A CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST, EMMA WHITELOCK
I first discovered Emma’s work at a beautiful local gallery, Silson Contemporary. I found Emma’s work instantly captivating; it’s evocative and engaging. Her subtle use of colour and texture to create a feeling, to draw you in, is incredible. I could certainly sit and look at her work all day long! So, I was absolutely delighted when Emma agreed to feature as part of this blog series. It has been a joy getting to know more about her journey to becoming an artist, her influences and inspirations as well as understanding her art a little more too.
Here Emma tells us her story, and how she came to follow her creative dream after taking time out from her career to have her daughter. Do take a moment to get lost in her words and, of course, her art. It really is beautiful!
PLEASE COULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK FOR US?
My paintings explore the emotional connection to land and sea in a semi-abstract style. I create expressive works, the landscape acting as a foil to human experience. Each contains a tiny abstracted female figure, capturing a charged moment filled with remembrances past or possibilities for the future. Starting with a sense of place and compositional balance, I work by building up layers. I paint primarily in acrylic, but combine this with a variety of mixed media, including texture mediums, inks and rich glazes. I gain inspiration from the expansive Yorkshire coast and wild moors, as well as annual trips to Cornwall with it’s stunning light. My works are not of specific places though, and evolve more from a feeling or memory as well as the spontaneity of the paint.
I’D LOVE TO KNOW A LITTLE MORE ABOUR YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING AN ARTIST, INCLUDING YOUR INFLUENCES AND INSPIRATIONS…
My journey to becoming a full-time artist has been an extended one. My parents were both artists (though my father always had to juggle this alongside a traditional profession) and I grew up in houses that always had a studio, where art was both produced and collected, and interesting friends visited. These included the renowned sculptor and painter, John Wragg R.A, who was a highly talented but blunt Yorkshireman who would tell us stories of the upsets he would cause with his forthright opinions at the Royal Academy. I admired his lack of pretension and passion for conveying truthfulness in his work. From a young age my rather eccentric late mother would get me to skip school to accompany her on trips to Christie’s in London where I would diligently mark the sale prices in the catalogues of the modern art sales as she waited to bid. We would also tour the galleries and exhibitions so I was constantly seeing work in the flesh. I have made art for as long as I can remember, drawing, painting, collaging, even making models. My first artistic influences were the French painters of the early twentieth century.
At University I studied Art alongside English Literature at York St John. I specialised in collagraph printmaking and have continued this love of texture and working by catching colours on relief surfaces in my painting. My tutor, accomplished printmaker Peter Wray, introduced me to the work of Antoni Tapies and I was immediately drawn to his interest in conveying the passage of time through the marks we leave behind. My English undergraduate thesis was on the portrayal of women by Thomas Hardy and I think you can still sense the feeling of ‘The Return of the Native’ in my landscapes. Graduating with a First Class Honours degree and the University’s Humanities Prize, I was awarded a British Academy Scholarship to undertake an interdisciplinary MA by Research in English with History of Art at the University of York. I have always enjoyed exploring both words and images. My work was on the Bloomsbury sisters, painter Vanessa Bell and writer Virginia Woolf, and how they both conveyed the same sense of hidden female emotions through their respective mediums. Again, this interest in literature very much feeds into the poetic nature of my work. I still feel the influence of writers like Woolf, Hardy and Yeats in the mood of my paintings – and another painter sibling, Jack Yeats. One of my all time favourite paintings is his ‘There is No Night’. It’s pure drama in paint.
Even though I did well academically, I never thought it was realistic to earn a living as an artist. I begun a career in education marketing which lasted over ten years, though I always continued to create in my spare time, from printmaking evening classes just to have access to a press, to life drawing and photography, as well as writing. Then I had my daughter and after a break to stay home with her until school, I finally thought it was now or never to do what I really wanted in life. I gave myself six months to produce a portfolio and then took my work to two galleries. I remember feeling like I was on Dragon’s Den, but miraculously the first immediately accepted some work and the second gave me some pointers to come back in another six months. However, after just a few weeks they offered me a joint show with established printmaker Sally Clarke, who I had met through York Printmakers and greatly admire. This was at Pyramid Gallery in 2016 and though my work has evolved substantially from that time, the same mood is echoed. By the end of that year I had been contacted by an exciting new gallery in Harrogate, Silson Contemporary. I exhibited with them in early 2017 and was then offered representation as a Gallery Artist. From then I’ve been exhibited in numerous galleries with my work exhibited widely across the UK and overseas.
WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY EXHIBIT & WHERE CAN WE SEE YOUR WORK?
I have remained with Silson Contemporary in Yorkshire and you can view a collection of my work there. It is a private house gallery where the owner beautifully curates modern art works alongside a keen eye for interior design. I am also represented by Eastwood Fine Art in Hampshire and The Linda Blackstone Gallery in London and overseas. I am normally a regular exhibitor at the popular York Open Studios and the Art & contemporary art fair but have taken a break from these during the pandemic. I am, however, happy to make individual appointments for visitors to my loft studio in York. You can, of course also see a selection of my work on my website at emmawhitelock.co.uk.
Perhaps the biggest development in the last couple of years for me has been social media. I am very lucky to have a substantial Instagram following and many clients from all over the world contact me through this platform. I have recently ventured into Reels, short videos which provide the viewer with a condensed view of my painting process. One of the first of these gained over 800,000 views and I have been amazed by the response from both collectors and other artists who find the insight into the methods so fascinating and at times hypnotic.
WHAT ABOUT “CREATIVE BLOCK” – DO YOU EVER FEEL IT?
Painting for me is a combination of conveying emotion and enjoying the free flow of the medium, with all the surprises along the way. Sometimes these are happy accidents, loose marks that just glide, texture giving depth, a pop of colour in just the right place. Frequently there are many obstacles to overcome before you feel something is right – all artists will know this feeling well. I remember a visitor at open studios once saying to me how ‘relaxing’ it must be to paint all day and I informed her that sometimes it felt more like going into battle. Of course the rewards outweigh the struggle and if we weren’t striving to constantly do better then everything would be staid. I am always grateful that I can spend my time pursuing my interest and that others find joy and solace from it.
DO YOU HAVE ANY GUIDANCE FOR PEOPLE CHOOSING ARTWORK FOR THEIR OWN HOME?
If anyone is trying to decide on a painting, to me the overriding factor should be about which one they are drawn to instinctively. Some people will simply be attracted to certain colours or marks, or feel that it reminds them of a certain place and that’s fine. For me personally though, the most rewarding thing is when someone makes a connection – when the work reflects back at them with silent understanding, revealing something of their inner world beyond the everyday. Like my hidden figures and the words of Virginia Woolf, I would like them to feel “All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others… and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”
Website: www.emmawhitelock.co.uk where you can view a selection of my work
Instagram: @emma.whitelock for my most regular presence, with the latest pieces and process videos