At first glance, Amy Gross’ work looks like a tangle of moss, leaves and other forest finds. But a closer inspection reveals acrylic yarn masquerading as moss, printed fabric posing as leaves and beads pretending to be spores. Fashioning this uncanny resemblance is exactly Gross’ aim. “It’s a discovery you can make only once,” says the Delray Beach, Florida, artist. “I like that initial, ‘Oh, that isn’t real’ kind of surprise.”
Gross’ foray into fiber art came after 23 years of working in surface design. As the industry shifted from hand-painted to digital techniques, she began to miss crafting with her hands, so she started designing jewelry inspired by the lush South Florida outdoors–a change of scenery from her native New York. “Things do grow in New York, but eventually everything takes a break,” she explains. “In Florida, it never stops.” Her necklaces featured images of trinkets sourced during walks around her home, like dragonfly wings and croton leaves, printed onto fabric. Jewelry-making, however, also proved too constraining for Gross’ creative spirit, which led her to embrace fiber art.
Consisting of freestanding sculptures as well as wall installations, Gross’ portfolio reflects her fascination with scientific occurrences like symbiosis, metamorphosis and parasitic relationships. “My work is the outer world sieved through my inner life,” she says. “I like to slow down time by creating objects frozen in the middle of a transformation.” A concept sketched by hand or made with Photoshop is the initial step in her creative process. Then she employs her jewelry-making method: scanning images of nature findings onto her computer, manipulating the results and printing them on fabric she sews onto Styrofoam.
The truly painstaking work begins as Gross morphs these everyday items into naturalistic forms. To create a beehive, for instance, the artist spends days carefully cutting paper into small strips. She scores and delicately folds them, then glues the ends together until she’s produced enough hexagons to mimic a honeycomb. Last come the bees, each made of materials such as beads, wire and paper.
This year, the nonprofit organization South Arts named Gross the recipient of its Florida fellowship and the second-prize finalist among nine artists chosen to represent their respective southern states. She will exhibit her work in September in Arizona and recently showed at Culture Lab in West Palm Beach, where she routinely added to her installation so it appeared to evolve, giving the artificial creation a sense of life. “There’s a partnership of what you can find in the real world and what you can imagine–and how you can have them meet,” Gross says.