Words by Michael Fensom
I’ve known Amit Greenberg for nearly two years, and at no point in that span have I not been impressed with what struck me as his relentless enthusiasm, the steam that powers his lithe frame.
Between the two of us, he is older by three years, but almost always seemed, outwardly at least, the more boyish. I never knew him as boy — he grew up in Haifa, Israel, far from my home in New Jersey — but stories about his childhood, such as diving to the bottom of a swimming pool to gauge how long he could survive without air in an aqueous dimension, don’t seem far away. Idleness has never impressed Amit.
Perhaps that is why he began creating art: his hands, his brain needed occupying. In the same way his enthusiasm blinded fear in seeking the depths of a swimming pool, it also plunged Amit into the art world, where he’s held his breath for longer than he imagined he would, just over two years now.
Amit’s work does not aspire to a particular form. Don’t be surprised by that, either. He is continually searching to express himself via alternate avenues. The life that seems to emit from his work is not married to the perfection of technique — and while the work can border sometimes on the rugged, it is not restrained by that fact. “People might like my art because of the message in it more than technique,” he says. “The strongest thing I have is concept.”
The space left open by the absence of formalized technique allows us to creep closer to the artist. Once there, the honest charm of the work is readily visible. We can see the artist’s vulnerability, beliefs, his outpouring of feeling, like expressions written across his face.
For an exhibition at The Whitney in 2011, Amit spent three months preparing a self portrait. The plaster sculpture depicts him with arms folded across his body, his head slightly bowed with antlers springing from it like hands reaching toward the sky. It is adorned with tiny painted triangles made of paper, which cascade across the sculpture’s shoulders and chest, and consume its head and antlers — as if a new life form had begun to spring from one at rest but still breathing.
The piece, Amit says, is a personal exploration of life’s generation. The swirl of colors enlivening the triangles — yellow, green, blue, gray, brown — mimic the organic ingredients that composed the first bits of life on Earth. Like those primordial pieces, the serenity of the result belies the painstaking process of creation. Having seen Amit hunched on the floor of his Greenpoint apartment on countless nights, cutting paper into hundreds of tiny bits to give life to his portrait, it is to be believed when he says, “I was working like a motherfucker to finish it.” The process also began to generate a shift in Amit’s work of an even more personal nature. The complexity of sculpture has been scythed to a pen and paper.
“I think the other art I’ve made so far was more serious, it spoke for itself,” Amit says of this shift. “I created a persona that was me in a way but now I’m ready to be ‘stupid,’ allow myself to go crazy.”
What could be considered crazy about Amit’s most recent endeavor is the readiness with which he has revealed himself. Unlike his sculpture for The Whitney, in which he presented part of his skeleton for inspection, Amit has opened his mind for consumption in the series of automatic drawings called A Fine Black Line. The conscious and subconscious is spilled in ink on an 18-by-24 slice of paper.
While many are curled in REM sleep, Amit begins to project on the paper a flood of caricatures and phrases, inspections of spirituality, sexuality, mortality, fear and joy streaming together into a cluster where each shape affects or is inspired by the last creation. His mind and pen engage harmoniously, beginning with the first line, to shape a flower that blossomed nocturnally but will bloom in perpetuity.
At the conclusion a new world has been created for the viewer to indulge in, scripted in Amit’s idiosyncratic language. Like Where’s Waldo on hallucinogens, the characters in the pieces — composed of single lines, or sometimes colored in with black ink — smile, laugh, grimace, knit, look nervous and sometimes fuck for the audience. Short phrases — “What Is Out There?” — reveal their state of mind while asking us simultaneously to reflect more about our own. The closer the inspection, the greater the reward.
“That world is: saying what you think or what other people think but aren’t able to put out,” Amit says of the drawings. “It is taking barriers away, making things more fluid, more easy going, creating curiosity. It’s very clean, but very dirty — there is a lot of duality in it.
“Those pieces allowed me to let go of this ‘super perfection’ idea I had of making art.”
The work seems to have more gravitational pull than anything Amit has done, perhaps because he has revealed himself like never before. He has matured conceptually by diving deeper, embracing the playfulness and enthusiasm that has existed all along.
Click here to see more of his work.