Emma Davies is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Northamptonshire. As well as the visual arts, Emma also has training in music, dance and theatre and has collaborated with musicians, dancers, directors, choreographers and videographers to create performances that unites art forms; and her studio practice is often inspired by these disciplines or they are referred to.
Since graduating in 1993 from De Montfort University with a degree in Visual Arts she has exhibited nationally and is beginning to showcase her performance pieces regionally. In 2016, she was awarded an A-N Professional Development Bursary, for which she timetabled an intense year of training including a week’s Set Design course at Central St Martins and a performance art workshop run by Vlatka Horvat at Arts Admin. In January 2017 Emma was shortlisted for the Creative Climate Leadership Course, jointly run by Julie’s Bicycle (UK) and Pina, who are based in Slovenia. She is increasingly adopting eco principles into her work and extending this out to when working in collaboration or with organisations.
Emma is also an Associate Educator and Complimentary Education Coordinator at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, a Creative Projects Associate at Royal and Derngate and Educator at NN Contemporary Art and has worked with organisations throughout the Midlands and in the South as an educator, artist and designer.
Describe your art practice for us
I’m a multi-disciplinary artist that works across Performance, Live Art, Installation, Mixed Media, Constructions, Objects, Artists Books, Painting, Drawing and Theatre Production. The two main themes running through my work are Light and Dark and the Power of Experience. To me, Light and Dark is tone, plus colour, form, emotion, environments, philosophy, psychology and society. In essence, what we see, do, think and feel. Personal experiences range from engagements with novels, architectural and natural environments, transient moments, or personal, social, cultural events and issues. These experiences contain elements of light and dark, being the hook that first caught my imagination.
How long have you been practising?
I graduated in 1993 with a BA in Visual Arts from De Montfort University, so you could say from then (as a sketchy approximation), but I’ve had patches of time out, due to:
- ‘The Lost Years’ (as I call them) in my practice, where, although I was practicing and exhibiting, I was floundering with direction, what sort of artist I had become and what sort of artist I wanted to be
- Earning a living as a Youth Worker and Youth Counsellor, which I was equally passionate about, but your emotions and stamina can get drained, leaving not much left for creativity
- Finding myself working in Arts Administration and although we can’t do without arts administrators, it wasn’t for me! There wasn’t much time to develop my own practice while facilitating others’.
Although all of these experiences make me who I am today, I would say that only half of that time consisted of the production of successful and relevant work. I am definitely playing catch up and have a real sense of urgency in my practice. All decisions have to be the right decisions and any time available to spend on my work I can’t waste. What is now overwhelmingly helpful however, is that it is becoming acceptable for artists to be polymaths – it is no longer a negative. For years, there was pressure to be seen and to label yourself as a ‘painter’ or a ‘sculptor’, or that by being an artist + something else i.e. an Educator or other, or being creative through other means, made you less of an artist. Quite frankly, this is poppycock and as someone who has had training in drama, music, dance and the visual arts, it is so exciting and freeing to at last, be able to out myself as a polymath, embrace and celebrate it, merge disciplines or/and collaborate. After discussing all of the above with Yasmin Canvin (the director of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art) I now follow one rule ‘As long as the quality is there and is consistent’, which was her reply to the question ‘What do curators think of or assess in artists who are multi-disciplined?’ She also told me ‘Don’t fight yourself’, which is one of the best pieces of advice that I have ever been given and is stuck, very visibly, on the wall of my studio (at NN Contemporary Art).
What is the most interesting or inspiring thing you have seen/been to over the last month, and why?
I was absolutely blown away by William Kentridge’s ‘Thick Time’ exhibition at the Whitechapel. This was a shining, brilliant example of artist as polymath, the quality being iridescent throughout. A transformative and immersive experience from beginning to end. I know artists who had visited that show three, four times over, I would have done the same if possible. Film, animation, performance, installation, soundscapes, machines, books, music, theatre, puppetry, opera, drawing, tapestries, collaboration as well as intense individual contemplation. An overall tonal scale permeated, combined with carefully placed accents of intense colour. And all approached with a succinct, sensitive touch.
Which other artists’s work do you admire, and why?
Phyllida Barlow – For her quiet perseverance, generosity of time and expertise (as an educator) approach to production, embracing sustainable practices, daring spirit, aesthetic sensibilities and vision.
Josie Long – Her podcasts on Radio 4 are addictive. A gentle, inquisitive and deep reaching approach to subjects that are presented as sound paintings. I can’t listen to these while engaged in any other activities, they deserve my utmost and undivided attention.
Paul Kindersley – Discovered through the power of Twitter. He and his works (film, performance, objects and drawings) are highly amusing, beautiful, idiosyncratic, questioning, open and celebrative. An instant pick me up when feeling gloomy.
Where can people see your work?
I’m developing my website www.emma-davies.com (with the guidance and patience of James Steventon). This has been and still is a long term project. I am looking at it to serve not only as a window into my current practice, but also to accommodate an archive, that presents a narrative arc of the past near quarter of a century. For little updates I post on Twitter and also have blogs on A-N
In the physical realm I’ve been commissioned by Royal and Derngate to create a stage set for a Community Actors Production. The set will be informed by my practice and Phyllida Barlow and William Kentridge may also get a nod. The performance dates are 17th and 18th July. Elsewhere, nothing is pinned just yet, but I do have some pots boiling. This year, I’m looking to show some of my studio based work (that have been in research and development phase for the last 18 months) in some open exhibitions; I might hold another event in the Project Space at NN Contemporary Art (live/participatory/ installation). And I might do something performance related………Due to my sense of the decreasing availability of time, I am now an ardent goal setter, so my aim is to achieve two of the above!
I do also welcome arranged visits to my studio at NN Contemporary Art – after showing around students from the Education Project at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, I am interested as to which parts of my practice spark interest; an informal poll as it were.
Emma was interviewed in March 2017.
Images are courtesy of the artist except where stated.