Representational Painting

Representational Painting

The Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize was created in 2005 by the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers and the Lynn Foundation to encourage the very best creative representational painting and promote the skill of draftsmanship. We speak to Emma Copley, who was selected for the 2016 exhibition about her work.

A: Your work, Sugar Beets, was selected for the Lynn Painter-Stainers 2016 exhibition at Mall Galleries, London, depicts your husband and your son in oils. As the exhibition is for representational painting, how do you think that this piece reflects that notion?
I don’t like my work to be labeled something that I don’t relate to, representational, abstract, minimal etc. Artworks are placed in categories in order to historically contextualize them. For an artwork to be considered representational it has to have recognizable objects or figures within it. For an artwork to be considered abstract it has to use shapes, colour and gestural marks and not attempt a visual description of reality. I think artworks can be more then one thing at a time. Simultaneously representational and abstract. I like to explore the picture plane by cropping my compositions to contain the minimal amount.

I also enjoy using a combination of fast flowing gestural marks and thick heavy impasto carvings and splodges. Painting is a language and the tools I use to express myself can vary from paint, charcoal, paper, wood, scale, printmaking, photography, the computer, and poetry. Sometimes the recognizable subjects in my work suggest a narrative, the colour palette suggests a mood, the marks an emotion. I would like my paintings, drawings and books to be experienced in person, without a preceding definition.

A: How does this work compare to your wider oeuvre?
There is a common thread of the everyday in my work, whether it’s a painting, drawing or artist book. At the moment I am studying for my MA in Fine Art at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge School of Art and I am making some different, exciting things. I use a limited colour palette, gestural drawing and impasto paint in a lot of my paintings.  The figures in Sugar Beets are my son and my husband and reflects in part our life right now and parenthood. I didn’t plan on that feeling to come across when I started making it.

A: Could you discuss how you developed your personal style?
There are so many artists and writers out there that I love and am inspired by. A few who I visit regularly for inspiration are Van Gogh for his visceral use of paint and Alice Neel for her portrait likenesses and how she incorporates gesture in her paintings. I am also very excited by the work of William Kentridge, Thick Time at The Whitechapel Gallery, Laura Owen’s paintings and books at Sadie Coles, and Shazia Sikander’s paintings and drawings, especially her moving images, and miniature painting, soon to be in Rome at Moxxi.

I have lived in many different places. I think a big part of how my work has developed recently is the fact that I document my life constantly with photos to keep up with changing spaces and faces; this collection of images has formed the content of much of my artwork revealing the importance of, and influence history can have on constructing my own sense of place.

A: How do you respond to the entrance of unprecedented technology within artists’ careers?
There will always be new tools, systems, networks for artists to use to make work, and connect with people. But in the end no matter how amazing the tech, they are still just tools, materials, in space. I would love to play with virtual reality and coding to see if it would be useful in creating new space within the picture plane, also I want to try to make digital interactive art books that extend the life of an artwork or exhibition and are free and accessible to anyone with the technology.

A: Why do you think that painting and draughtsmanship still has a significant place in today’s world?
I think that’s a really big question. I am a teacher as well as a maker. I teach drawing and painting every week and I think it will always be useful to people in experiencing the world and seeing things differently. Making is thinking, drawing is thinking, painting is thinking. I do not advocate over planning a painting and crafting it down to a formula, I encourage risk taking, experimentation, re-working paintings. Learning to work together by collaborating on a drawing or painting or even building a boat, helps us make new connections and forces us to communicate and try to understand each other. I think that’s pretty important, especially today.

A: Do you think that your pieces contain narratives, and if so, how are these reflected in the forms of the paintings?
I think people always see narratives in my paintings because usually, you can see a recognisable object or figure in there. I am thinking about narrative a lot lately since I am making a book of paintings, prints and collage that is about the everyday, love and war. I am using imagery from my personal files, from film, the news, as well as drawing from moving image. I am reading Anton Chekov and Raymond Carver and find their short stories on love especially inspiring.

A: Your work has also been selected for the ING Discerning Eye exhibition, how will this, combined with the Lynn Painter-Stainers prize help develop your career?
ING Discerning Eye and Lynn Painter-Stainers are good awards to apply to because the quality of the works chosen is high. I apply for awards and exhibitions like this to raise my profile and in the hopes of winning some award money. If you win an award, this brings your work to the attention of curators and collectors, which can help you exhibit and sell your work more. In a few years I hope to be teaching painting at university level and want to always try to make interesting art.

Artists are invited to submit digital images of up to four recent works.  Deadline is 19 December 2016, 5pm (GMT). The 2017 exhibition will be shown in the Mall Galleries from 6 – 19  March.  For more information:

Upcoming exhibitions  include 2017 Artist in Residence, The Hospital Club, London and Mapping Translations, Cambridge Artworks, Cambridge, 16-18 December.


1. Emma Copley, Sugar Beets (Selected for Lynn Painter-Stainers 2016). Oil on Wood Panel. Courtesy of the artist.