Artist in Conversation: An interview with Emma Hockley
Based in London, Emma Hockley fuses elements from Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, family photographs, and underground comic books to address existential dilemmas, appropriating styles and influences from both her formal art education as well her many travels. Federico Rosa interviews this captivating artist, asking about the inspirations and methods of her work.
How and when did you start making art? Can you briefly describe what made you decide to be an artist?
I’ve been an artist as long as I can remember, my mother recalls me heading straight for the art trolley in nursery when I must have been about 3. She was also a massive influence, being a natural scientist. She’d paint close ups of flowers and leaves for hours, with me peering over her shoulder. I also remember being overwhelmed by the paintings in the National Gallery on school trips, particularly anything I considered realistic and figurative such as Rubens, Millais and Sargent. At 14 I tried to persuade my parents to let me leave school and join a special college for young artists I’d heard about, (this may have been a playground myth because I haven’t heard of them since!)
How is travel and contact with other cultures pertinent to your work?
Travel has been very relevant to the last 8 years of my work but is becoming less so. They say that every writer’s first book is a book about being a writer and I think the same could be said for fine art. I’ve spent many months painting and collecting reference material in North India, mainly because the philosophies I’m interested in have their roots there. Advaita Vedanta, for instance, the philosophy I grew up with and, more recently, Tibetan Buddhism.
How do you decide what you want to paint? How do you select an image?
The only way I can describe it is that bodies of work come to me in waves, its very rare that I feel like painting something as a one off item. Often an idea will suddenly have clarity in the middle of the night; I’ll think it is a euphoric moment before looking back at my sketch books and realizing I’ve been working towards this idea for months or years. Often my mind has to play catch up with my instincts.
There seems to be a difference between your sketches and paintings, although some paintings have an unfinished quality to them. What do you think is the difference between these two categories in your work?
The physicality and near abuse I inflict on my paintings in the struggle for a texture or composition may not have the same effect on smaller canvases or paper. For example, sanding, burning, and using “paint stripper” on some areas of the canvas creates the disjointed compositions I enjoy. The ‘sketches’ are all snap shot moments, which although I cherish for idea generating and have exhibited as a collective, they don’t have the material liberty that the paintings have and so I struggle to put my name to them.
The work seems like an overload of images. How do you know if your paintings are finished? When do you know how to stop?
I get asked this a lot! My last solo show was based on a Lama Geshe Tashi Tsering quote ‘A great part of Western life is a desperate cover up that exists in order to repress a fundamental dissatisfaction’. This resonated with me because I have a constant nauseating feeling that there is something wrong or missing in my life and work. When this notion is pulsing as an undercurrent to my process, which differs from when I’m actually in the act of painting where I feel deep peace, the painting is never finished.
There are several references to Eastern Religion, as well as questions about God in your paintings. Is your work about a crisis of faith?
I have been called a spiritual tourist, but it seems only natural to me to question faith and religion having grown up with The Church of England, with Native American or Earth Philosophies on one side, Quakers on the other in a school teaching Indian philosophies, traveling in India and learning about Buddhism. I would say I do in some way have a crisis of faith but mainly I’m interested in practical philosophies, looking at the obstacles that restrict my clarity of thinking and openness of heart. My work has been mirroring my questioning, mocking the ridiculous discontinuities and holes in understanding, the yearning for a spiritual community but disgust at the formalities, exclusivities and on occasion venom of organised religions.
How do underground comics come into your work? What makes them attractive to you as an artist?
I was introduced to comics while at college, so I never had a child’s experience of them. Starting with Neil Gaiman, on account of a love for Dave Mckean who illustrates his stories, I was challenged by my then boyfriend that I was not allowed to use an image from his book until I read it first, and so began my love for comics. I moved on to Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, and Robert Crumb. I’m definitely influenced by these comics compositionally, and often blown away by the inked art work, but am most interested in the art of putting ideas across using image and text as the medium.
If you could make art anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
In the immediate future, and regarding the actual production of paintings, I’m keen to spend some months in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Our family holidays were often there and I have many solid, happy memories that I’d like to readdress.
For more information on Emma’s work, please visit www.emmahockleyarts.co.uk
By Federico Rosa
Images: From http://www.emmahockleyarts.co.uk/