Emilie Pugh: “Everything is in flux, evolving, growing dying and dissolving in a perpetual cycle. I am compelled by the tensions that exist between the transient and the permanent; between form and the void, and what is material and immaterial.”
Cloud Root was longlisted for the Aesthetica Art Prize in 2015. Consistently drawn to the abstract, Pugh has credited her work as a vehicle through which to express her interest in the space between permanence and transience, physical form and nothingness. Since then, she has been working on an upcoming art exhibition, showing at The Cob Gallery in London, from the 7th-10th April. Exploring ideas surrounding the inter-connectivity of all living things, the show draws on systems of belief from the spiritual to scientific, the micro to the macro and the conflicting or confluent universal forces that govern them. We speak to the artist about her work and upcoming showcase.
A: You studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Ruskin School of Fine Art and Drawing at Oxford University. Did your time there help you to develop your voice as an artist? And what was it that initially drew you to specialise in the abstract?
EP: Art school was a place for exploration. The Ruskin created an environment that encouraged a lot of independent and self motivated investigation. It also forced you to continually challenge and question yourself. I think finding your ‘voice’ comes when you settle on some answers that feel true to you. The Ruskin helped me to find the trajectory I am still on now but finding my ‘voice’ only came after leaving art school. My shift from figurative to the abstract was a gradual one. I see art making like a process of distillation. Each work needs to get closer to that thing you are searching for.
A: You have described your work process as “giving form to something that would otherwise exist in the abstract”. Do you have an idea of what the finished piece will be when you begin it, or do you not know until after it’s been done?
EP: I rarely have a preformed idea of how the work will evolve and eventually look at the start of the drawing. I begin with a sense of a direction of movement within the page, then one mark leads to the next. I let my intuition take over. The act of making becomes a process of discovery.
A: You have described your drawings as an “introspective journey”. With that in mind, what was it that inspired Anatomy of Thought, and can you trace developments in your own life through your artwork?
EP: Yes absolutely. I think life and what you choose to make are inextricably bound; experiences are what make you you, you cannot detach them from one another. My interest in neurology and anatomy for example stems directly from experiences within my own body. From looking at my own MRI scans to trying to describe a pain or a sensation for example in Scotoma or Anatomy of thought. In addition to this, many decisions and impulses are dictated by mood or my emotions. My drawings act like barometers; charting these changing elements.
A: You have created your artwork through a variety of tools – drawing, burning, 3D installations, light work, etc. In Cloud Root for example you used 30 layers of incense burnt rice paper. What inspires your decisions to use such individually specific methods?
EP: The choice of material and the process of making are bound up with the works concepts. For example the Cloud Root triptych is about transience and life cycles, so it feels appropriate to use materials that embody some of these qualities. There is a ritualistic element of burning incense with its ascending smoke and ash residues. The materials themselves change states. They act like metaphors which helps to re-enforce the concept.
A: Your upcoming art show in April discusses similar preoccupations in the abstract tension that governs conflicting or confluent systems of belief. What has been the biggest challenge in translating a theme from a singular piece of work to a consistent gallery exhibition?
EP: I think the biggest challenge will be in the curating. What is really interesting is that when I place apparently unrelated works side by side they start having a conversation and begin to inform each other. Re-enforcing the idea that although my works have different starting points they are in fact pointing towards the same thing. I am not intentionally following a single theme in order to keep coherence. It happens naturally. The show will help me to discover these new connections.
1. Emilie Pugh, Anatomy of Thought (2014). Courtesy of the artist.