December 2016

Have you always been artistic? Does it run in the family?

Yes for as long as I can remember I have felt a compulsion and excitement to make. 

I am very much the black sheep in my family, but I quite like being the odd one out. My parents are appreciators of art but I am the only one that can paint or draw. Apparently there's one artist per generation on my father’s side so it must have come from him.

You work in a range of mediums including bleach, gunpowder and chemicals – tell us your reasoning behind this and how do they allow you artistic freedom?

I work with a large variety and sometimes quite unconventional selection of mediums. I sometimes burn into paper using an incense stick but I also use chemicals and even gunpowder alongside the more traditional pen and ink. I feel each subject requires a considered and appropriate medium in which to express it, the mediums themselves act like vehicles or even metaphors to reinforce the concept. For this reason I don't bind myself to one. The subjects lead me to it. For example my recent bleach drawings came out of a search for a medium to best express the neurological sparks at synaptic points in the brain. I felt that whip lines of bleach was closest to electricity pulses - they glow bright on the page and burns into the paper in a similar way.

What or who are your inspirations? Has travel played a role in your artistic process?

I get inspiration from many different places. From listening to podcasts and lectures to going to galleries and sitting in book shops. Travel can also be incredibly inspiring and open up a whole new chapter in my work.

I made an incredible trip to Japan a few years ago where I was introduced to Taoism, zen philosophy and the wabi sabi and it still informs my work today. I discovered that there was a way of looking at the world that was so much more aligned to what I believed and had no idea an entire culture, religion and aesthetic existed based on it.

I share a lot of aims with science, to try to make sense of the natural world, but I focus on the emotional and intuitive response rather than a purely intellectual one. I am seeking the essence of something rather than simply describing the physical facts. I look at a lot of imagery, from biological drawings of Ernst Haekel, to neurology and the growth patterns in nature, to telescopic images of the cosmos. Then there is the more spiritual, human elements of my work, the parts that maps the moods emotions. I am really interested in the interconnectivity of the two.

Your pieces are on quite a monumental scale – how long do you spend on something? Do you ever feel a sense of competition with one work? 

My work varies is scale from postcard size to four metre murals or room sized installations , so they vary in lengths of time to make dramatically from a few hours to six months. They all tend to be quite intricate, I love detail. The time element is important to me. I made a work called ' 86400 voids ' ( 24 hour drawing ) made up of 86400 burnt holes where each hole marked one second , each line a minute and so on. It took me 24 hours to compete. This is a relatively ' quick ' drawing.

The slowness of the process is important to me as it allows the work to pick up all the subtle natural distortions that convey the nuances of human emotions, moods, rhythms of life. A drawing that has taken several months acts almost like a barometer that charts these changing elements.

There's a lovely quote by the artist David Musgrave when asked why he chose to work in such a laborious way, he responded saying '...all those irrecoverable hours seem to me to hover in a ghostly way around the work...' And it’s for this same reason and in turn I hope to prolong the viewers’ act of looking and engaging with the work.

Do I ever feel a sense of completion?

It's a very hard question. Yes and no. A work for me is never finished. It's only a stepping stone to the next and the next always holds the most potential to reach that feeling of completion which you inevitably don't reach but it's the thing that keeps you making. I don't think I've ever felt a sense of something being 'finished' there is a moment when the drawing works formally - and adding more might just tighten it or darken it too much; it's this fragile moment I have to catch and stop just before. I can't live with my own work as I always just see parts I want to change or add or take away from, perhaps when this moment comes I know that the work is totally compete.

What does the next year hold for creatively?

I have some works going to Drawing Now art fair in Paris in spring and a solo show in the pipe line for later on that year in London. Creatively I want to spend time out of the City, perhaps abroad, I'd love to visit Japan again or Iceland is next on my list. I want my next project to be based on the elements- earth, water, fire and air. It seems like the most appropriate place to begin.

All photography © Emilie Pugh