EMILY COUNTS

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The way you mix materials is absolutely fascinating. Could you go into a little more detail about what it's like to create one of your works from beginning to end? Is there a specific process for choosing the materials involved, or is it an organic process that builds as you go along?

I start with sketches and at the point of envisioning the full sculpture I have usually decided on the materials I am going to use. Then I begin in the studio building the ceramic portions of the sculpture as that generally takes the longest time to dry, fire, and glaze. Through the process of creating a sculpture, my ideas and material selections do evolve and I try to allow for spontaneous moments and decisions. There are times when the final piece is a complete surprise and other times that resemble very closely the original sketch. Over time the consideration of materials has become important to my practice. I prefer materials that are enduring and archival, and that are connected to tradition and craftsmanship. At this point the list of what I will use is fairly limited. I mostly work with ceramics, but also wood, bronze, glass, natural fibers, and I have started to incorporate rocks and semi-precious stones. 

 
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There's a ceramic element in many of your works. Could you talk a little bit about what draws you to ceramics specifically? What do you like best about working with clay?

I find that I am able to work out ideas quickly with clay. It is my most direct path to a three dimensional concept. I have a certain amount of control with the medium but I am drawn to the way that clay can be difficult or unstructured and sometimes guides my forms. Another aspect of working with ceramics that I am attracted to is the visualization and guesswork involved in the glazing process. I like the permanence of glazing as changes can’t easily be made to the surface of the piece after firing. Sometimes there are happy surprises, often I get just what I expected, and other times I just have to accept that a sculpture did not turn out as something I consider a success.

 
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In your perfect world, how would audiences interact with your work? What is the number one thing you'd like them to observe when viewing your sculptures? Do you encourage an element of physical participation with your work?

I do sometimes create interactive pieces that involve sound and/or light that are meant to be touched. This year I have been working on a series of interactive sound sculptures with ceramic objects that function like oversized keyboard buttons. When each object is pressed downward a unique sound is triggered and multiple sounds can be played simultaneously. Generally though the interaction should be limited to viewing with eyes only and I hope people are spending enough time with my sculptures to notice the smaller or subtler details.

 
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Tell us a little bit about your history with art. How did you get started in the art world? Does your work now differ greatly from when you first started?

I attended the California College of the Arts where I ended up focusing on and getting my BFA in painting. After graduating I moved to Chicago and started showing work in galleries there. My art practice started to evolve from painting into installation and sculptural work. At that time I was working with a mix of media such as wood, plaster, paper and fabric and there was a focus on representation, narrative, and self-portraiture. Eventually I started to incorporate ceramics into my practice and it has gradually become my primary medium with a focus on abstraction.

 
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Some of your works evoke a jewelry-like aspect - they almost look like necklaces. Have you dabbled in jewelry-making, or do you have plans to in the future?

I have a design business named St. Eloy that consists of bronze and porcelain jewelry and ceramic home objects. I have always had an interest in adornment and objects such as jewelry that carry meaning, history, or mark specific moments in time. My jewelry designs are sculptures in a small format and projects for me to focus on form and aesthetics.  There is definitely a crossover between this work and my art practice.

 
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How important is a sense of community to you as an artist? Can you speak to whether a collaborative instinct is essential for you and your work? Or do you prefer a more solo experience?

An art community is very important to me. I need other artists and curators in my life that I can talk to about projects and the exhibitions we are checking out. I love to visit other artists’ studios and have a sense of the work being made around me. I moved to Seattle from Portland, OR a year ago and I definitely miss the Portland art community. I try to keep involved with that city as much as I can and having an incredible gallery there that represents me, Nationale, has been very helpful in doing so. Since moving to Seattle I have been connecting with amazing artists here, especially through SOIL, an artist-run gallery that I became a member of early this year.

Collaboration on art projects hasn’t been frequent for me but I am more and more interested in working with others. My recent sound pieces were collaborative projects and I am excited about new projects like these.

 
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Some of your works incorporate digital/electronic/technological themes. Could you elaborate a little on that? Is that intentional, or do you just naturally gravitate toward those themes?

I often explore themes surrounding technology and connectivity. I am interested in technological inventions both outdated and contemporary and especially those that are created for purposes of communication. I have an aesthetic interest in technological devices, especially circuitry, but also in the ways that people connect with each other and how we use and rely on devices and social networks.

 
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Do you feel that the technological aspects of your work contrast with the organic materials you use? Could you talk about that relationship a little?

I am drawn to that juxtaposition of technology, or the reference to it, and materials that are traditionally used for craft and art objects. It is a way to combine the past and future or tradition and innovation. I find beauty in that contrast and I like to think about the way that hand made versus factory made objects are valued and used.

 
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What's the best part about creating for you? The worst part? Why?

The best part about creating is surprising myself. I love the unexpected ideas and objects that suddenly exist and those moments of inspiration while problem solving. The tough parts about a studio practice can be the isolation and the times when I am experiencing doubt or negativity. Although I work best alone it is sometimes difficult to carry on that internal conversation about my art. Overall though, my experience as a creative person is positive.

 
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What are you working on right now that you're especially excited about? Where do you see your work evolving in the future?

I am currently working on new pieces for a solo exhibition at Garboushian Gallery in Beverly Hills, CA opening in November.  It will be my second solo show with this gallery and I am so excited. The body of work will include large and medium scale abstract sculptures that are both freestanding and wall hanging, and continue my investigation of connected and sequenced objects. I am also participating in a show at the Art Gym at Marylhurst University in October with an inspiring group of artists. The pieces I will be exhibiting there are large stacked ceramic sculptures that are electrically illuminated from within. In the future I see myself focusing more on interactive works and sculptures that incorporate sound and light. 

 

Check Emily out on Instagram, her website, and her jewelry shop.

And check out her Ten Facts feature here.