Emily Hett and Grace Stones were interviewed on the occasion of their selection as 2020 Fellows on the Artist Benevolent Fund‘s Step Change Programme, at Loughborough University.
Emily’s practice explores joy, is realised in 2D and 3D and spans a range of mediums including painting, collage, ceramics and installation. Her works embody specific aesthetics including vibrant colours, intricate pattern and playful compositions, all aiming to cultivate positive emotion to exhilarate and uplift the viewer. Emily studied at Loughborough University, where she undertook a year in industry as Artist in Residence with the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry, and graduated in 2019 with a First Class Honours BA degree in Fine Art. She has recently been awarded a twelve month Fellowship by the Artist Benevolent Fund (ABF) in partnership with Loughborough University. See more of Emily’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
Grace works with charcoal and graphite on paper, creating reflective surfaces allowing the drawings to interact and respond to their surrounding environment, adapting and changing in relation to the space, time and light. She uses the mindful, repetitive motion of drawing to cope with her personal experience with mental health. Aiming to question different coping mechanisms, including the use of medication, mindfulness, and therapy techniques. See more of Grace’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Where are you based?
EH: I have recently moved to Coventry, but my studio is based at Loughborough University where I also have access to their wide range of facilities as part of the ABF programme.
GS: I currently live in Loughborough and have a studio space at Loughborough University Creative Arts School during my ABF Step Change Fellowship.
Describe your practice for us
EH: Studies of microscopic imagery, cacti, seeds, coral and flora, inform the foundations of both the sculptural forms and patterns of each artwork. A partially subconscious approach to painting allows me space to play and to create new and exciting forms. Through energised processes of rolling, joining and bending material, I aim to create non-invasive organic and biomorphic sculptures which are not exact replicas of natural species, but allusive hybrids which embody both an intriguing and comforting familiarity. Each artwork is free of pre-existing associations or cultural attachments, hoping to cut across boundaries of age, gender and ethnicity, to create artworks that spark joy in not just one, but all viewers.
GS: I work predominately with charcoal and graphite on paper, creating reflective surfaces allowing the drawings to interact and respond to their surrounding environment, adapting and changing in relation to the space, time and light. I use the mindful, repetitive motion of drawing to cope with my personal experience with mental health. Aiming to question different coping mechanisms, including the use of medication, mindfulness, and therapy techniques. My process-led practice reiterates the concepts of pain and endurance confronting my ideals of perfection within daily life and artistic practice. The drawings encourage questions of imbalance and uncertainty, leaving negative space for the possibility of the repetitive process. The most recent project aims to discuss the use of medication, using the frottage to emboss the surface or the paper. Combining this technique alongside repetition has led to further open discussion in relation to benefits of art to mental health.
How long have you been practising and by what route did you come to your practice?
EH: This will be my first year practising after graduating from Loughborough University in 2019. I undertook Art and Design Foundation Diploma at my home in Manchester and then went on to study Fine Art at degree level. For my industrial placement year, I completed a twelve month Artist Residency at the MTC, where I created artworks in response to their innovative environment and new technologies. This was an incredibly influential year and where I was first inspired to incorporate microscopic imagery into my artworks!
GS: I completed my Foundation in Art and Design at Stafford College, where I suddenly realised that I could have my own voice within my work, and I was no longer limited to briefs set by the teachers at school. For some people they find this difficult, to start from nothing, but for me I was able to then really research and develop areas I was interested in, it was something I could get really excited about! After completing my Foundation, I went to Loughborough University to study Fine Art. I felt so privileged to have access to such amazing studios, workshops and tutors. I graduated in 2018, and since then I have carried on developing my professional art practice. I then received The ABF Step Change Fellowship, which allowed me to have a studio space at Loughborough University, alongside a grant.
Congratulations each of you on being awarded a Step Change Fellowship. Can you tell us what significance the Award has for you.
EH: This award has given me access to the facilities, staff and technician expertise to help develop my professional practice, and bridge the gap between academia and becoming a freelance artist. Working with clay especially, requires a lot of equipment, resources and space, all which would have been inaccessible and too expensive to purchase immediately after graduating. The financial support of the ABF has enabled me to invest in materials and dedicate all my time to refining my practice and to continue exploring and testing new materials. The international research trip will also give me the opportunity to visit Niki de Saint Phalle’s inspiring 14 acre Tarot Garden filled with monumental sculptures. I am very excited to be back in studios creating and supporting other Fine Art students in their final year of university!
GS: After graduating from university, I found it extremely difficult to carry on making art within the confines of a small environment with limited facilities. As many others already know it can be difficult to balance jobs, applying for exhibitions, making new and exciting work. The ABF has allowed me to dedicate time and therefore there has been huge developments. I have been able to access help and support for guidance on applications and within any of the technical hubs. It’s great to be in such an inspiring environment again!
What is important to you in maintaining and motivating your practice?
EH: I have found setting goals and creating deadlines through seeking art opportunities gives me something to work towards and keeps my practice motivated. Also having access to such a wide range of facilities at Loughborough for this extra year has made me want to make the most out of this exciting opportunity.
