Scots artist finds Essex inspiring

Born and raised in the Highlands of Scotland artist Emma Cameron tells Arts Editor Andrew Clarke that she now calls Wivenhoe home and it provides inspiration for her artwork.

By Andrew Clarke

Born and raised in the Highlands of Scotland artist Emma Cameron tells Arts Editor Andrew Clarke that she now calls Wivenhoe home and it provides inspiration for her artwork.

Even though artist Emma Cameron was born in the glorious highlands of Scotland, a place she describes as having luminous skies, she says she is more than happy living way down south in Wivenhoe which has been her home for the last 15 years.

The daughter of two established artists from a family of artists she said that there was never any doubt that she would follow in the family tradition.


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“I grew up in a place called The Black Isle near Inverness, up in the highlands of Scotland. You could walk along the beaches and watch dolphins frolicking in the water. It was an amazing sight. I still have friends and family up there and I go back and visit quite often. But the light is just extraordinary. I find it really inspiring.”

Now while Wivenhoe can't offer that same experience, she says that she has never regretted moving down south. “I do love living here. I think the walks around Wivenhoe are terrific and I love the countryside in this part of the world.”

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Asked what persuaded her to swap the magnificence of the highlands for the calmer beauties of Essex, she laughs: “What else, men. When I left art school I went out for a short time with a bloke from Wivenhoe and after we broke up, I decided that I really liked living here and wanted to stay. So I moved here in 1990 and when I eventually met my husband in 1996, I persuaded him to come here as well - rather than move away.”

Speaking to Emma you would never imagine that she comes from a Scottish family that stretches back several generations. Her accent has completely disappeared.

When asked about the lack of Scottish bur, Emma laughs: “The accent? Oh I can still do the accent. I am bi-lingual. It returns when I go back to Scotland but the thing was my parents had English accents. My Dad was one of those folks that lived for many years in India and I suppose that affected the way he spoke. But his family was originally from Scotland and he went back there.”

She said that she is very proud of her family's background in art. My Mum's father was a well known First World War war-artist called Gerald Spencer Pryse. He designed all these Labour Party posters from the 1920s which are quite collectible now. There was one which said “Yesterday The Trenches - Today Unemployed.” with all these big moody figures on them. So it would seem art is in our genes.

Emma moved down to London at the age of 18 to attend Camberwell Art College before moving onto Central St Martins College of Art and Design.

Having graduated she then left for the wilds of Essex to make her own living as an artist. She said that right from the beginning this rural north Essex coastal village has felt like home.

“I love Wivenhoe” she enthuses; “It's crammed with artists, writers, musicians: there's always someone to cheer you on if a painting's not going well, someone to give useful feedback, or even practical help like lending a tube of paint when you run out! And I love just knowing, as I work in my studio, that around the village my friends are beavering away in their studios: it's somehow very encouraging.”

But it is Emma's art that defines her view on the world. It is a unique mixture of figurative realism and coloured abstract. Her work conjures up images of beautiful dreamscapes and scenes from mythology. They seem to exist in a world of heightened reality.

She said that her work has always been figure based. “It was something that started at Camberwell where I did my foundation course. That introduced me to figure drawing and it has been the source of my work ever since.”

She said that her trademark style has always been with her since art school. “It's not something I have tried to consciously create but it's more of a by-product of the way that I work.

“I put the colours down on the canvas in a very abstract way and then I tend of muse about it all and turn the canvas round a few times to see what it looks like from different perspectives and eventually I can start to see a figure and then I start to make that figure a bit more clear.

“I am a bit of a one for seeing a figure in all sorts of things to be honest and then thinking what else goes here and building up a painting from there really. I never really know what to expect so it's really quite exciting. But it doesn't always work. I have to obliterate a lot of work because it's not working. That happens a lot.”

She said that she has never been able to plan a painting which she finds frustrating when one has turned out particularly successful and there are several potential buyers and she would like to do several more just like it to satisfy demand but that magic remains annoyingly out of reach.

One of the reviews that she feels capture the feel of work better than most said that her “figures move with fluid, bright energy; vibrant colours mingle with sure, deft lines. It's a strange, surreal, yet somehow familiar world.”

It's a world which only exists on her canvas. Unlike most artists it's not one that she's trying to transfer from inside her head onto the canvas. She really is in the hands of the paint that has been applied at the start of the process.

The title of her new exhibition at The Chappel Gallery, near Colchester, is Mischief and Grace - a name which has been chosen with great care because she feels it accurately reflects the life of the characters in her work.

“A sense of mischief is quite central to my work over the years. A lot of the characters are quite mischievous and I just like the sense that they are bringing a sense of edginess to the work. And 'Grace' comes from the fact that there is a lot of beauty and grace in the pictures. I am quite interested in the spiritual sense of grace as well. I think, for me, the title sums up two of the most important elements to my work.”

She said that she viewed all the figures in her work as characters, objectively viewed individuals, even though she said that she felt that all of her creations had bits of herself in them. “…and lots of people have commented on the mythological feel of the paintings.”

From a viewers point of view, I point out that looking at her powerful and beguiling work is rather reminiscent of stumbling across a single page of a picture book. I tell her that the pictures immediately involve you in a scene of on-going action and you want to know how the characters got to that point and what happens to them next.

She laughs: “That's a fair point, I do see it like that myself sometimes.”

She said that this was her third solo show and all the work had been produced during the last three years. “I find it usually takes three years to fill a solo show. There is nothing in this show that was in my last show in 2002 at the North House Gallery in Manningtree.

“I usually work on more than one at a time. At the moment I've got about ten in the studio which I hoped would have been finished in time for the show but it was not to be.”

She said that she finds it easy to know when to stop - when a painting is finished but deciding what is to be done to painting which she knows is not finished is more problematical.

“It can be difficult knowing how to finish a painting if it doesn't come easily. What I tend to do is put it away for a few weeks, months even and then return to it afresh.”

Emma's paintings are so striking that it is not surprising that she has attracted some fairly high celebrated clients including Suffolk's own Griff Rhys-Jones and design guru Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen - both of whom have gone on record praising the unique quality of her work.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen said in a letter to a gallery: "It is rare to find a contemporary figurative artist who can deal confidently with symbolism.

"Too often symbolism is plodding, obvious and didactic but Emma's touch is light, romantic and humorous. This means her work can be interpreted in a very personal relevant way by anyone without feeling there's a 'right' or 'wrong' way to read the picture.”

Meanwhile Griff Rhys-Jones told one gallery owener: "We love Emma's work for its confidence, its upbeat palette and lyrical content!"

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