Smudges of burgundy and indigo form outlines of mountains. Deep azure drips down a canvas, intersected by scarlet. The faint shadow of a heart and lungs emerges from a golden haze, lurking behind a dense bone-like shape. A glance at these excerpts from Emily Church’s portfolio reveals such enigmatic titles as “Blue Divergence” and “From the Pages of My Life.”
The Louisville native has been steadily climbing the rungs of the art world for the past decade, working from her home and studio in Brooklyn. Her work dances with abstraction, blurring the lines of representation and delving into themes of memory, home and the intersection of man and nature. Church embarked on her artistic endeavors early in life, learning from her father, painter Dan Church. With three of her siblings also artists, it seems art is in her blood. “In a way, I have been painting my whole life,” Church says. “Skills are honed in school, and knowledge of theory and history is taught, but being an artist is a way of living.”
Since her Louisville childhood, Church’s pursuit of art has taken her around the world: a semester at the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, and most recently, the MFA program at the New York Studio School. She draws much of her inspiration from her travels.
“When I’m traveling, what inspires me initially is the landscape of a place,” Church says. “Within the forms of the earth I find poetic insight. The act of traveling conjures up memories from my past and thus forms personal relationships specific to myself that may become universal through the act of transferring events into painting.”
As an undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, Church studied sculpture, a medium whose techniques enriched her painting. “The formal elements of my art have changed over time as I learned new techniques, or felt that an idea was better represented as a painting rather than a sculpture or photograph,” she says. “But the ideas that I’ve been working with — of nature and time passing, and how personal experience may contribute to a larger human dialogue — these are always present in my work.”
In a press release announcing Church’s recent exhibit “Explorations in Mark Making” at Galerie Hertz, New York curator Karen Wilkin called her work both “provocative” and “elusive.” Many classify Church as an abstract painter, and indeed her smudgy landscapes and sketches often seem non-representational. Church is not comfortable with the categorization.
“My work is always of something, or about something,” she says. “The forms may not be completely representational, but the ingredients for understanding what the work is of or about lies within the formal elements.
“I like those adjectives Karen uses,” she continues. “The idea that my work can provoke ideas in a viewer that are entirely personal to them, yet my work can remain elusive, or mysterious. As long as my work touches something in a viewer, sparks some connection, that is all I can hope for.”