Amy Genser’s textural creations make big statements, bringing to life unpredictable patterns found across the earth and the cosmos. Look closely, however, and you’ll discover these panoramas are collages comprised of tiny, delicate rolls of paper. “My work has a lot to do with the micro and macro, how small parts come together to form a whole,” explains the West Hartford-based artist. “It’s the same way in nature. I love its perfect imperfection, how things feel organized and disorganized at the same time.”
Creating such detail requires immense visual dexterity, a skill Genser grew to appreciate as a child watching her mother, Vicki Eisenfeld–a fine art jewelry designer–manipulate raw stones and metals. Family beach trips to Rhode Island also honed her eye for nature. “I spent hours watching the sky and the way the waves hit the shore,” she says. “Those patterns sank deep into my memory.” Her current practice, however, didn’t solidify until she took a papermaking class during her master’s program at the Rhode Island School of Design. Then majoring in graphic design, she fell hard for the medium’s tactile potential. “I loved being able to work in three dimensions versus creating through a computer screen.”
She soon developed her distinctive technique of rolling layers of thin mulberry sheets, incorporating different hues. “I’m essentially treating paper like pigment,” she notes. “You can see the actual lines up close, but from a few steps back, it looks like one color.” She cuts the rolls into various lengths and clusters them together to form undulating topographies across the surface. Underneath, she paints a backdrop in acrylic, adding translucency with gel. She also experiments with this underlayer for her all-white works, carving an uneven base for the paper rolls out of foam. “This way I can play around with dimensionality, even though I’m using only one color.”
The artist usually begins with a rough compositional outline and palette, though its origins range from the specific to the abstract. “Sometimes I just start working and it evolves as I go,” says Genser. “It’s like I’m doing a jigsaw puzzle. I don’t have a final image, but somehow I know where the pieces go, and when it’s complete.” These works often borrow the colors and contours of objects she keeps around her studio, like aerial snapshots, NASA satellite images of space, photographs from outdoor strolls, or her collection of coral, petrified wood and fossils. Beehives directly inspired her more structured, static pieces in black and white.
Other patterns refer to specific places, such as her upcoming piece for the University of Iowa Hospital, which echoes the river and creeks that flow through Iowa City. Many of her largest commissions are for hospitals, including her massive installation for the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, which resembles a slice of earth viewed from space. She still receives notes from parents who, surrounded by the turmoil of their children’s illness, found refuge in the controlled chaos of this work. These responses, says Genser, “have been such a gift,” and have come to inform the crux of her practice–helping others find some beauty in an uncertain world.