Emma Harvey is a British artist. You might have seen her sexy, funny, standout work in group shows and the Art Car Boot. Based in London and Kent, Emma Harvey’s work explores themes of sexuality and the place of women in contemporary society within a culture that overly sexualises women. Emma creates very personal responses to gender and female sexuality and her own understanding of body, femininity, and self.
You can see Harvey’s work in the new year at Attract in East London from 17th January 2019.
Please note: some explicit images (NSFW)
WIA: What are you doing today?
Emma Harvey: Trying to start a day of painting…
WIA: Tell us about your creative process.
EH: As a painter, the technical side of painting is a positive challenge. I enjoy the ritual of stepping up to my easel to paint, preparing my palette, getting into the right mindset to focus properly. I can get lost in painting for one minute or thirty minutes at a time, but it’s usually in short, concentrated bursts. When it flows well, it gives me a high like nothing else. When it doesn’t flow it’s horribly frustrating. However, the really difficult bit is the conceptual side, working through ideas, back and forth, until something sticks and feels ‘right’. Generating an idea which will interest me enough to spend time painting it, that also remains open enough conceptually for me (and the potential viewer), is always a challenge. I’m sure the perfect painting is waiting for me just around the corner, if I can only keep going…
WIA: Describe where you do most of your creative work.
EH: I have a studio at home, which is a really light and open space to work from, although I don’t really have an area to do ‘dirty work’ which is something I miss.
WIA: What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
EH: What I am currently working on – my on-going series of circular paintings. If I’m not the most excited about my current work then I just can’t do it and I know it’s not right for me. Each new circle painting I am working on is always the most exciting thing I’ve ever done.
WIA: What made you decide to become an artist?
EH: I have a vivid memory of being very excited by an artwork I did when I was five years old, in fact I found it the other day and it still excited me! I had an eccentric History of Art teacher who taught me how to look at art; she gave me an amazing insight and excitement for art. I had an uncle who was an incredible wildlife illustrator; I can still remember walking into his studio with all his brushes and palettes and drawers full of birds eggs and it felt like a really exciting place to be. Ultimately it is about a need to make art and the excitement I feel when I’m in the art making process that nothing else can touch.
WIA: What are you currently working on?
EH: I’m currently working on my 16th circle painting, part of my ongoing series of circular paintings on board. The circle shape fits with my desire to look intently at one particular area, cutting out all the background noise and just concentrating on one thing. That’s what I love about art, taking the time to really look at one thing – you learn so much.
WIA: Do you listen to music while you work, and if so, what’s your soundtrack?
EH: At the moment I’m listening to the Idles album ‘Joy as a form of Resistance’ which is a truly brilliant work of art, it gives me a feeling of urgency, grit and determination, and makes me smile too. My recent pop-art style series of gloss paintings of riot grrrl and female fronted bands gave me a constant inspiring soundtrack of music to listen to (such as The Runaways, Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Seven Year Bitch, Tribe 8, The Raincoats, The Slits). Although I listen to Big Country most days and it’s also dog-friendly music. Daphne, my rescue dog, is with me in the studio most of the time and has a noise sensitivity problem so, unfortunately, I can’t listen to anything too extreme when she is around. I sometimes listen to tv whilst I’m working but it depends what mood I’m in and how much I need to concentrate on what I’m doing. I’m enjoying watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the moment, which is full of wobbly sets and bad sound, but watching a lead female character kicking loads of male vampires is rather enjoyable.
WIA: What are the key themes in your work?
EH: There are lots of disparate things that interest me such as; female sexuality, gender, oppression and control of the female form and the alienation of female flesh, flesh and material in Renaissance paintings, the early 90s riot grrrl movement, gloss paint, veganism, symbology and ritual, the #metoo movement, nature / light / colour. I’m not sure I’d class any of these as themes in my work but they are things that affect me, and I think about most days and therefore feed into my creativity.
WIA: What would you like people to notice in your work?
EH: I’d like them to see the finished painting as a question. It’s not so much about the actual painting process and how the paint is applied, it’s more about an image or idea that could get someone thinking.
WIA: What attracts you to the mediums you work in?
I love the opulence of oil paint, making, manipulating and moving wet oil colour is an amazing thing. I just love playing with colour.
WIA: What equipment could you not do without?
EH: My Daler Rowney brushes. They are meant for acrylic paint but are the only ones I can use for oil painting. Also, my computer, which I use like a sketchbook to trial out ideas. I have hundreds, and hundreds of images on there.
WIA: Who or what inspires you?
EH: The energy, emergency, driving sounds and lyrical content of music often inspires me more than anything else. As someone who loves colour, the palette of Tiepolo, the late Renaissance painter, gives me so much inspiration; there’s a wall of his paintings in the National Gallery that excite me every time I see them. But everything can be inspiring; colour, nature, interaction with animals / humans. Everything affects, inspires, and feeds into the creative process.
WIA: How does gender affect your work?
EH: Gender affects every part of my life, and it is something I am constantly interested in addressing in my work. In the face of inequality, gender is something I think about daily and try to use as a positive, powerful force in my life and work.
WIA: What’s your favourite gallery, or place to see or experience art?
EH: I’ve been to some big derelict warehouse art shows in the East End of London where the building itself is almost as exciting as the art inside. In spaces like that it’s almost impossible for artists / curators not to engage with the architecture as much as the art. I like discovering new spaces to view art, although I still enjoy going to the National Gallery. I still get inspired each time I go in.
WIA: If you could own one piece of art, what would it be and why?
EH: Renate Bertlmann ‘Zärtliche Berührungen (Tender Touches), 1976. I really love the work of Renate Bertlmann and this photographic piece in particular is so sensual and playful and powerful and evocative and makes me want to touch it and paint it and excites and amuses me all at the same time. How could you not feel joy from looking at this work every day? It reminds me to be playful and have fun. Although, everyday on my computer desktop I see the Barbara Kruger piece ‘Not Ugly Enough’ which I also love.
WIA: If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be, and why?
EH: Cindy Sherman. Because. Obviously.
WIA: Is there an artist, movement or collective you’d like to see re-evaluated, or a contemporary artist who is underrated?
EH: I love the work of contemporary London based artist Agata Cardoso, she works with analogue photography creating incredibly evocative and painterly images. I love the way she deals with the body and explores the ‘mystic feminine’ and uses symbology in her work.
WIA: What’s your favourite colour
Facebook: Emma Harvey Art
Opening Thursday 17 Jan 6-9pm, then through to Sun 20 Jan 12-6pm daily
BSMT Space, 5D Stoke Newington Road, London, N16 8BH