Meet rising star, artist Emily Powell
A Brixham artist who's making it her mission to cheer us all up with Muddy's favourite colour? We're all ears! Muddy gets in the pink with Emily Powell.
Culture vulture or not, everybody needs a dose of this fabulous artist in their life. Emily Powell should be freely available on prescription, with her joyful neon-pink paintings and whimsical take on her everyday life in Brixham painted solely with the aim of cheering us all up during these dreary Covid days.
You might have spotted Emily on the BBC 2 doc, Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. It’s a fascinating watch, with presenters Kirsty Wark and Brenda Emmanus going behind the scenes to discover the challenges of curating the delayed summer collection during Covid.
They also follow four emerging artists, including Emily, in their attempts to get their artworks selected to sit on the walls alongside the likes of Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry.
*spoiler* While Emily doesn’t make it onto the RA’s walls, this year at least, she has been accepted into the Royal Society of British Artists, and closer to home, you can see her work at The Bowie Gallery in Totnes and Gallery 5 in Salcombe.
Figuring we could all do with cheering up right now, Muddy went to meet this breath of arty fresh air for a chinwag.
Congrats, Emily! To make it into the short list for this year’s RA exhibition from over 18,000 paintings is pretty impressive.
It was an amazing experience, and a great chance to network. It’s the furthest I’ve come and my thirteenth attempt, and yes I will be trying again next year!
Why is it important for you to cheer people with your painting?
If you lose your dad when you’re seven years old, like I did, you grow up knowing life isn’t an easy ride. There’s a lot of hurt in the world so you need to engage and uplift. I can be melancholic as an artist and if I’m painting on a grey day, I need to see neon-pink, next to red, next to orange. It makes me happy and it makes people who like my art happy, so it’s a win-win. I’m synaesthetic so I feel things and see numbers in colour.
Wow, that must be so weird – what’s that like?
It’s not weird to me as it’s all I know. I see certain colours when I see certain numbers or feel certain things. Everything is colour, so it’s very important to my world.
What inspires you?
My every day surroundings. To me, Brixham is like living in a story book. My studio is on the top floor overlooking the harbour and the fish factory, and I love to watch the crazy chaos of the fishermen coming and going with their crates of fish. I do a lot of painting outside in the open air too.
Is painting outside tricky if the weather is bad?
If it rains I just rub it into my paintings. I’m a sculptural painter so as well as traditional acrylic and oils, I use whatever is near me to build up the layers: paper, washing up liquid to get the paint bubbling. I was out painting on the coast path between Brixham and Dartmouth and ended up using my pencil sharpenings. I don’t follow the usual rules and techniques.
Did you train to be an artist?
I grew up in Liverpool and went to the Norwich School of Art to study sculpture and then studied fine art in Paris and Rouen. My dad loved to paint, and he got me interested in the Royal Academy as he used to take me to the Summer Exhibition when I was little. He used to say, ‘we’ll be on those walls one day’.
How did you get picked to be on the beeb?
They approached me and then I had a series of interviews with them at the RA and they came to see me in Devon. My house is just one big gallery really; four floors of my paintings with me at the top and my husband Jack in the basement framing them.
Tell me about the marble run they showed in your house.
We don’t have good reception in the house so I asked Jack to create a marble run from my studio on the top floor down to him. When I pop a marble in the top, it pings down four flights of stars to a jar at the bottom and he knows that’s the signal to bring me up a cup of tea.
Impressive husband training! What’s your secret?
I’m very bossy and he’s happy to help! He manages me professionally and I manage him domestically. I think the key is to always tell them how good they are at what they do: “I’d do it but you’ll do a much better job than me.”
How do you make art pay here in Devon?
I came here as the light was better for painting. I lived in Exmouth and then Topsham for a while and I had my own design company. I’d done commercial work for The British Museum and MOMA in New York but I didn’t want to be told what to do anymore.
One day I said to Jack, “Give up your job as a teacher and I’ll give up designing.” He said, “Okay, let’s give three months.” By the third month, we could cover the rent and a few months later we were covering our costs. Now I have art in 8 galleries around the UK.
Where do you go for a cultural hit?
I love Totnes and all the indie cafes and shops. I think everybody is making a real effort and you can feel that. It’s very people-centred. I go to Ashburton for the antique shops. All the old statues and the funny faces they used to put on things really make me laugh. And the coast path between Brixham and Dartmouth is stunning: sheer cliffs, crashing waves – I love to paint there. It’s just about the most dramatic scenery you can get apart from remote parts of Scotland.
Any advice for someone choosing art for their home?
Go with your gut instinct. If you know you love it, don’t hang around. Don’t listen to what your husband or your friend thinks. It’s very personal. To be surrounded by what you love is very energising.
Any tips on displaying art?
Give it the best spot, so it hits you when you walk into the room. Or place it so you always see it from where you like to sit. Make it part of your every day. And go mad! Have it everywhere, even in the bathroom. In ours, I have a huge picture I painted of a naked Jack with a colourful blanket on – around his legs! People always come out looking white as a sheet.