artist out there working with paper the way I do (or at least that I’ve seen). People always tell me they’ve never seen anything else like it before. They’re always surprised it’s paper. My work is also created using mulberry paper made from the mulberry tree. The branches regenerate, so growth can continue. It is often hard to reconcile being a maker and using resources and adding more stuff into the world.
I also want to place my work directly into the environment. I want to be able to respond to the landscape and reflect my vision back into it. I will most likely need to work in another medium to pursue this endeavor. I hope to be able to do the research and create an outdoor public project.
Rooted Wanderlust, commission for California residence,
54”w x 72”h x 2.5”d, mulberry paper, pyrite, glass, copper on canvas and wood
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given for your career? What advice can you give someone else looking to pursue a career in fine arts?
To not take rejection personally. It’s hard to do, but over the years I’ve learned that sometimes my work isn’t right for a project, and it’s not for everyone. That’s ok. It’s not always a perfect fit.
As for advice for art students…I’d say it’s important to find your own voice. Take a look around, find out what inspires you and why, and then put it through your mind like a “blender” and show us what you see. Also, it’s very handy to have great computer skills. Learn your Photoshop and Illustrator! Oh, and you have to learn how to run a business too. My work is 75% studio time, 25% business management and client contact. You have to be organized and able to communicate clearly.
(Click to enlarge)
Do you have any upcoming projects/installations/endeavors that you want to share?
Go to the Fuller Craft Museum! You have until December 2023. I can’t wait to hear what visitors see, think, and feel.
Other than that, I have a slew of residential commissions. There are also several
proposals out too, so we’ll see….