All posts by Emma

Exhibition day

Waking up in a beautiful house in Yorkshire today and sitting in the sunshine in the garden, I am left reflecting on my MA ending. I found this house on AirBnB (another tool of the 21st century which allows us into each others lives, into shared living spaces, into worlds we need to learn about). Everything seems to be about connection now. How I connect with the world and how I interact with it. What good can I do? Because making art is, for me, primarily, a selfish act. One that makes *me* happy. One that gives me comfort and an outlet for all those emotions that I don’t even recognise, perhaps those that only work sub consciously, even unconsciously. Everything is brought to the surface in making Art. Not necessarily immediately. Sometimes years later I’ll see, finally SEE what was going on: what I needed to process. The collaborations really make me feel that I connect with others -in a real way – and can give something to the wider world, beyond finished artwork.

So, tonight is the presentation of this work to the world – at least the actual ‘real life’ version, at Barnsley Civic Centre. The MA is complete. It has been one hell of a journey. Hard. Hilarious. Fun. Frustrating. Challenging. Ultimately so richly rewarding.  And my cohort: just fabulous! I have been so lucky. They have supported me through plenty of crazy times. Today is a celebration of those connections: of the comradeship and the scaffolding we provided for each other. For every silent crit, every lecture, every asynchronous seminar, every making day, every presentation and debate: THANK YOU. I have learnt so much from every one of you. 

Now let’s get out there and have solo shows at the Tate and the Serpentine! 


This is what I did

If you want a little peek into the process:

There was a lot of physical interaction with the processes, including using a fair few good hammers, and my fists clenched. Having said that, all of the aggression was directed at the clay/ceramic, and the remnants were all used, reincarnated. I was asked by course leader Caroling Wright, whether I would consider my relationship with the work to incorporate a type of ‘loving aggression’, questioning whether such a relationship was possible. I pondered for some time on this. The evidence is there in this video. I am both embracing and holding the work to me as a baby, and smashing it as an enemy. Thank goodness there are BEAUTIFUL and creative ways to explore our human emotions. I wonder whether it is the ultimate in healing activities. I would endorse it to anyone who is in need of an outlet. And I thank the policies of the Conservative party, Donald Trump, terrorism, war, abuses of all kinds, and lack of care for those most vulnerable in the world, for fueling this year’s work!

In fact, only about 50% of the work created has been exhibited. That is the reality of a group show, a limited exhibition space, and being over enthusiastic about making!

Here is a peek at the show:





And so lovely to finally meet the rest of the cohort… these guys! x





United Nations of the Art World


It was nearly 20 years since I had felt the tingle of excitement at being graded. It was nearly a quarter of a century since I had last been ‘formally assessed’ (how dare they?) as an artist.

I was about to start a three-year academic commitment. In applying to be part of the Open College of the Arts 2014 cohort for Europe’s first distance part time Masters in Fine Art, I had signed up to deadlines and being a student again: a proper one (not the kind who says they are a ‘student of life’ and winks in an alarming way). I’d have an NUS card, discounts in Top Shop and more two-for-one pizzas than I could ever consume . What else would I learn? What had I to gain?

And then it began. My cohort came together like something out of The IT Crowd: bumbling and lumbering around our virtual Masters degree like Neanderthals who could not figure out how to turn the screen on, never mind access a ‘hangout’. And what the hell do they mean by ‘asynchronous seminar’?

“Can you hear me? I can see you but…hang on, type in the text box…you can’t see the text box…umm…the icons on the left, THE LEFT…*sigh* Just turn the computer off and start again!”

Those who were computer literate (the ‘hackers’ as we like to think of them) became the leaders of the pack – virtual royalty: they could initiate events, like shamans or magicians. They could mute the idiots who were broadcasting their tea slurping, toast munching, or shouting at their children. We quickly learned the benefit of deactivating the camera, not only to ensure that the bandwidth was working for everyone, but also so that we could wear a towel turban and pyjamas whilst at a lecture. These are the great benefits of virtual attendance at ‘school’. There were disadvantages too.

“Mwamba, are you still there…hello? Are you there Mwamba?…No, he’s gone.”

Realistically though, what had we to gain from the experience of being part of a multi-cultural, geographically diverse student collective? How would we grow by connecting weekly throughout life changing and world changing events? How would our practice change by being on show whilst learning about each other’s work, lives, and backgrounds? What riches would we gain from this unique and international dynamic?

That first tiptoe into describing our work to each other was replaced three years later by the group refusing to accept the artist’s version of events. Not in a creepy ‘I know you!’ way, but by feeling that we had all been on a road trip together – we understood each other. This road trip took us through Germany, America, Canada, Spain, Africa, Ireland and the United Kingdom. What sights we saw as we learnt about each others’ lives through the aperture of creative discussions and portfolios.

