I drew a lot as a kid. My dad was an architect and my grandfather, when he retired from business, did art full-time. So I grew up in a household where making drawings and paintings and looking at art was the norm.
I went to a public high school in Connecticut, and I had two art teachers who were simply amazing. Both of them really changed the course of my life. Jeffrey Brewster was one of them, and his medium as an artist was silkscreen printing. It is through him that I learned to print, and I did this very seriously through the summers, in between years in high school. It wasn’t actually a medium to which I was particularly well suited. In fact, there was one print that I was working on, and I was struggling with it because I was trying to get to these lyrical passages and these smooth transitions. I was trying to get everything that doesn’t come naturally to silkscreen printing. And Jeffrey Brewster said to me, “you’re just a frustrated painter.” That was long before I had ever picked up a paintbrush. How right he was! He was incredibly prescient that way. Once I discovered the lushness of oil paint there was no turning back.
In screen printing, I liked the idea of taking an image and distilling it to its most important parts, which aren’t always the most obvious parts. It’s about considering within an image what’s going to tell the story you want to tell: what are the aspects that need to be shown? The other part, which relates to the silkscreen prints and also to a piece that I recently did, is: how do you use the white space of the paper and make that active? You’re not marking the edge of the image with ink – you can let the white of the paper be active and let the image go off the edge. How can you use that in the most dynamic way possible?
I think I remember liking the St. Basil’s print only because it was complicated, it was about pattern, and those both felt very unlike me.
Point of view is quite interesting to me, and it always has been. As much as I talk about painting and loving the lushness of paint, which is a huge part of what I do, when I look at other artists’ work I often look at photographers, like Philip-Lorca diCorcia or Weegee, and I’m often studying how they make an image. It’s not only point of view but also how you control where the observer’s eye goes. Much of what I did back in this older work is to have a central iconic image, but to almost make a portrait of it. For example, the St. Basil’s one: that to some extent is about pattern, but it’s almost like it’s a portrait of that building. In my work always I have thought about portraiture and what makes something a portrait. There’s a great quotation from the Barry Schwabsky, where he says that the portrait’s burden is the specificity of the concrete encounter. If you have to think about what defines a portrait; it’s that there’s a specificity to it. There’s a distinctiveness to whatever you’re doing, it’s not generalized or generic. I think about that through all of my work.
I think I remember liking the St. Basil’s print only because it was complicated, it was about pattern, and those both felt very unlike me. It almost was like I marveled at myself. I don’t like pattern at all, I’ve never liked pattern, and yet there I was doing this incredibly patterned thing. And I think I also liked the fact that some of the other ones tended to try to depict a real space, but this was almost making a symbol of the building as opposed to a representation of the building. And I understood that difference even then, and sort of marveled at that because that was not my natural inclination.
Another writer I really enjoyed reading was Siri Hustvedt, who wrote a great book, The Mysteries of the Rectangle. In one essay “More Goya: There are No Rules in Painting” she was comparing two death scenes, Goya’s Third of May and Jacques-Louise David’s Marat Assassinated. She was really talking about how an image allows you to enter into it: in other words, are roadblocks put up? You think of a Degas, and he often has a chair between you and what you’re supposed to be looking at. She talks about that in these death scenes. That’s what I’ve been thinking about for a long time: how do we enter into an image as a viewer? And looking at the print of the beach chairs, I think, oh, maybe that’s what I was thinking about back then. I’m certain if you’d asked me what I was trying to do with any particular image, especially the silkscreen prints, at the time I was doing it, I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate it. One spends so long articulating things that you finally get much better at it.
You look at it and no matter what it is, you feel something, as opposed to thinking you’ve seen a recording of that thing.
My mother gave me this folder of a whole bunch of my grade school drawings. A lot of them are just so typical you can’t believe it. But then I came across this drawing and I was amazed, I remembered drawing it. I remember doing the scene of the guy in the phone booth, and he’s searching for change in his pocket, and I remember wanting to get a look on his face where he was upset, he was anxious, because he didn’t have money to make the call. I remember wanting to be able to, through how I drew him, create a feeling of anxiety, or have it tell this story. Maybe five years ago, Sebastian Smee did a profile on me for The Boston Globe. It starts off with this question: Can a jelly-filled doughnut feel anxiety? The correct answer, of course, is no. And he goes on to say that what I’ve done is put an emotional reading into an inanimate object. I remember thinking it was so neat to me, and so astute of him, that he’d picked up on that, that one of the things I’ve been trying to do for years is to get an emotional tenor going in the image. And then I looked at this drawing, where the purpose was to get an emotional tenor, and I thought that was quite interesting. So you look at it and no matter what it is, you feel something, as opposed to thinking you’ve seen a recording of that thing.
Emily Eveleth has been eliminating boundaries between genres and finding vulnerability, humor, pathos and sensuality in the most unlikely of subjects for twenty years. She received her BA from Smith College and studied painting at the Massachusetts College of Art. Her work is included in museum, corporate and private collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Pennsylvania Academy of Art. It has been written about in Bomb Magazine, Art in America, the New Yorker and the New York Times. She has received grants from the Arts Matters Foundation and the NEA Fellowships for Painting and she was a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome. She is represented by Danese/Corey in New York and the Miller/Yezerski Gallery in Boston.