We had the good fortune of connecting with Amy Gross and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amy, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
When I was younger so much of my identity was attached to being good at what I do. I was very focused on making sure the artwork I made matched as closely as possible the idea I had in my head, my preconditions. I judged my success that way, and my failures. Of course, I still want what I make to be successful, to have my work be intentional, something I made well and can be proud of. But I’ve become far more interested in beginning in an intended place and then seeing where the creative process takes me. It’s not just about my telling the materials what to do, now they inform me, take me in directions I haven’t planned. This makes it a journey, an actual experience. It leads to more experimentation, more questioning. But it also leads to more failure and more missteps. I will work on an element of a sculpture for days and have to accept that it did not work. It feels terrible. And I have to let it go, put those pieces aside, and fight the urge to retreat and make something I’ve made before, something I know I’m good at doing. I usually figure out what to do next by examining what went wrong and improving on it, or going a very different direction. I give up to move on. I give up to keep going. And, quite often, the rejected idea or failed experiment finds a place in a future work.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I was a children’s products and surface designer for two decades, and though I loved having my own business and making my way in the world through it, in the back of my mind I had always longed to return to making things by hand. Though most of the things I designed through my studio ended up being made into textiles I never literally worked with the fabric I had grown up loving. So it began almost simply, the need to hold and sew and bead and paint. I didn’t initially foresee a life changing path, I saw a way to acknowledge the world around me, to make things that celebrated it, that told a story of my being here. I slowly transitioned from embroidering canvases to making small beaded sculptures and objects, mainly at my coffee table, after dinner. They became more and more complicated, started telling more stories, what I had been thinking for years about nature, symbiosis, the way the invisible affects the visible, how the things we see growing around us transform into metaphors for our relationships, our fears, our joys. I found I loved repetitive labor, the thousands of beads, stitches, pins, marking time and leaving evidence of my being here. After my artist Dad passed away I truly realized that time was limited and I had to give up a lot of what my business had given me-it was time to do what I loved. I learned how to take chances and put my work out there, to trust that it had value, to articulate what it meant to me. There were rejections, but then exhibits and galleries and grants and articles actually followed. I’m grateful I took this long to get here, because it does take a while to find a voice, to figure out what makes you different, or at least truly yourself. And running the business taught me patience, discipline, and deadlines, and how to take criticism and recognize what doesn’t work. I would never have understood the importance of any of that if I had made art in my first act.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Breakfast in downtown Delray at Christina’s-big mugs of coffee and excellent omelettes. The West Palm Beach Green Market, if just for the sweetest dogs you’ll ever see. A visit to the Cornell Museum, the Norton, the Boca Museum, because, obviously, obsessed with museums. I love the nature preserves near me -Loxahatchee, Wakotahatchee, Green Cay, for the egrets and the herons and the spoonbills and the osprey, plus the expanse of the wonderful Florida sky. Lunch and tea at the jewel box-like Yaxche Tearoom in Delray. Rummaging through the treasures at Resource Depot in West Palm Beach. A movie at the Living Room Theatre in Boca Raton. Afternoon tea at The Chesterfield. The best ice cream on earth at Proper, on Congress Avenue. Dinner at Christophers Kitchen in Palm Beach Gardens. A drive down to Miami to the Perez Art Museum and a seat by Biscayne Bay.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
When I first moved to South Florida I was a full time commercial textile designer, so I hadn’t made artwork for myself, artwork for its own sake, in a very long time. I would work a nine or ten hour day and then start experimenting with materials at night, very gradually working my way back into self-expression, but with very little thought to any of it having a place in the world. One of the first artists I became aware of here, and eventually met, was Carol Prusa. Her work was so intensely original, beautiful, detailed, wonderfully labor intensive and experimental. I had never seen anything like it. It celebrated physics and philosophy yet offered every viewer a vivid and personal experience. She was so kind about my early work and so encouraging, and this helped me keep hope alive as I labored to find my voice. So when she was asked by the Boca Raton Museum of Art to chose artists for the 2016 All Florida Invitational exhibition and she chose me as one of them, it was an honor beyond what I could have imagined when I first began considering art making years before. It forced me to rethink the scale and ambition of my work, to consider the space my sculptures were being placed in, to create not just objects but to combine them into environments, to truly make the invisible visible. And, most importantly, it allowed me the confidence to think that I could take on larger challenges. I cannot thank her enough for all of this.