Omri Amrany (born 23 May 1954) is an Israeli-American best known as a sculptor and painter, though also accomplished as an architectural innovator and wall tapestry artist. Self-taught, he taps into such movements as surrealism for inspiration but eludes being categorized, inventing his own terminology and varying his style. Philosophically a humanist, he gravitates to the human figure as his subject matter, once saying that he uses the figure as an alphabet in order to express his philosophy in a sentence. He is co-founder of the Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, a studio that brings to the United States the aims and traditions of the ateliers of Europe, as well as The Julia Foundation, a not-for-profit arts organization.
More than 1,000 drawings, paintings, sculptures, wall tapestries, architectural designs, ceramics, murals, and installations, including Battle of the Amaleks (painting), Revealing, Quest for Freedom, and Against the Wind (sculptures); The Spirit: Michael Jordan (heroic sculpture); The Fusion (multi-sculpture installation for Gary, Indiana); Veterans Memorial Park (9-acre site in Munster, Indiana)
Early life and work
Born in the Scottish Monastery Hospital in Tiberias, Israel, and raised in Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov in the Jordan Valley, Omri Amrany is the son of a Yemenite father and Russian mother, both Jewish immigrants during the post-World War Iera. From his father he learned wood sculpting and ceramics. His mother was a clothes designer who influenced his sense of design. With art running in his genes, Amrany grew up sketching and painting as part of everyday life. During the Yom Kippur war, Amrany served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and saw a number of his buddies killed. His war experiences left him cynical about politics and the military, and a would-be pacifist. They also ignited a passion to define his values and integrate them into his life, his art, and his society. Reentering civilian life, he dealt with post-combat stress by giving free rein to his subconscious whenever he had a pencil and paper at hand. He developed a minimalist style, creating hundreds of drawings completed in seconds and often composed of one unbroken line. In the late 1970s, influenced by his grandmother and aunt, he began to weave wall tapestries. He also began to paint on canvas in a storytelling style he labeled "tribal surrealism" - most notably in Battle of the Amaleks. This work, reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica in its ambition and intent, was Amrany’s protest against the war in Lebanon. He humanized a landscape of Vadi Tzealim by integrating figures into the hills, stones, and acacia trees, and told a story graphically through tanks and dead soldiers below the looming face of Moses.
After attending college classes in Tel Aviv, Amrany was assigned by his kibbutz in 1984 to work with the Israeli Scouts organization in Haifa, overseeing the education of 5,000 youths in the vicinity of Mount Carmel. His interaction with psychologists and philosophers to clarify cultural values and instill them in the Scouts caused him to ponder his own values and the bedrock values of humankind.
In 1985 Amrany was sent by his kibbutz to study marble carving in Italy. He traveled to Pietrasanta, where Michelangelo had lived and worked. He wanted to join Renzo Santoli’s Studio, through whose window he could see the white marble mountaintop of Michelangelo’s famous Altissimo quarry. Impressed by Amrany’s paintings, Maestro Santoli accepted him. Amrany’s natural aptitude for stone carving caught the attention of Santoli and the other artisans. One of his earliest works, Revealing, even sparked a visit by renowned artist Joseph Sheppard. On one side of a block of "Rose of Portugal" stone, Amrany created a figure. On its reverse he created a second figure, making use of the stone’s translucence to evoke the impression of human skin, including veins. By carving into the stone, working the negative, he increased the light penetrating the stone, giving the illusion of a positive. Revealing eventually was purchased by an Israeli collector who owned five Rodin originals. While at Pietrasanta, Amrany met his future wife, artist Julie Rotblatt. She accompanied him when he returned to Israel in the spring of 1986. Upon arriving, he gave his first major solo exhibition in the ruins of historic Caesarea, the seaport built by Herod the Great. The two artists married in 1987, living first in Israel before relocating to the United States in 1989 and settling in the Chicago area. Amrany supplemented his income as an art instructor by taking jobs as a handyman.
New styles and experiments
Amrany’s art has followed several strands throughout his career - distinct approaches or styles that he may set aside for years only to return to with greater maturity. In the early years after leaving the IDF, he explored minimalism (in sketches and drawings), idealism (as in his proposed work, The Peace Sculpture), and an approach based on a psychological tool known as the Johari Window (most notably in a bronze titled Fear, Shadow and Subconscious). His "sculpting montage" approach - which blends images to symbolize new dimensions - was first used in Quest for Freedom. Two bronze hands bound at the wrist suggest an eagle and convey the indomitable spirit of the unseen person to whom they belong. He later used the same approach in Whirlpool and One Minute before the 21st Century.
His concept of "humanizing nature" - first seen in Battle of the Amaleks - was later employed again in Global Concept, a work intended to be an epic-sized glass mosaic, Venetian style, in which two figures representing Adam and Eve are integrated into a map of the globe. An approach he calls "beyond the fourth dimension" was first used in Against the Wind - a work created in electroformed metal. Using a lightweight alloy formed in a thin layer by an electric current, he created a pattern of delicate leaves that appear to fall against a marathon runner’s torso and face, capturing his spirit and will to win.
Amrany’s long-standing fascination with quantum physics and fractal math has also impacted his art in a variety of ways, from the design of silk wall tapestries to the fractal ground plan of the 9-acre Veterans Memorial Park in Munster, Indiana. The park opened in 2004, an array of works by Omri and Julie Rotblatt-Amrany that included seventeen bronze sculptures, three bas reliefs, fourteen laser-engraved granite panels, and eight installations.
Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany
In 1992 Omri and Julie opened the Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany, an educational center and workplace intended to duplicate the ateliers they had encountered in Europe. In its first two decades of operation, the facility has completed over 200 art commissions, hosted a half dozen exhibitions, and trained and supported over 300 artists - some of whom went on to national recognition.
In 1994 the Rotblatt-Amranys were commissioned by the Chicago Bulls to create a statue in honor of basketball legend Michael Jordan. The 16-foot sculpture, permanently installed outside the United Center in Chicago, sparked major media interest and drew acclaim for the way a ton of bronze could appear to fly. The sculpture has become one of Chicago’s most-visited tourist sites. In 2008 Amrany co-founded The Julia Foundation, a not-for-profit organization with the mission of establishing a sculpture garden in historic Fort Sheridan, Illinois.
In 2005 Amrany began to propose the humanization of architecture. Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, who analyzed human and animal anatomy and used the same logic in mechanical and architectural designs, Amrany capitalized on recent innovations in glass, plastic, steel alloys, and solar power technology to propose a new direction for architecture. He envisioned and designed buildings based on the human figure, buildings incorporating the strength, flexibility, and durability of human and animal anatomy.
After a lifetime of art, and the pursuit of many different concepts and approaches, Amrany today feels the necessity to focus less on the execution of his ideas, and return instead to the role of pure explorer - coming up with new designs and philosophical ideas with the aid of laser, photo-sculpting, and computer technologies. As he neared the age of sixty, Amrany summed up his life as an artist and his contribution to the world’s accumulated knowledge: "If, on my last day on Earth, I will know that I have added even one link to the human chain of knowledge, then I will have achieved my life’s work."
- Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany
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