Equally influenced and repelled by the spaces we inhabit daily, Amze Emmons' work is a sophisticated mix of the prevalent images that drive our society. His show "Vague Terrain," at Transmission Gallery, culls from the corners of newspapers, film stills, travel and daily encounters with the manmade landscape, winding through the terrain of modern life in a well-mannered palette of pink, yellow, blue and green.
Despite the muted colors and a reductive drawing style, or rather because of it, Emmons is able to present a sweetly subtle array of, if not terrifying, at least disconcerting imagery.
Composed of detritus from the media landscape, Emmons' work is a bizarre collage of the stuff that contributes indirectly to our existence. Recently Emmons, based in Philadelphia and Allentown, Pa., has been using photographs found in the Sunday edition of The New York Times as a starting point for his paintings, drawings and prints. He uses what he calls in his artist statement an "intuitive editing process" to mash seemingly unrelated imagery such as the Baghdad skyline with the post-Katrina relief effort in "Local Action Committee." The image still communicates the dire sense of need contained in the original photographs while drawing invisible lines between major media events.
It's unnecessary to recognize the reference that Emmons alludes to. In fact, it is the scaled and restrained style of drawing that heightens the sense of uncertainty, often creating a skewed sense of time in the work. We're never sure if these things are taking place in the past, present or future, but all possibilities seem equally likely.
Though the work relates to the world at large, it's important to note that no humans can be found among the wreckage of these scenes. By eliminating the figure from his visual language, Emmons highlights the activity of humans by the consequences of their actions. With few exceptions, nature itself also fails to exist in its natural state in the work. More often it is corralled, which is suggested but nullified by the work of unseen human interference.
"Vague Terrain" is not a positive feel-good show, but neither is it totally condemning. Rather, Emmons seems to work as a cultural scientist, seeing how far he can stretch the common iconography found in current events while avoiding an overt political stance. His work doesn't question the viewer, it doesn't harass or embarrass; it simply plays mirror to the world, creating and suggesting questions while withholding judgment. S
"Vague Terrain" shows through Oct. 30 at Transmission Gallery. 321 Brook Road, 200-9885.