Photo by Pete Beattie
Collage artist Rex Amos was born on August 13, 1935 in Wallace, Idaho to Frenche Harland “Bud” Amos and Jean (Johnstone) Amos. Amos was raised in Burke, Idaho, moving with his parents and brother, Clinton, to Portland, Oregon around the age of seven. Amos graduated from Washington High School in 1953 and was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly thereafter. Having grown up near Mt. Hood, Amos’s first choice would have been to be on the Army ski patrol, but instead he served as a machine gunner in the infantry from 1954 to 1956 because of his excellent marksmanship. Upon Amos’s return from the Army, his father made two attempts on Amos’s life. These assaults by his father continued a pattern of abuse, which had been prevalent throughout Amos’s childhood. To break the cycle of violence that had been visited upon the family, Amos moved his mother to a flat in Southeast Portland. It was there he met his future wife, Diane Smith.
In around 1960 Amos, Diane, and his mother Jean moved to The Village, a neighborhood in Southwest Portland full of musicians, writers, and artists. There Amos’s creativity blossomed. A jazz drummer at this time, he broke the world record for marathon drumming, playing for 82 hours. When the musicians union revoked his union card for playing this unsanctioned job, Amos moved to Big Sur, California, with friend Ron Marcus. He and Marcus worked at the Big Sur Inn and lived in a shack under a bridge. It was there Amos found his passion for creating art. Having little money for supplies, Amos began creating assemblages from materials he found in the area. At the time, Amos considered his work more an expression of political and social critique than an aesthetic creation.
Prior to this, Amos had begun studying at Portland State University (PSU) majoring in philosophy and literature and was awarded his B. S. in 1969. In the midst of his study, he befriended PSU philosophy professor Dr. Graham P. Conroy. While a student, Amos conceived and named the philosophy of Preliminism in the early 1960s. He then gave Preliminism to Conroy because Conroy deemed the giving of philosophy impossible.
After moving to a large house behind a dry cleaners on S. W. 11th and Montgomery near Portland State, Amos was able to obtain a dump license which made it possible for him to collect materials for assemblages. On a trip to New York City with friend Greg Stone in 1961, Amos visited the Museum of Modern Art and saw “The Art of Assemblage” exhibit where he was amazed to discover that he had been creating works similar to those on display.
When the city stopped issuing dump licenses, Amos turned to paper as a medium of expression. He gained much of his artistic training and inspiration through practice and by studying other artists. Meeting the painter Matt Glavin, who was teaching at UC Berkeley, transformed Amos’s vision. Glavin introduced him to the process of chine collé and made it possible for him to use the facilities at Magnolia Editions. Amos has continued to work in assemblage as well as in various forms of collage.
A signature of Amos’s collages are the images he uses, which are meticulously cut from published materials using scissors intended for eye surgery – a process that has earned him the moniker “The Cutter.” Amos then carefully selects from thousands of these images to create detailed collages infused with literary, historical, religious, and philosophical allusions. Amos’s collages have been featured in galleries and museums such as the Portland Art Museum, Magnolia Editions, the Corvallis Art Center, the 12×16 Gallery, and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Many of these are in the style of chine collé, which is a combination of collage and print-making techniques.
After more than 50 years in Portland, Amos and Diane, a retired secondary school English teacher, now live in Cannon Beach, Oregon. For more information on Amos, visit his website.
The Rex Amos papers are a collection of artwork, journals and diaries, biographical material, correspondence, photographs, and writings compiled by Amos. The collection also contains an oral history interview conducted with Amos in 2014. A wealth of information about Amos’s life can be found in his correspondence and writings gathered largely from the mid-1950s to the 2010s. He documents his challenging childhood, his feelings about contemporary events, and the trials of friends and family’s diseases, deaths, and suicides. Amos’s oral history provides context to his papers and to his artwork. His correspondence reveals information about his own life as well as of the lives of those with whom he is writing, giving a unique look at life in Oregon and California through the second half of the twentieth century. There is video, newspaper, and Amos’s written documentation of his care for his mother, Jean, while she had Alzheimer’s disease. The Rex Amos papers represent Amos’s lifetime as an artist: as an extra in Paint Your Wagon; as a jazz drummer in Portland; as an assemblage artist of materials near his home in Big Sur, California; as a collage artist creating ‘gutterscapes’ from scraps of used paper; to a collage artist creating chine collé for art galleries and museums in Oregon and California.
These papers also represent Amos’s life as a philosopher. Amos conceived and named the philosophy of Preliminism, the theory and practice of practice. Preliminism is represented throughout Amos’s papers, mentioned in correspondence, in his writing and referenced in news articles related to his work. His papers also reflect his life as a fly fisherman, clammer, and overall outdoorsman.
Along with Amos’s own materials are those that he has gathered about friends and other Pacific Northwest artists. These include artwork, books, photographs, video, and writings of Amos’s family and many area artists. Amos’s wife, Diane, assisted in the organization and appraisal of the materials, adding context to much of the materials and many of the people featured in the papers. The Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University has a collection of Amos’s artwork.
This information was originally written by Ashley Toutain, Processing Archivist and Records Manager at the Mark O. Hatfield Library for the Rex Amos papers collection. For additional info, visit:
The source of the images below come from: