Emily Mary Barnett is a painter who has had a studio at ASC Empson street in Bow since August 2017. She studied Fashion Photography and styling at LCF and is now studying with Turps Banana as part of their offsite programme. She started her practice in 2013, making works in buildings that were due to be demolished around the studio. She will be exhibiting some of her work on a vast football pitch (for herself) to view and photograph them, for one day only!
Is there a starting point for your art practice?
Yes, my feelings. My work is a catharsis, and I try really hard to honestly express whatever emotions I take to the studio in the moment. 99.9% of my work is improvised, so I try to tap into the primal part of my subconscious as much as possible and to trust that intention.
What artists have been your greatest inspiration?
I am most moved by painters who communicate honestly through their work, something about themselves and the human experience – ideas that can’t be communicated with any other medium. That’s what I love about painting. It’s a unique type of conversation, and everyone’s painting speaks a different language. When I studied art at school I loved the fauvists’ use of colour, and the freedom of the Impressionist’s brushwork. I then became obsessed with the 60’s art movement in Oshogbo Nigeria in the 60’s, I loved the colour work and spiritual themes in work by artists like Twins Seven Seven and Muraina Oyelami.
I am hugely inspired by the artists with learning disabilities I have worked with as a creative freelancer for the arts charities ‘Carousel‘ and ‘Heart n Soul. Largely their vision and technique is unaffected by ideas of what art ‘should’ be, bursting with a freedom of expression and joy for the exploration of processes. All their creative outputs, from music and performance, to visual arts all offer surprising and extraordinary perspectives, anything from the whimsical to the profound. Some of my favourite artists from this scene include: Ifeoma Orjiekwe, Tilly Milburn, Daniel Wakeford, Jolene Wild, Lizzie Emeh, Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät and Zombie Crash.
What piece of music is a constant in your studio?
When I first started painting again I liked to listen to those classic rock radio stations and drink vodka, to get into a loose and energetic mood. I used to paint only with my body, and once danced on a cardboard canvas to ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin. I actually still really like the energy of that painting. Now, I like to paint in silence, just with my whirring thoughts, absorbed in the process.
What is that trip that you have always wanted to make?
I’m obsessed with whales and deep sea creatures, I have always dreamed of becoming a marine biologist so that I can explore the deep sea and swim with blue whales.
Do you collect anything in particular?
I collect leaves – mainly in autumn. It blows my mind to find this treasure, just strewn all over the floor. The way they glow when light shines through them, so, so tempting. I must have thousands of photographs of leaves too. I found a dried leaf in my wallet this week, and constantly find them in books, where I have left them to flatten. The best of the collection get painted with epoxy resin and made into brooches for Christmas presents.
Is your artwork where you want it to be?
The work goes through phases, where I am really pleased and it just flows and I feel extremely satisfied and supported by it. Having painted mostly ‘in a bubble’ alone, with very little input from other painters for the past 6 years, having started at Turps has definitely affected my practise. Finally having eyes on the work, from a cohort and mentor was obviously something I expected and signed up for, but the ways it has affected my perception of my painting and painting generally has been very unexpected. It has been at times as encouraging as it has been discouraging, but – ultimately very useful in understanding if my language is being understood.
How do you order your time?
I work full time in a very demanding operational role for a service design agency, so usually paint midweek and weekends. My job requires a lot of energy and interaction with an ever growing team, so finding energy after a long day to paint can sometimes be tricky. That said, painting is my priority and my studio is absolutely a sanctuary, so I know that once I can actually cycle there I will gain energy from the practice.
Do you have a mantra?
Not really, but I did make a series of paintings a couple of years ago called ‘modern mantras’, which incorporated a bit of my poetry practise. I painted Rorschach-type paintings on paper and then used graphite to write some improvised mantras over the top; over and over again like they were being chanted by rote or in prayer. One of them said ‘I am not completely lost’ another was ‘everything is fine’, definitely an element of humour with an element of exorcism!
Tell us about a piece you are currently working on
I had a crit recently at Turps and someone suggested I paint on the floor. Up until a year ago I had only painted on the floor, and had gradually worked my way to painting on the wall over a period of maybe 2 years – so i found that quite interesting. I had been considering a return to floor painting, as obviously the paint doesn’t move in the same way with gravity, so can be manipulated in more ways, particularly if you like using the quantities of paint that I do. The latest piece has multiple layers, like a diary of different days, some opaque layers and some chunky layers that show through underneath the new one. At the moment it’s a glorified mess, but I am hoping something interesting will emerge soon!
Is there any advice you were given that you would like to share?
Yes, some advice I was given recently, when I felt somewhat stuck. I was told to ask myself “is the painting doing what I need it to do?” I found that really useful, as sometimes it’s easy to get lost in opinions about your work or some other unhelpful perspective, losing sight of what draws you to the practise, and your fundamental intention.
What pastimes have you been entertaining yourself with in lockdowns?
Like everyone, lots of walking and playing with my cat (adopted during lockdown). My friends and I also started a ‘mixtape’ club, which has been a real lifeline. Every week or so one of us picks a theme, anything from an emotion to a photograph or a concept – then we all choose 2 songs that we feel somehow reflect or interact with the theme. The theme chooser then receives all the songs and mixes the playlist, and we all listen at the same time (in our separate houses/countries), using Whatsapp to comment on the choices and trying to guess who chose what. It has been great for finding new music, feeling connected (without the screen time) and getting to know each other through music.
Is narrative important in your work?
Not particularly, although narrative ideas sometimes creep in. I try to reflect them sometimes in the painting titles, but was told recently that the explanation isn’t always welcome as (particularly with abstract work) people like to make up their own narratives.
Does place inform your work?
Not physical place, but mental place certainly. That said, if I have been on an adventure somewhere the landscape will creep in to the work through the colour or forms. I don’t usually notice this until later down the line though.