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 Alvin Eli Amason  (1948 - )

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Lived/Active: Alaska      Known for: mod animal, wildlife, sculptor

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Alvin Eli Amason
An example of work by Alvin Eli Amason
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted April 2003, is from the artist.

Born and raised in Kodiak, and of Alutiiq ancestry, Alvin Amason is an Alaskan painter, who depicts the state's wildlife with humor, affection, and respect. "Alaskan

His art wasn't always whimsical. After graduating from Kodiak High, Amason went to Central Washington University and attempted to become a mechanical engineer, but found the line drawing and rigid rules of the discipline off-putting. "One day I signed up for a watercolor class and just loved it," he said. "I stuck with that. It was a hard decision because my family was into commercial fishing and my grandfather was a bear guide. So I had opportunities to go into these areas."

Eventually, the traditional ways of hunting and fishing taught to him by his elders became part of his art. He continued to take art courses and moved on to Arizona State University, where he earned his master's degree in fine arts. He covered the gamut, from airbrush to realism to abstraction. It wasn't until a professor saw a series of journals that Amason kept for fun that he headed down an artistic path that would take him home to Kodiak. "I always wrote down stuff when I was commercial fishing," he said. "I just liked the way people talked and I wanted to capture that. They had such a funny way of looking at things."

By drawing from his own past experience and his cultural knowledge, Amason's art is more than a recreation of nature. For example, a work depicting playful seal with stiff wire whiskers is modeled on a hat that Aleut hunters wore when stalking prey along Kodiak's rocky shoreline. Like many Alaska Native artists today, Amason draws upon a deep well of tradition and experience, but also on his university training in contemporary art.

After he received his Bachelors and Masters in art at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, and his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at Arizona State University, he became an instructor at Navajo Community College in Arizona. He is now a professor of art at the University of Fairbanks, as well as director of its Native Arts Center.

Amason tries to show his students this blending of art and function as a way to keep traditions and culture alive. As a teacher, he grounds his pupils in the rudimentary skills of creating art. Learning tools, -curved knives and adzes for instance, often give his students their first experience with working with their hands. He stresses the use of native woods and materials as well.

In much of his work, Amason incorporates diverse materials as well as diverse modes of representation, from flat, two-dimensional elements painted to look convincingly round, to fully sculptural appendages painted gaudily and abstractly. An example is 'One of A Kind' (1999, mixed media) employing oil and acrylic paint, styrofoam, and plastic bristles.

Forgoing detail in pursuit of an animal's essence, the artist has called himself a 'high risk' painter. "I'll push that piece until the last breath, and if it doesn't come off, it just doesn't come off. It's much better to have a super victory or a super mess, because you don't learn anything by dinking around". Amason's painting, which often incorporates sculptural elements attached or in relief, draws less upon the traditional imagery of his Native culture than on his affection for and understanding of the animals that he grew up hunting and observing with his grandfather in Kodiak.

For Amason, the natural world is intimately familiar. The birds, the fish and the animals have always been his companions. In referring to the magpie, for instance, Amason has said: "These birds are the ones that show up when you drop a deer. They're right there when you clean fish, too. They're just so beautiful."

One recent work of Amason's was a loving recreation of the magpies that were his companions on hunting and fishing trips. In Kodiak, where he grew up, the magpie is a regular, but the black-and-white birds don't live in the Interior of the state, and Amason found himself missing them. "I called it 'Homesick For You' because I missed magpies," Amason said. The magpie piece is a combination of bas-relief sculpture and painting. In it, the bird has an articulated beak jutting out playfully. A string system allows the bird's beak to open and close. "I like the sound it makes when it opens and closes," Amason said.

Other titles like "My Heart Goes Boom, Boom, Boom", and "Every Time I Come Here I'm Seeing You," and "So Pretty to Me," accompany expressionistically painted images that reveal his good-natured humor.

Amason's exhibition record includes invitational shows in Arizona, Michigan, Oklahoma, Montana, and Washington. D.C.

His work is in the collections of the U.S. National Collection of Fine Arts; the Nodjyllands Kunstmuseum in Denmark; the Indian Arts and Crafts Board in
Washington. D.C.; the Smithsonian Institution; and all three major Alaskan museums. His important commissions include large mixed media works for the Federal Building in Anchorage and the Anchorage International Airport.

Alaska's Governor Tony Knowles honored him in 1997 with a Governor's Award for Arts. Accompanying the artist at that ceremony was his mother Nettie Amason, his wife Ilana, and their daughter Lena. Amason was also the recipient of a lifetime achievement award by the Nature Conservancy of Alaska.

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Alvin Amason is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Notable Alaska

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