Why you should know her: The Lynchburg artist will be showing her work at the Lodge of the Fisherman, in an exhibit opening during First Friday this week.
Emily, 35, graduated from E.C. Glass High School in 1995 and went on to study photography at the Savannah College of Art & Design and, later, art education at Virginia Commonwealth University.
After teaching art for three years in Richmond, she moved back to Lynchburg and started working at Lynchburg General Hospital.
She only began painting recently, inspired by old photographs and a love of nature. Most of her works are stylized portraits of women, often with flowers in place of their hair and roots growing out of their bodies.
In her artist’s statement, she says the roots mimic the circulatory system and represent “nourishment, change, growth, connections and a sense of searching, always pushing forward.”
Other pieces prominently feature insects, including one of a woman with bees crawling through her long blonde hair.
“My fascination with insects, snakes, frogs and every other critter started in the woods behind my house, with my dad as master field guide,” she writes in the statement. “I draw on my love of nature to depict themes of growth, decay, fears and life-cycles.”
The insects, she says, are a stand-in for various fears that creep into our daily lives.
“It’s such a typical [one],” she says. “People do fear spiders and insects. I don’t. It’s a representation.”
The Lodge of the Fisherman show will be Emily’s first — another fear conquered.
“There are things about each one I love, but there’s so much about them I want to improve on,” she says about her paintings. “It’s been a really great learning experience getting ready for this show.”
It helps, she says, that the Lodge is such a fitting venue for her work.
“They’ve been very encouraging,” she says. “I really love what they do over there, that they care so much about the environment and the grounds. It makes perfect sense for me to have a show there.”
Dede Buhler, who curates the shows, says Emily has a fresh perspective that will speak to a wide audience, but especially to young women.
“The women in her art demonstrate a vulnerable strength — vulnerable in the sense of a willingness to stay open to feelings and experience as they move through a man-made world — all the while staying keenly aware of their rootedness in nature,” Buhler said in a recent email.
“Emily seems to acknowledge through her paintings that though the journey isn't always easy, there is beauty to be discovered every step of the way and that Mother Nature is there with open arms, ready to embrace, comfort and guide us on our way.”
Though her current work is mostly of young, beautiful women, Emily says she’s ready to move on to something new.
“As you grow up, you become aware of people’s inner beauty. People who are older are so much more interesting. I’m really attracted to wrinkles and the physical process of aging. I think it’s a direction I will go.”
When did you start painting?
“I really started probably four of five years ago. I have always loved art and, as a kid, I painted. Then fear set in. I thought I was terrible. … I went to art school, but I went for photography. I was always reluctant [to paint]. Five years ago, I got the courage up to try. I love it. It’s really my niche, I think.”
What inspired some of your early work?
“Photographs, actually. A photographer named Bellocq, in New Orleans. He photographed these prostitutes in Storyville, which doesn’t actually exist anymore. They’re really amazing black and white photographs that were printed in the 1960s. I have always loved them. Then I moved on to debutantes. I found a debutante register from 1948 [with] photographs from all over the country.”
What was it about Bellocq’s photographs that made you want to paint them?
“The eyes. There’s this strength in them. A lot of them are completely nude. But [they] are defiant. I’m drawn to the look of defiance in eyes. [It shows] perseverance.
“I’m always fascinated with looking at people. I love to people watch. I love people’s faces. I’m really terrible at masking my emotions. Other people are pretty good. But there’s always a tell.”
How do use photos as a jumping off point?
“They’re really just a reference. … I usually use multiple photos. I might choose one for the hair, one for the eyes. Then I like to add in natural elements.”
What inspires your work now?
“Fear is one thing. It’s this whole, ‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ thing. When it’s at its best, it’s a high, being in the flow and feeling totally alive.
“Mental health has always influenced me. I’ve had pretty severe depression. This has been a way to work through it.”
What will you be showing at the Lodge of the Fisherman?
“There will be a couple drawings. … [But] most of the work is paintings I do on birch wood.”
Why did you start painting on the birch wood?
“I took a painting class a couple years ago, and we had to make 20 paintings in a week, experimenting with different media. It was all about experimenting. I had seen other artists I admire work on wood panels. I really loved the look of it. My work leant itself to [that].”
Are there challenges to working with it?
“Oh, yeah. It’s totally different from paper, in the way it absorbs things. If you make a mistake, there’s a lot of sanding. … But [it’s] also really exciting to see how these really thin layers of color react to the wood.”
Contact Casey Gillis at (434) 385-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.