Thickly layered oils, painterly surfaces, visible brushstrokes, bright colour and a wham, bam of emotion. These are abstract landscapes that transport you to a walk on the coast, salty face to the wind, or to the freeing feeling of standing in an open field. And all of this output from a young artist who lives in Brixton and works in a very urban space within wonderfully named, 401 ½ Studios on the Wandsworth Road. Daisy Allsup meets painter, Emily Thornton:
What’s the art market like for young artists today?
It’s really exciting. Technology and particularly social media mean there isn’t that reliance on being represented by a gallery. Young artists are able to market themselves and use pop-up gallery spaces where they don’t lose a huge commission or have the stylistic pressure. Of course I'd love to be represented one day, but not until I figure out who I am as a painter.
How do you balance the need to work to commission versus the desire to pursue your own ideas?
It’s really difficult. I don’t feel in a position to turn down commissions but finding time to do my own work keeps me sane. It goes in waves, at the moment my work-life balance isn’t great – I work 6-7 days a week - but I absolutely love it, it’s not a chore.
How do you deal with the pressure to create new works all the time?
I’m getting better at accepting that not every day will be productive. A few weeks can be spent plodding along, then an idea comes and it’s very intense. You can’t produce work at that level all the time, and in fact the procrastination periods are vital.
Is there a painting you are most proud of?
It’s often the paintings that no one takes an interest in that are my personal favourites. The ones that are a struggle for me end up being my best works. Painting is like a U-shape: starts well, goes down, God this is hard, then it picks up again and by the end you are back at the top.
Which galleries do you rate in London?
If an Iris reader wanted to start collecting art, where should they begin?
The Other Art Fair (30 March-2 April 2017) happens alongside The Affordable Art Fair and is not only more affordable but is the place to find more unusual, interesting artists. Look out for Open Studios. Pullens Yard is particularly good, try The Kiln Rooms for ceramics and Copeland Park often has interesting things.
Which artists inspire you?
Claude Monet's Sunrise for its ephemeral quality, Diebenkorn for compositional qualities, Matisse's Pink Studio more recently for the colour palette, De Kooning for the power of decisive mark making, Ivon Hitchens’ unconfined joy in mark making. Then there’s the God that is David Hockney and his drawings and paintings, the tranquil nature of Peter Doig, bad gal Maggi Hambling’s attitude and approach to painting, Howard Hodgkin’s disregard for boundaries and Marina Abramovich’s performance work.
Is there a particular painting you return to again and again?
Turners and Monets.
If I was to ask a 5-year old Emily what’s she wanted to be when she was older what would she have said?
A Mummy. Or an ice skater. It was only when I moved school for sixth form that I suddenly realised how badly I wanted a career. Painting just took over at that age and it was all I wanted to do.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Devon is particularly poignant for me, it’s a very special place. Living in a city the best thing you can do is to look up – start noticing things around you. Take a bit more time walking somewhere and notice things – on your way to work you might see the sun peeking out from the clouds, or notice the way a building sits against the sky. You can take this with you for the day and carry that feeling with you.
Do you listen to music or podcasts when you paint?
I can’t listen to podcasts – it’s too distracting to have words. At the moment I’m listening to a lot of world music and I make a lot of playlists. Here’s what I’m listening to currently.
What do you find most challenging about your work?
Being by myself. I crave time alone but if it’s not going well I want company. The self-doubt and self-expectation can become unbearable. It’s very scary to show your work. My worst nightmare is that someone looks at one of my paintings and can’t feel anything. I am about to exhibit some works which are in a new style, marks reacting off marks (like this, left). I’m excited but it’s moving into the unknown and that’s very daunting. The downs aren’t great. But sometimes the day’s painting is so good. The joy is there, something is working.
See Emily’s new works at The Royal Geographical Society as part of an exhibition of emerging artists, Uncommon Ground: New Art from the Landscape. 15 February–2 March, free.
To commission a work or get in touch with Emily email firstname.lastname@example.org
Words by Daisy Allsup. The Iris Letter February 2017.