From 16th – 19th April the Mall Galleries Learning Centre will be home to ‘Inside Portraits’, an exhibition by artists Sarah Jane Moon and Emma Hopkins. The 2 artists were awarded the Bulldog Bursary for emerging artists (Sarah Jane Moon in 2013 and Emma Hopkins in 2014). The show aims to reveal a deeper insight into the portrait painting process. To commemorate the show we asked Emma Hopkins about her work as a portraitist.
Lisa: Why do you paint portraits?
Emma: Observing and painting people allows me to explore the subjects I am most fascinated in; psychology and anatomy.
Lisa: Who’s satisfaction for a portrait is more important – the sitter’s or the painter’s?
Emma: Seeking satisfaction isn’t one of my primary goals, moreover, I am driven by my instincts, curiosity and a need to learn and understand. A sense of satisfaction does comes later though, to both parties, in very different but equally valid ways.
Lisa: How do you go about painting a portrait – is there a set process or does it vary from sitter to sitter?
Emma: I always begin with a verbal contract between myself and the subject. I explain my intention of making a piece of art work based on their person and my avoidance of creating an object of flattery. I have no set formula from then on as everyone and every project is different and I don’t like to hinder ideas that come up naturally throughout the process.
Lisa: What medium do you like to work with when painting a portrait?
Emma: As you will see in the ‘Inside Portraits’ exhibition at the Mall Galleries (16th- 19th April) when I generate ideas I use a very wide variety of mediums from latex to door paint. When it comes to the clinical observational studies I use oil paint because of its ability to mimic skin without the distraction of the medium used.
Lisa: What are the biggest challenges in painting a portrait and how do you overcome these?
Emma: One of the most important challenges is making sure the subjects feel comfortable around me and trusts my intentions. I think my background in prosthetic make-up helps me achieve this. When I worked with models/actors in this field I would need to start by casting their entire head and sometimes body. This process feels much like I imagine being buried alive does. Then I would work directly onto their face for periods of time up to around 4 to 5 hours. This means you need to explain everything and stay completely calm through out else your panic will breed panic.
Lisa: Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition/residency you are involved in at the Mall Galleries?
Emma: The Mall Galleries really understand the need to support artists in the early stages of their career and this is a perfect example of that. The residency/exhibition is called ‘Inside Portraits’ firstly because it will give a glimpse inside both mine and Sarah’s portrait practice, but also for me the name represents the idea of trying to view the world from your sitter’s perspective, as well as the need to understand the anatomy of the body in order to represent its surface adequately.
‘Inside Portraits’ runs alongside the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition, within which I have a finished portrait of Geri Morgan. Within ‘Inside Portraits’ you will see some of the ideas and work behind its creation through sketches, paintings and a video installation. There will also be other related works made since winning the Bulldog Bursary last year.
Lisa: Do you anticipate a dialogue to emerge between the portraits during the show? Your work is very different so I imagine it will be really interesting to have the contrasting approaches to portraiture hanging within the same gallery.
Emma: One thing that is very similar between me and Sarah is that we are both very driven. I am not sure exactly how the work will communicate together but I am sure it will be a feast.
Lisa: Which other portrait painters do you admire and why?
Emma: I am inspired by anyone that takes the time and dedication needed to paint a portrait and funnily some of my favourite paintings of people are by people that don’t call themselves artists, they are normally called ‘outsider artists’ or fit with that label. I am inspired by quite a variety of known artists and they include Mathew Barney, Paul Maccarthy, Frida Karlo, Louise Bourgeois, Diane Arbus, Otto Dix, Marlene Dumas, Egon Schiele, Balthus…… I could go on and on!
Lisa: If you could paint the portrait of anyone who would you choose?
Emma: Social status does nothing for me. The people I meet and get an urge to paint are normally those who sit outside of this. I guess after working with Geri for so long I would quite like to paint my future self at the age of 89 (if I make it that far).
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?
Emma: I have a blog online- emmahopkinsartist.tumblr.com
‘Pen to Paper’ A contemporary drawing show in the Knight Webb Galley in Brixton (24th April- 16th May)
I have plans to start a project on Mental Health and Society. I haven’t got a set date or space yet but will put info on my blog when I do.