First, can you tell me about yourself? Where are you from originally, and where are you based now?
I was born in Kent in 1990, and have lived and and worked in London for seven years.
What is your art education like, whether formal or informal?
It never crossed my mind not to pursue an art education (except for a stint, when I was about seven, of wanting to be a marine biologist). My family had always encouraged my creativity, so at 16 I left school to study art full time at college. It was such a revelation to me, having so much freedom in what I could make and how I could express myself.
After a year out of education I started a BA in Fine Art at Kingston University, Surrey. I spent the majority of my three years there sculpting and drawing.
What first interested you in picking up a paintbrush?
It wasn’t until after graduation that I even thought about painting. Very few people in my class painted. I remember putting together our graduation booklet and comparing a photo of our studio then with the same studio about five years previous. It was all canvases, about a metre thick in stretchers either side lining the floors. We were encouraged to be very experimental and I think you become very influenced by what other people are making around you.
When I left uni I didn’t have the space or the materials to sculpt anymore, so I drew everyday instead. I started to notice painting more and suddenly it was the only art I was looking at! Something clicked, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
I notice some repeated motifs, like tropical plant leaves, always in bright colors. Where do you get your ideas from?
A lot of my ideas come from memories or fragments of memories. I have worked in museums a lot and I am very interested in the idea of fragmented histories and multiple discourses of an object. I think that is why I often get fixated on a particular pattern or motif and have to repeat it, as if I am giving that thing multiple lives in different paintings or drawings. I never want an object or image to stagnate. If it does, I try to move on. I am very interested in challenging colonial histories so non-native plants, colonial architecture and artifacts feature frequently.
I’m not sure why I am drawn to bright colours. When I made sculpture I used very earthy tones, so it isn’t to say that I will always choose that palette. At the moment I am obsessed with the pinks used by painters like Phillip Guston, but I like to contrast them with strong blues or ochres.
Do you plan much ahead of time, or do you let each painting guide you spontaneously?
I always have ideas. I have a habit of looking at everything and thinking about how it would translate into a painting or a drawing. When I start on something, I try to merge all my ideas and make them interchangeable so that I don’t get too serious about one image. I always work on more than one painting at a time.
What is your studio space like?
I moved into my current studio space very recently. It’s small, but it’s all I need for now! Before I moved, I had a big room so I worked from home. Having a work space separate from your living space, especially in a house-share, makes all the difference.
What tool or object could you not live without during a day in the studio?
A radiator. Art studios are always in such beautiful buildings, but they are cold.
Do you have any particularly significant influences, mentors, or teachers?
My influences are always changing, but people that inspire me stay with me. I had an inspirational tutor at Kingston called Brian McCann who sadly passed away right at the end of my degree in 2014. He was a very gentle and thoughtful man who loved art for all the right reasons. He changed the way I thought about my drawings.
What about any advice you’ve been given along the way that you find you use pretty regularly?
A tutor once spoke to me about building a library of marks that become your artistic language and that really resonated with me. I try to think of that every time I start on a new image. I now try to build mark making like I would build a vocabulary, both consciously and unconsciously.
What do you find most difficult or daunting about pursuing art, creatively or professionally?
Being creative can be lonely. You do have to make sacrifices if you are serious about what you make. When I was in education I struggled with my making process being part of the critique of our practice. I discovered that I am quite private and I suppose shy when I work, so I do spend a lot of time by myself.
And on that note, what is the most rewarding or exciting thing about it?
That’s a difficult question… I think for me it’s constantly changing and challenging yourself that’s the most rewarding thing. It’s such a sense of achievement when I look back at a piece of work whether it be that day or two years after I made it and see my progress.
Like I said, I like to be alone when I create, but once a project or a painting is complete and I’m happy with it, I’m ready to talk about it.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects you’re developing?
I’ve had a lot of change and upheaval in my life recently so I’m concentrating on finding out how to work in the new spaces I occupy. I’ve had one of my most productive years since leaving university so I’m feeling positive about starting some new projects and hopefully some exhibitions to follow!
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you to Young Space for this feature!
Find more on Instagram @emilyvanns!
+ + +