Relationships have started and ended, politicians have been voted (some controversially) in and out of power, wars have been a constant background noise. We have seen pictures. Pictures on screens, like a children’s book of art and life; a kaleidoscope of happenings and creativity. We have worked together and yet independently. A ‘making day’ required us to meet in our studios hundreds of miles apart, and to share our experiences, exchanging photos, discussing progress, exploring our own inadequacies as well as celebrating our successes. I have learnt about relationships I don’t understand, places I have never been to, journeys I will never go on and all from the relative comfort of my swivel chair. I have been exposed to creative takes on feminism, political angst, collective intelligence and polymaterialism without having to leave my computer. But it’s not about the exposure, it’s about the engagement: about being a cohort – learning about and supporting each other. Is that not symbolic of the importance of being human? Finding common ground and celebrating our differences. Learning by listening to each other.

“So sorry, I missed everything you just said. The babysitter’s here now and I’ve shut the dog away!”

Whilst the most important lesson is to mute the microphone before discussing a blocked toilet with someone who has just walked into the studio, the additional lessons have been endlessly insightful. We have had numerous outstanding lectures, and have been led by an award-winning team. Dr Angela Rogers and Caroline Wright know us and our quirks and our practice inside and out. They have been stalwart supporters; challenging us by asking those searching questions which made us address our insecurities and doubts, acknowledging these and moving on from them.

But we have never met. It is a fascinating by-product of this digital age that someone can know you so well and yet never have seen you in the flesh. It will not be until we gather in June in the Civic Centre, Barnsley for our exhibition hang that we will all come face to face. This feels like internet dating; will they look like they do in their profile photo? (It’s some semi-abstract insect painting: this should be fun!) Will they be shorter or taller than I imagine? (Everyone is roughly the same size on a computer screen.) Will I like their work when I see it in ‘the real world’? Will we hug? #awkward

In a world that occasionally forgets that the future is a place of diversity and that there is strength and dynamism in this, we could see this MA course as the United Nations of the Art world – reaching out across geographical borders to bring together ten people who would never have initiated this relationship independently. We are a collective and we are connected. This is, in fact, the title of our MA show.

It is irrelevant that Mathew lives in Nova Scotia and that his Prime Minister is Justin Trudeau (liberal leader supreme), that Tanya lives in New York and is having to put up with Trump, and that I’m surrounded by conversations about breaking up the EU….we have all ultimately been brought together under one ‘virtual’ roof and we have explored questions about our practice together. We have collaborated in a shared online exhibition: another bite of the virtual cookie.

So, back to my original question: what have we gained from our decision to embark on the OCA Masters? Everything. This is not just about letters after our names, or about making a move into new galleries or being picked up by a particular curator. It is about exploring in great depth the thing which drives us all – the motivation to make. I watch people who are great at hairdressing, flower arranging, sketching, science, construction, equations, parenting…we are all driven by a desire to make something different, unique, better…lovely. To explore that within a diverse community is richly rewarding. It is confirmation that we are all part of the same fabric of existence – the comfort blanket of creativity that wraps around the world. If only we could grip a bit tighter, hold on to our global brothers and sisters and reject all sounds of isolationism or jingoism.

We will be filling a gallery full of ideas, concepts and creations and they are part of all of us, part of being alive. They are for the consumption of all: those who can attend the exhibition 15-24th June in the Civic Centre, Barnsley and those who can view our work online. We welcome you all. We embrace you in. Stay a while.



New me?

So, my new website is up and running. I have moved the domain server, and other impossibly techie tasks, in order to keep my presence as I have however also simplified everything hugely. The website is stripped right back. No longer a catalogue of everything I have ever done alone or in collaboration…..

This website identifies what my current interests are and gives a taster of the work I am producing.

I am paying for the site so there is no advertising in it, as there was with my previous website. I am excited to show this to people and have confidence in the work.


I feel like starting a movement. Something to do with the joys of imperfection. After all, the works I am currently producing rely on this. They could not be a conversation if they also needed to be ‘perfect’. In an interview Gormley stated:

There was a time just after I moved into the new studio when it was just full of clay and i was trying to find a way of making that wasn’t imposing an image on the material but allowing a one-to-one relationship between my body and the body of the clay. The forms arose naturally from the space between my hands; clay was another way of dealing with the flesh.

Biggs, McGonagle and Bann. Antony Gormley. London. Tate Publishing 1993

This ‘space’ is what interests me the most. The space where the work emerges. 

