Emma Fineman, originally from Berkeley, CA, is currently pursuing an MA in Painting at Royal College of Art, London. Her stunning paintings recently explore the idea of narrative and journaling, involving what she describes as a “flattening of time.” Much more at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I was born in Berkeley California in 1991 and grew up in Oakland. Currently I am working towards my masters degree in painting at the Royal College of Art in London where I am due to graduate this coming June (eek!). I received my BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art back in 2013 where I majored in Painting with a minor in gender studies. Some fun facts are that I am a bisexual jewish lady with a sincere love for inclusivity in the arts/ the world at large.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I do not really remember a time before I was an artist. When I was little before could draw it was always something that I knew about myself. Growing up I was very lucky, because my mom is also a painter, and perhaps my love and adoration of her is what encouraged me to define myself as an artist too. Our shared interest quickly evolved into trips to museums and to the craft store. The feeling of total elation when connecting with works that resonate is one that I discovered quite quickly would become my reason for being. It has been my driving force ever since.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Currently I am thinking a lot about paintings ability function as a journal. How through this media you must flatten time into a still image. I am working to embrace this preposterous task by allowing my narration to layer and slip, depicting the dense compression of time in our contemporary culture. It seems that we are now unable to experience life one thing at a time. It never is, and perhaps never has been that way. I feel however, especially aware that at present, we are all inundated with such a degree of information that it makes thinking, feeling, and understanding clearly, practically impossible. In my work images of an imagined junction with words like exit become my self-reflection. I am most interested in making works that sit somewhere between drawing and painting. Somewhere between the quick note to jot down an idea, and a more prolonged meditation on the parts of daily life that for some unknowable reason affix themselves to back of our minds and kick about with an unnerving permanence.
What is your process like?
As I am in graduate school, I have just recently completed my dissertation, which was on aesthetic theory and value. The research for this piece of writing was so formative for me and my approach to art making. In it I began to understand attraction differently. I usually begin works thinking about color relationships, mark and texture in a more abstract sense, guided by my aesthetic compass. In reading passages from Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation and Other Essays” as well as Paul Crowther’s text “Critical Aesthetics and Post Modernism” I began to understand this “inner compass” a bit differently. I learned that our attractions to specific visual imagery are rooted in lived experience and are not simply a superficial lust. An experience with a certain color in ones life can have a very meaningful impact on why they find the shade be so beautiful. By trying to understand this impulse further I began allowing more narrative information to surface in my works. An appealing balance of viridian green and Venetian red suddenly becomes my grandmothers curtains and eventually I am utilizing the action of painting as a window into the more honest and deeply personal stories and emotive moments in my life.
I often work at a one to one scale so that the images that I am depicting in my works are at a relational scale to how I would experience them in daily life. I work solely from memory, and by doing this I feel that I am better able to trust authenticity of my work as being my own. I feel the need to internalize imagery and experience before I am able to produce an honest interpretation of it. I work on multiple paintings at the same time, usually three or four. I enjoy working this way because sometimes problem solving through one painting can allow you to resolve issues in another. I also think of the works in series and as being in conversation with one another, so by having many on the walls at the same time, I can develop my narration more holistically.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
My biggest take away in the last year and half that I have been in school has been that what matters most in art making is honesty with what your true interests are. Often times as artists we feel the need to justify what we want to do by adding a lot of other meanings to the works, thinking it needs to be about something more than what it is. I actually think something as simple as a conversation over dinner can be the imputes for a great painting. I think that when you take the time to get to the true core of why you love something, why you want to do it al the time, why you are even spending the countless hours working on it, you will then be better able to edit out the extra stuff you are adding into the work to justify it to everyone else. When you do that, when you take away the excess, you start making work that has honesty and originality and in the end that is always more relatable and engaging with the viewer.
What is your studio like?
I am currently working in my studio at the Royal College of Art.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
The most daunting facets of being an artist are always, how do I afford to make my work, and how to I get from one idea to the next. I think many people don’t realize that so much of your time as an artist is spent fulfilling many other job roles. You become an administrator, a publicist, accountant, photographer, writer, and artist all in one. I think for many of us, in order to succeed we need to have a willingness to do all the admin on the back end, with a high enough degree of professionalism that are works make it out of our studio and into the real world (if that is where we want it to go). Another difficult aspect about being a one wo/man show, is setting a schedule for yourself. Artists are self directed, there is no boss to answer to who gives deadlines and assignments, so creating structure as an artist can be quite difficult when starting out. Fortunately competitions, calls for entry, and shows all create deadlines for us to follow, and I personally find that to be quite helpful. The most exciting elements of a career as an artist are also the most daunting. The sky is the limit, however there is also no direct path to follow and you are very much the captain of your own voyage.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Personal narrative painting
What are you working on right now?
I have just begun building a series of modular paintings with multiple panels that span across the walls of my studio. I am very excited about how in making these works I will have the ability to reconfigure the compositions and scale as I am working. I have also been working on a two exhibition proposals, one for a show on multicultural identities and diaspora, and the other featuring works in miniature. The biggest upcoming project is my degree show for my masters program, which will be happening at the end of June, so lots of paintings and drawings happening in the studio for that!
Anything else you would like to add?
I am a big fan of the work that you are doing with Young Space, and greatly appreciate the opportunities that you are providing artists through this platform. The curation of the works you share is on point, and I have discovered so many new favorite contemporary artists through this platform so thank you Kate!!!