Perhaps you can tell us a bit about your early life to set the scene. Where did you grow up and how did that environment shape you creatively? What propelled you towards painting?
EMS: I was born in Austin, Texas. In the early 1980s, when I was about 4 or 5 years old my family moved 70 miles west to a rural area in the region. Most people in the surrounding area had small farms and raised livestock. There was a lot of isolation which I consider nurturing in my childhood but frustrating in my teen years. There are some factors in all of this which I believe responsible for my grit. Like a lot of children, I always drew and made things. I also always liked science, I like figuring things out. My parents are both very creative. They are not materialistic and were very suspicious of mass culture and authority figures. They did not know about an “art world”. They had the ethic of “do it yourself” with everything. They built our modest house, grew our vegetables. Our household was quite un-technological. The first time I saw the internet was in the library during my senior year of high school. In 1997 I moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas. It is a huge very diverse school. I got lucky that the art programme was pretty good, attracting some quality professors and interesting peers. Austin was an intellectually rich environment.
Art was always the biggest box to get into – very flexible, wild west, write your own script; that kind of place. So I am an artist. I found painting to be the hardest, weirdest world to me. So I am a painter.
So if you were asked to list your core themes, what would they be? And when did you first begin to hone the distinct aesthetic style of painting you have now?
EMS Themes: Gender, capitalism, violence, feminism, labour, agency, painting history, scopophilia, visual literacy. I think my work really started to gel in 2013. I’ve been painting for over 20 years, but it took all this time to figure out how these ideas connect in a painted world. In 2012–2013 I lost my studio and had to paint at home with water-based materials, which were not my wheelhouse. It was almost like I had to start over. The limitations made me get really clear and deliberate. It was a crucible that was great for my work.
Fragments of bodies, both male and female, often appear in your pieces – a slice of buttocks in a simple line drawing, or a breast in relief against a blue sky, for instance. Can you tell us about the presence of the body, both male and female, in your works?
EMS I think a lot about the discourse of painting being inherently problematically gendered in ways so deeply codified that it is hard to unravel. I am not talking only about statistics – numbers of male artists vs female etc. I am talking more about visual language invisibly operating with control and oppression. For instance, the invention of linear perspective positions the viewer as the all-seeing spectator penetrating the world. This privileges a phallic notion of selfhood in painting, which persists into elevating what kind of subjectivities we value in art. When I am showing a body that is distinctly male or female I am showing this framework and that it can be tweaked, poked, interrupted.