I have been making a lot of work over the last two weeks. It has been an exciting time that I will need to finish fairly soon so that the work has some breathing space before I select the pieces I will be exhibiting in Sheffield.

My new website should go live this week and is something I am extremely proud of. It is sleek and simple with professionally shot photographs of my current work. It is my shop front, not my storage container! Here is a little peek:

Life story.

When I was 15 my then Art teacher said to me: “Emma, you never know when to stop! You overwork everything!”. At 18, as a new student of Art I was told by a lecturer “if you want to make it in the Art world, you have to find the hole in the market and fill it!”. A little part of me died. At 19 a college professor pulled me into his office and, in his too-tight trousers, swore that he would find out where I was plaigarising from. Nearly everyone left his office in tears. At 21 I was training to be an art teacher in East London and a colleague of mine was being threatened by a parent. His crime was to have joked that the Bengali girls should do all the cleaning up. He wanted to get them to refuse – to reject stereotypes and to insist the boys helped. Instead, a family assumed that he was abusing his position of authority and we were told to leave the site safely. The school had police escorts ensuring that the students left the site without gang fighting with a nearby school.

And then there was the incident of the man who had my heart, being killed. We were no longer together though. As if that makes it alright?

Then what? What do I do but fall back on sentimentality, lucky charms, books and greetings cards and the smell of sweet peas and tea. I roll the pages of my sketch books through my hands. These vast collections of scribbled thoughts, desperate longing, and sadnesses that I feel guilty for owning. Because I have this beautiful family, these incredible friends, this amazing child and a job I adore. I didn’t deserve to feel bad about stuff. I hadn’t earned the right. Suffered enough.

Colour is my therapy, my muse. I squeeze it from the tube; great glistening fruits of yellow and pink. Cherries and sunsets, fireworks and celebrations. If I swamp myself in enough colour I am happy. If I surround myself with seductive nudity, I own it. It is part of me.

But it isn’t. It wasn’t. It was a charade. The colours drown out an emptiness and the flamboyant​ figures a masquerade. And I’m there teaching other people techniques and trying to fill a world with images that are empty of ‘me’ – because they are not allowed to exist fully, or to feel genuine. They can be aesthetically pleasing and have their own sadness or raunch. As long as it is not mine.

And I’m reminded of all of these artistic encounters. Of people who said things and made me feel. Of artists who move me and of why I do what I do. And I do love what I do. And I’m no longer this caged bird who hides from judgement and pretends my work is pretty and acceptable and polite. I’m free from the perception that the world needs me to be something; colourful and prolific and joyful. Because that is not real. Instead, as I reinvent my website and my portfolio, I want to acknowledge the growth this MA journey has allowed me. I am open to my own pain. I acknowledge my sadnesses and my joys. I feel the cool air making my eyes water and I let the tears roll; as comfortably as letting the laughter hurt my cheeks. My conversation is with materials – it is process led, real discovery; authenticity. It is my exploration (supported by a fairly sizeable amount of academic rigour, and experimentation). These conversations with the work are the air in my lungs. There is no right or wrong. Only the process. Only the engagement. And when it rears its ugly, unconventional, bruised head, I pull it to me, recognising a friend.

Sometimes you win….

In levering myself into being seen by the industry that is the Art World, I have been seeking opportunities to exhibit via open calls. I have had a little success in this recently and have a few possibilities in the pipeline. Currently my work is going to feature in the April edition of Average Art Magazine, a monthly alternative art magazine aimed at getting emerging artists under the nose of collectors and industry. One of my sculptures will also be promoted in August as part of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2017
In addition to this I have entered work in a series of other open exhibitions and have been suggested contacts by my mentor Freddie Robins. There is a sense that it would be a real mistake not to springboard off the MA and into other exhibiting opportunities. I’m immensely lucky to be doing the course I am studying and to be working in ways that I am finding so fulfilling. I recognise that the hours I have spent doing this work can be used effectively in the future; making good contacts and seeking out places for my sculptures to be seen.

The future is going to be full of risks and possibilities. It takes guts to offer your work to someone else to put value on. It is important to accept this as just someone else’s opinion and that neither mine not theirs is necessarily correct. I’m feeling so fond of my current work that I can genuinely take a deep breath and put it out there. I no longer need the safety net of an exhibition close to home or near a fan base. In fact, the more I think of it, the greater the pleasure in finding that audience purely because they think my work is exciting. I have exhibited multiple times in various places. I have work in different parts of the world. But this, this is like jumping in the deep end of the pool. Will my feet touch the floor? Will I hold my breath for long enough? 

Let’s hope so!