Emma Finneran

Some artists refer to their studios as wombs or sanctuaries, and their practice as sacred and ecclesiastical. I do not. My studio is far from heavenly, and my practice nowhere near as ministerial, but I still see it as equally divine.

For me, it is the only place I’m comfortable being embarrassed; a place to cultivate ridiculous ideas, Google the hand habits of aardvarks (I now know they don’t have hands), FaceTime with Lismore, staple-gun new-found fabric to the studio floor, and most importantly, paint.

My studio floor is perpetually covered in fabric: used painters’ drop sheets, garish polyesters, old clothes (not always mine), inherited tarpaulins, found yacht sails, plastic bags and so on. My studio floor functions as the starting point for all of my paintings; everywhere underfoot there are potential paintings.

In my 2018 project for ‘Ideas Platform’, at Artspace Sydney, I created an installation mimicking my studio, ‘Personal Space’, by wrapping the entire space (inside and out) in my most cherished drop sheets. The idea was simply to see what happened when I was in an immersive simulation of what is so private – my studio – with people interacting so publicly with my personal space. Some people were reverent, others were nose-pickers. It was bizarre. I realised in the wrapping of ‘Ideas Platform’ that I was consciously aestheticising something that I normally do not; the studio was the focal point opposed to what the studio produces.

A significant part of my practice is the sourcing of new and old material; utilising a multitude of textiles – some aesthetic, some utilitarian, most discarded, their use-value depleted – my paintings consider how different materials reflect notions of archetypes. For example, using a pre-owned painter’s drop cloth frequently found in galleries, museums and house painting projects the idea of transit, and hints at the identity of the artist, camouflaged in the context of these materials. In my most recent solo presentation ‘FLOOD FLOOD’ with Chalk Horse, Sydney, I aimed at projecting this idea of transit proverbially though the use of water.

Born under Punches (2018) began with a found yellow sheet that naturally required washing. When the fabric was wet, splayed out on the studio floor, I realised I liked it better than when it was dry, and that the entire picture needed to remain as wet as possible throughout its conception. Whenever it dried, I would wash it again, painting back the layers that seeped out. This process was rigorous, maddening and unforgiving, and started to highlight small, traumatic and absurd life events occurring simultaneously that I was comically trying to wash my hands clean of.

Repetitive human gestures play an important part in my practice. Watching people wash their hands, as opposed to how they hail a taxi, or how they lean on a wall, or how they launder their clothes (or paintings), and so on, are different ways we are all unwittingly camouflaging and abstracting our inner worlds. Flood face (the heat goes on) (2018) is a representation of different modes of washing, referencing hours of iPhone footage I took of people washing their hands in public bathrooms. Each mark, colour and stain is a direct representation for each individual washing method – the menial, unexceptional, incidental and unintentionally intimate tasks pieced together to make up our transitory lives.

Growing up, my sister and I were fascinated with our family friends’ ‘Good Rooms’. These quiet heterotopias, often strictly out of bounds, clad in trophies, tall cabinets with curios, the family’s second phone, excessively plush carpet, a shapeless leather mound for a lounge (that reclined) – a place where people would have family meetings or announce news, good or bad.  Scrap trophies (Good Room) (2018) is an assemblage of scraps lifted from the studio floor and emancipated to stretcher bars; trophies that are placed in the Good Room.

I’ve realised that my studio and process are permeating how I exhibit – that the guts of what I make, and how I make it, are now totally up for question. That I am moving much further away from my studio as a womb-like private universe, and my process as solely my business, than I could have ever predicted – and I’m absolutely fine about it.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 48, 2019

Emma Finneran: Blue in Gravy
23 July – 15 August 2020
Chalk Horse, Sydney

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