#LivesOfArtists…With Emma Fineman

What time do you wake up?
Annoyingly, I wake up whenever the sun comes up. So lately it’s been around 5-5:30am. As I cannot accept this, I check emails, then force myself back to sleep till 9:30-10am.

What do you eat for breakfast?
Usually cereal, sometimes eggs. I went through a period of eating oatmeal with apples in it every day for two years, and now I can barely look at it.

Describe where you produce your work, and why you chose that space.
Currently I am working out of the beautiful Porthmeor Studios in St Ives. I have been doing a residency here since February and was lucky enough to be granted studio 5 as my working space. Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron formerly worked from studio 5, and Lubaina Himid completed her Tate residency from the same space this time last year. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working here now.  

Do you have a particular daily routine that helps you work?
I like to write to-do lists in the morning, it’s such a basic thing to do, but it really helps me collect my thoughts and plans for the day so that I can be productive. I tend to arrive at the studio in the afternoon and when I’m deep in a project I tend to stay until midnight or so, sometimes a bit later. I work best between 4-9pm and I think the hours in front and behind that golden time are there to help me ramp up and wind down.

Where do you go for your creative sparks?
Daily life. It really does not matter where, I find that the more I observe and participate in daily encounters, the more information I have to work with. Conversations seem to be my biggest resource. It really is the layering of such a magnitude of “stuff” that gets thrown at us, that I rely on painting to help me digest it all. News articles, advertising, social channels, all of it gets passed through the sieve that is my brain, and the parts that stick quite strongly often get worked out on a canvas.  

What are you currently working on?
I’ve been producing a new body of large-scale paintings whilst on residency. I am playing with scale and creating these narrative strips where the timeline of the events that I am depicting becomes compressed. I am fascinated by the ways in which painting is able to record time so differently from any other medium. I find that it lends itself so brilliantly to recording lived experience for this reason. It stretches itself beyond a snapshot of a moment, and yet it still exists in a still frame. I have also begun to try a new series of sculptures, which I have started in plaster and am working to have cast in bronze in the coming months. This is a completely new medium for me, and I’m really excited about the possibilities.

What do you do when you need to reset your mind?
Swim. Swimming is such a gift. 

Who was your most important mentor or inspiration?
I would have to say my family. I might be bending the rules of this question by not naming one member specifically, but they each bring such an interesting perspective to my understanding of the arts. My grandmother was a painter as is my mom and her father. There are comedians, musicians, and doctors in the family as well. Perhaps the most inspiring part of this has been understanding the connections between all of these modes of thinking. An artist and a scientist are terribly similar in that they spend everyday working out a hypothesis, not knowing if it will answer our lines of questioning, but our toiling continues just the same.

Who do you speak to when you need a second opinion or who gives the best feedback?
I am very lucky to have attended the Royal College of Art for my masters degree and I have a brilliant group of peers from that time that I turn to. I was also fortunate to befriend an amazing group of artists who graduated at the same time that I did, but attended different programs. We have a crit group now and try to meet in each other’s studios at the end of the month as regularly as our schedules will allow.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Show up. You might not always think you have a good enough idea or know all the answers, but if you show up diligently it will come.

If you weren’t an artist what would you do?
If not an artist, I’d be a fish. 

How do you switch off from work in the evening?
I work until I can’t. Until all the energy that I had for making has been drained out of me, then I roll myself home and sleep. Then I take time off. It’s not the best balance, but for me I am on and I am off.

What book are you reading right now?
I’ve just finished reading Dancing with the Gods by Kent Nerburn, which I would absolutely recommend for any creative person. I am now beginning The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I think that it is important to educate myself on systemic racism so that I can be active in my response to dismantling it. 

Who is the other artist working today that you most admire?
That’s such a hard question to answer as there are so many! My short list would be: Kiki Smith, Lubaina Himid, Rose Wylie, Kara Walker, Arthur Jaffa.

If you could have lunch with any artist from across time, who would it be and why?
I’d love to have lunch with Alice Neel purely because she was such a fabulous conversationalist. If you watch her segment on the Jonny Carson show you will see what I mean. 

What are you most proud of in your career?  
Having my painting displayed in the Walker Art Gallery for the John Moore’s Painting prize was a massive highlight. 

Explore More