GS: I find it really helpful to discuss new and developing ideas with others. It helps to really understand if the work is portraying what it is meant to, sparking different discussions and concepts. Receiving positive and even negative feedback I find really important to maintain focus on the key concepts within my practice. To motivate myself I try and look out for new opportunities, to create deadlines for different open calls and commissions. I have created spreadsheets, with restrictions and costings, as well as helpful tools and workshops to progress my skills when applying.
What have been your biggest achievements since establishing your practice?
EH: Since graduating, I have become involved in Arts for Health initiatives which use artwork to improve health and well-being, whether it being to provide a moment of distraction, or to transform bleak white walls. I would say my biggest achievement is that I have obtained a six month solo exhibition at Milton Keynes University Hospital, displaying both sculptures and limited edition prints. I am very excited for this body of work to travel to Coventry University where it will exhibited for another six months as part of the summer exhibition.
GS: First of all, receiving the award from The Artist Benevolent Fund, for The Step Change Fellowship. It has been such an exciting time to dedicate time to my professional practice. I have been able to exhibit work within several exhibitions and for me the proudest moments, are standing back and hearing others discuss the work, and open discussions about mental health!
What have been the biggest challenges to your practice so far?
EH: I have found leaving university and having no deadlines the biggest challenge of my practice so far. It felt very daunting at first and was difficult to know where or how to start. Although it has been the biggest challenge, it has equally been the biggest learning curve as I have learnt to become strict with personal goals and constantly seek artist opportunities to be involved in projects and to exhibit my work.
GS: I think time management is always a difficult one, how much time to spend developing my website, social media, research, making, experimenting, applying, and even doing basic admin tasks. It’s easy to get carried away experimenting and exploring new ideas, and to get motivation to do some of the other jobs can be difficult at times. I just feel extremely lucky and privileged to have somewhere to do all of this.
What is the most interesting or inspiring thing you have seen or been to recently, and why?
EH: I recently visited the Winter Art Trail at Coventry University Hospital which was organised by the Healing Arts Programme. The charity initiative involves local artists, writers and musicians to create workshops and exhibitions to support the local community. It’s inspiring to see how art through colour and various subjects can be used as a powerful tool to ease anxiety, stress and improve well-being of all viewers both patients and staff.
GS: This is a tough one, as it’s really important for me to go and see new exhibitions, but the most interesting I would say would be my trip to The Venice Biennale in November 2019. I was able to see some of the best artists from around the world, creating new and exciting discussions about society today. Something which is critical within my own work, as I want to help create open discussion about mental health. The most influential exhibition I saw during my visit was within the Czech Republic Pavilion, Stanislav Kolibal. Exploring and questioning the boundaries and limits of drawing within space, 3-dimensionally.
Which other artists’ work do you admire, and why?
EH: I admire so many different artists with such varied practices. My favourites are changing all the time but at the moment Niki De Saint Phalle, Robert Klippel, Peter Randall Page, Jean Arp, Harumi Nakashima and Ken Price are constant sources of inspiration. I am drawn particularly to these artists as their practices have a particularly strong sense of colour, form and pattern which share a dialogue with my own work.
GS: Richard Serra. As you can see from my own practice, I love the use of black and creating different surfaces and finishes. His large-scale drawings are incredible, absorbing light, questioning the scale and weight of a drawing in relation to the way it is hung.
Where do you see your work in the next 5 years?
EH: I hope to have established a distinctive practice and style, with my artworks being exhibited at events, festivals and in communal spaces, being enjoyed by the public and accessible to all viewers!
GS: Within the next year I would like to continue developing my drawing practice and exhibiting within different exhibitions, I hope to show abroad sometime soon! I am currently working on another project alongside my practice, with another fellow graduate artist, Hayley Stokes. We are both interested in the benefits art can have on mental health, so we have begun to create workshop plans and participatory art practice proposals, to incorporate the different coping mechanisms I use to create my drawings.
Who would you most like to have visit your studio?
EH: If we were to turn the clocks back 18 years, I would love for Niki De Saint Phalle to come and pay a visit to my studio. She was such an inspirational and accomplished woman especially considering she had no formal training and went on to dedicate her life to large-scale sculpture projects. Although, my own sculptures would seem embarrassingly small compared to her works!
Where can we see your work? Do you have any upcoming exhibitions, events or projects?
EH: A range of works are being exhibited in Milton Keynes Hospital until May 2020 which will then be travelling to Coventry University to be a part of the summer exhibition from May – September 2020.
GS: I have just finished my most recent exhibition at Loughborough University, showcasing work I have made during the last six months of my fellowship. I am continuing to apply for new opportunities and look forward to exhibiting within the next year! I hope to get the workshops up and running soon, and all of the latest updates will be available on my blog, Instagram and Twitter.
Emily and Grace were interviewed in March 2020.
All images are by and courtesy of the artists, except where otherwise stated.