Emily Royer

Favourite woman artist and why/how has she/her art or life inspired you? 

I don’t have one favorite but a few that I think about a lot: Kiki Smith, Mamma Andersson, Rosalyn Drexler, Alice Neel. Kiki Smith’s sculptures from the 90’s made an early impression on me because they are so raw and open about aspects of being human that we try to hide, of living in a fleshy body that excretes, and leaks, and decays. I saw Kiki Smith speak once, she was inspiring and also seemed very nice and relatable. It was really great to hear this person, whose work you learned about in art history books, and be able to imagine being friends with her. The first time I saw Mamma Andersson’s work I felt crushed. Her work, the feelings it imbued, accomplished everything I was striving towards. I got over it of course, but it was this feeling of-  “This work is so good, I shouldn’t even bother painting any more”. Rosalyn Drexler and Alice Neel are very different painters, and I wouldn’t say that I paint like either of them, but every time I go back to their work I find I learn something new. 


When did you first discover art? and when did you realise that you wanted to pursue it professionally? 

As far back as I can remember I’ve loved making things, drawing and painting are my focus now, but when I was young I did a lot of crafting as well, like stamping, making bracelets, sculpey figures and so on. I remember in high school, sitting in class and being absolutely mesmerized by a poster on the wall of the Toulouse-Lautrec painting “At the Moulin Rouge.”  There was a feeling of being transported to another life, of looking through another’s eye, all while sitting in some banal classroom. It was something that felt powerful and magical, and I felt that I wanted to be a maker in the same way. Still, I don’t think I realized until a bit later that I could actually go to college to study art. When I did see that it was a possibility, I already knew that was what I wanted to pursue. 


Can you tell me a bit about you/your background? (egwhere are you from/based? What has your educational path been like or are you self-taught?) 

I am American. I grew up in New Jersey, and attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where I studied Illustration. I chose that concentration because I felt it was the best path to a good technical education, but found that my primary interest was not illustration per se. I sometimes do album artwork for bands, which I really enjoy, but for the most part I wanted the content  of my work to be self-directed, rather than initiated by clients, as it is in most illustration. After finishing college I continued to make work but never pursued a career as an illustrator. For a number of years I worked at an art center for adults with developmental disabilities. There, I worked with some really amazing artists. Most did not feel self-conscious about what they were making or how it would be perceived by others. There was no sense of “trying,” just a devotion to making and a joy in being creative, I really admired their attitude and try to bring more of that into my own mindset. I still live in Philadelphia. There is a great art community here, and it is probably the most affordable big city on the east coast of the states. Here, I have been able to maintain a studio and pursue my art while working mostly part - time and freelance jobs.



What themes or ideas do you explore in your work? 

In a very broad sense my work is about the experience of being human. I think a lot about the dynamics of relationships, the difficulty of communication, the tensions between our inner and outer lives, and the role memory plays in our understanding of ourselves and our experiences. Our feelings and experiences are intangible and transitory, so in creating these paintings I am trying to capture and visually represent those feelings that make up our lived experiences yet evade the eye.

What is your process like? (Do you do a lot of research? Do you favour an intuitive approach? Do you do a lot of preparatory studies? Do you use photography/digital media? Do you concentrate on just one piece or do you work on several at the same time? How long do you spend working on each piece?) 

I often work from photo references. My process today more or less has its origins in a series of drawings I made 13 or 14 years ago, based on family photos that my mother found at my grandparents home. Up until that point, I hadn’t seen many images of my family as younger people. It was interesting to see these family members in such a different light, to imagine how their lives, and personalities, and relationship dynamics had changed before I even existed. I drew from the figures in the photos but reimagined them in other settings. From there, I began culling imagery from both photos that I found in thrift shops or the internet, as well as old photos of my own family. Recently though, I have felt less compelled to seek out these types of images, and more interested in what is around me in the present, using my own life and memory as  source material. I still use photo references but now they are often people or things that catch my eye and I snap on my phone. I am constantly collecting imagery and frequently go back through my piles and files of images. Through that process the image that is right for that moment will find its way to me.

I will make some sketches before beginning a larger painting but I won’t get too detailed because I find that scale changes things a lot. I will draw the basic composition on the canvas in graphite or pastel and start the painting when I am satisfied with the drawing. Sometimes a painting will take a more or less direct route from start to finish, but sometimes it will go through many changes and unforeseen directions before its completion. I find that it is important to let a painting rest so that I can really see it. I tend to work on 3- 4 pieces at once, having more than one painting going at a time lets me take a break from an image while continuing to work. Also, sometimes the answer to a problem with one painting can be found in another. 

Could you name a book you would recommend to every artist? (Not necessarily art-related)And why?

Not Knowing -  the Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme, or perhaps my recommendation is specifically for the title essay. Much of this book is about the experience of writing but it is applicable to any creative activity.  In the title essay, Barthelme beautifully and humorously writes about making art as a process that begins with not-knowingwhere the mind will go, and creating a story to find out. “Art is a true account of the activity of mind” he says, this is a quote that I find inspiring and reassuring in some strange way.