Each month, we have a quick chat with one of our Academicians to find out what they’re up to and what the RA means to them.
Drawing is intrinsic to Emma Stibbon’s practice. She travels widely, recording her responses to the physical appearance and psychological impact of natural and built environments. Working from sketches and photographic records, Emma creates stark, monochrome works on paper. We spoke to her as she was making the final touches to her galleries in the Summer Exhibition, in her first year on the Selection and Hanging Committee.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently preparing for a solo show at Galerie Bastian in Berlin opening this November, and an exhibition at the Polar Museum in Cambridge next Spring. Both exhibitions focus on my response to visits I made in 2013 to the Antarctic Peninsula (through an artist’s placement organised by the Scott Polar Research Institute and the Royal Navy), and Svalbard in the High Arctic (an expedition organised by the ArcticCircle.org). Significant retreat has now been observed in the ice sheets and glaciers of the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula. Being able to witness these vast, icy expanses provoked me to consider the beauty and ultimate frailty of the polar regions. I am making a series of drawings looking at the complex physical shapes of the ice, and hoping to suggest a feeling of reverie or introspection.
I often work in quite friable drawing media; graphite, aluminium powder, volcanic dust, mica etc to try to suggest the elusiveness of the subject in the material fabric of the work. I have also have just finished some work for a group show Drawing the Real currently on show at the Alan Cristea Gallery. Making my work is often quite labour intensive and slow so I will probably have to live in my studio for the next year.
What’s your earliest memory of art or architecture?
As a child my Dad would take me out with him when he was painting, also my Mum really encouraged me to draw. We lived in North Germany for much of my childhood and I particularly remember the churches there and in particular a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Emma Stibbon RA,Berg, Antarctica.
What work of art do you most wish you’d made?
That’s difficult, there are too many to single one out. Thinking about Van Gogh, I’d like to have made one of his ink drawings, the energy and emotion he manages to convey always moves me. He was able to express such optimism despite his circumstances… I think drawing is often a solace, a world we can enter into.
How do you know when a work is finished?
One of the reasons I enjoy making prints is that it is a staged process, when it comes off the press you are at a particular moment of ‘finish’. When I’m drawing it is more open ended and I continue working on something over a period of time. I usually stop when I reach a point of no return.
Emma Stibbon discusses her trip to Antarctica and gives a glimpse inside her sketchbooks.
Where were you when you found out you had been elected as an Academician?
I had just stepped through the door after returning from Antarctica where I’d been out of contact for five weeks. I received a text message with the news and it seemed unreal.
How has your first year as an Academician been? Was it how you expected?
I didn’t know quite want to expect, it has been really interesting so far. As an artist led organisation we meet regularly and there is always a lively level of debate. It can be demanding on time, for example being on the Summer Exhibition committee this year has taken me out of the studio for a month, but it makes for a democratic process; you can contribute to the decisions that get made. I think this is fairly unusual in a big organisation where the voice of the artist is often lost.
What does the RA mean to you?
The RA has been part of my artistic landscape since I can remember, I have seen some extraordinary art here over the years, I believe the RA should continue to play a significant role in how the visual arts are experienced and enjoyed. As an academy it should represent the interests of artists and be seen as a leader in education and access to the visual arts more widely. I think it is significant that at the heart of the RA is the RA Schools, providing students with a free art education. It is a tough environment for emerging and younger artists, I think the RA should strive to support them as they are the future.
Members of the Summer Exhibition 2014 Selection and Hanging Committee inspect a work submitted for the exhibition.
L-R: Emma Stibbon RA, Eileen Cooper RA, Chris Orr RA (obscured), Hughie O‘Donoghue RA, Gus Cummins RA and John Maine RA..
Photo: Benedict Johnson.
If you were President of the RA for a day, what would you change?
I would elect more women as RAs, we are currently sorely under represented and this doesn’t represent the gender balance of contemporary practitioners out there.
This is your first year on the committee for the Summer Exhibition. How have you found the process? How have you gone about choosing the pieces for your rooms?
It has been a baptism of fire, selecting from a submission of 12,000 works felt overwhelming at times. The quality of the submission is high and you feel the responsibility doing justice to all that talent. I shared the hanging of Galleries I and II with fellow printmaker Chris Orr. We decided to arrange the print rooms in a salon style hang and to be wide-ranging in our selection. Printmaking is at the juncture of almost all fine art practice including drawing, photography and digital and we tried to reflect this in the hang. We were looking for works that demonstrate excellence within the traditions of print to work employing new technologies. I hope we’ve created a sense of wonderment and pleasure for the viewer - it is certainly an assault on the eye!