Briefly describe the work you do.
My work is strongly defined by the materials I use and the process of making. My goal is to manipulate the media as far is it will allow me to push it. I build up pattern and texture using found and re-purposed items; working strongly with duality in the aesthetic sense as well as the contextual. I strive to break down the lines between hand-made and manufactured using techniques that aren’t always recognized in “fine art”.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
Lace and doilies are the main items I use to pull uniform textures in my work. My grandmother was always knitting and her sisters’ tattings were found around my mom’s house from as long as I can remember. I wish I was able to continue the legacy, but I don’t have the patience needed for the repetition. I feel like my work is a way of passing down their textile arts, just in a different facet.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I consider myself a hunter-gatherer. I have to spend a lot of time finding vintage scarves and little doodads before I start any time in the studio. I find a lot of influence in thrift stores. I love the notion that each item has a past; thrown away, but now gets to live on forever in a new fashion.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
After school it took a while to realize that no one knows your work unless you go out and talk about it. Marketing is so hard and strange. It is uncomfortable until you find someone who appreciates what you do. The role of salesperson doesn’t feel as foreign once you get that satisfaction. It is about building confidence in your work as well in yourself as a maker. It’s a slow process; one that might not have a finite end.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time every day or do you have to work whenever time allows?
If it’s a warm, beautiful day out, I try and move my studio outside in the morning. I am able to get a little Vitamin D and all the work dries in record time. The faster each layer dries, the quicker the next can go on. This changes the way the entire piece develops. A shorter reaction time works in my favor (sometimes). On the other hand, if I keep all my pieces in my studio, I try and work at night when the air blows through the open windows. Inside, I can sit and stare. Slow drying time allows me to process my next move more cautiously. I can’t say if I prefer working quickly or slowly. I feel like both ways are needed to produce different moments in each piece.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I feel as though I’ve always had the same ideas, just the way I’ve been able to express them has changed. I remember wanting to build up layers but only hinting at it. I was scared of making mistakes so nothing came of it. I have always been my work enemy when it comes to creating. About three or four years ago, I finally realized that chance plays a major role in everything I do. I try not to overthink what I am doing with each piece. I allow spills and drips to happen. If there is something I don’t like, I have to have to confidence in myself as maker that I will be able to resolve it. Fixing a problem I created in the piece is just as important as creating a single pivotal moment. Once I was able to understand that, everything just came a little easier.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Looking to the work of Joseph Cornell and El Anatsui is the best thing I can do when I feel like I need guidance. The material in their work is elevated beyond its typical use. I love to look to them when I feel as though what I’m doing isn’t enough. My friends and peers are also such an important part of how I view my work. They tell me like it is. No one sugar coats anything and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. Having someone you trust is key. You need a second (and sometimes third) pair of fresh eyes to see what you’ve been missing.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
It’s hard to not be pulled in a million directions. Making is satisfying, but it doesn’t always support the maker. You have to love it and do it just because you want to. I went to grad school in hopes of becoming a professor and found a job teaching elementary school art right after. Sharing what you love becomes such an innate part of yourself. It’s hard to separate that. I left teaching after realizing I would have to maintain a second job just to make minimum payments on my student loans. My generation is stuck in such a crossroads. I have friends who are doctors/lawyers and ones who never went to school and are making double what I make. It’s honestly a daily struggle of deciding what is important. Is making a lot of money at a “normal” desk job more crucial than happiness? That’s what I am trying to figure out.
Emily Swinsick lives and works outside of Sacramento, CA. She received both her BA and MA in Studio Art from Sacramento State University. Her work continues to be exhibited in the greater Northern California region. She is working on proposing collaborative multi-discipline public works. She is also currently seeking an international residency program.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.