Pastel and acrylic over monotype on buff wove paper, circa 1982. 1041x762 mm; 41x30 inches. Signed in pastel, lower right. Titled in acrylic, lower edge.
Provenance: private collection (1983).
Paper Sack Brown is a significant Emma Amos work on paper that eloquently explores issues of color and representation in art. The title refers to "the brown paper bag test", the colorist discriminatory practice of comparing skin tone to the color of a brown paper bag. As an African American woman and a woman of mixed race, Amos was deeply aware of the complex meanings of color in American society. The model's pose echoes classical figure studies - but only up to a point. Amos didn't paint nudes - she found the depiction of the female nude sexist and unequal. In a 1995 Art Papers interview with Mildred Thompson, Amos explained: "I had rejected black female nudes in particular. Their unclothed figures reminded me too painfully of the slave market, of black people as objects, of women as the powerless other. I like the concept of dressing the figure, of clothes as culture." By redefining the muse as a woman of color in Paper Sack Brown, Amos demonstrates how ideas of beauty and color have become interwoven in visual culture.
Paper Sack Brown is closely related in subject, composition and media to another work on paper, Dixie Peach, 1982, which was included in the artist's recent retrospective Emma Amos: Color Odyssey.