1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? My ‘straight’ job is antiquarian bookseller, so books play a huge part in my daily life. My favorite of all time is Mary Webb’s Gone to Earth. Two and three would be Sarah Orne Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs and Twenty Years A-Growing by Maurice O’Sullivan, not necessarily in order of preference. 2. What are you currently working on? I am about to begin the largest painting I’ve ever worked on, which will be of a single cloud. I think there is a significant risk that it might not be successful, but if I can pull it off, it will open up a scale I have yet to explore in my work. Wish me luck! 3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure? My favorite failure would probably be the year directly after college when I stopped painting. At the time, I felt a lot of shame about it and dreaded when people would question me about it. Looking back, I can see this hiatus was necessary and ultimately beneficial to my practice. I struggled quite badly with obsessive-compulsive disorder in my early 20s, and unhealthy attitudes which were encouraged by the culture of art school exacerbated the problem and made the importance of painting feel paralyzing. By completely stopping for a period, I was able to redefine my relationship with my work. Now, rather than being a trigger for my illness, painting functions as panacea for me. 4. What is your most unusual habit? Gosh, just one? Maybe how much time I spend alone.
5. If you could have any painter, living or dead, paint your portrait, who would it be and why? Will Barnet! It is almost spooky to me how much of my psyche I see reflected in his work. I first learned about him when a friend sent me his obituary, and I regret never having the chance to speak to him. I once met Lois Dodd, and she looked at me for a moment and said, “Do you know who Will Barnet is? You look like the women in his paintings.” I periodically visit his grave to pay my respects. 6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Messy! I think it surprises people that I’m so messy because my paintings are about cleanliness and sparseness. I sometimes imagine that contradiction is an emotional product of Law of Conservation of Energy: In other words, the rigor with which I control my paintings creates total chaos around me. I tend to drop everything on the floor once I’m done using it. I don't think I have any photos of my studio that won't horrify your readers. Can I instead share photos of the best studio I've ever had? This was my studio while I was an artist in residence on the southwestern coast of Ireland. My most indispensable item would be a clamp light because I often work at night.
7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself? When I feel overwhelmed, I paint. Painting is the best way I know to get through difficult times. Even if I’m unhappy at the moment, I am still in the process of creating something meaningful and which will eventually be beautiful.
8. Who/What influences your work? Will Barnet, Alex Katz, John Dilg, Maine, Ireland, pine trees, graveyards, liminal spaces, nuns, windows, hills, wind, and being alone are the first things that come to mind.
9. Do you collect anything? Old and rare books! My collection focuses on women authors from the 19th century or earlier, but I’m not strict. I also collect beautiful bindings, strangely specific books, like A History of Crying, or Smocks, books by and about nuns, and anything else I want to read. 10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self? Stop dating assholes, haha. It took me a while to realize that I could focus that energy on my work and reap the benefits rather than wasting it chasing draining people. 11. In the last five years what new belief or habit has most improved your life or studio practice? I think just believing I have the skills to execute the image I am striving for has been profoundly beneficial. Realizing that inaction stemming from self doubt is not useful to my practice has made my process smoother and more productive.
12. Share an inspiring image I’m inspired by islands, especially small ones. They make me feel safe, probably because of some sort of ancestral memory from prehistory. I like being bounded on all sides by water, so I can control my surroundings and obstruct would-be invaders. My fantasy is to live on a barren little rock where all my time is spent painting and fulfilling my basic daily needs. I took this picture in Maine during my annual journey on the ferry from Bass Harbor to my parents’ house in Frenchboro, which is a small lobstering village on an island about 8 miles out.
To see more of Emily Pettigrew's work please visit our ARTSY page or visit James May North in person to see the current exhibition: BEYOND EARTH & SKY Opening Reception: Friday, Aug 2 5:30-8:00
James May North is open every Friday and Saturday 10-5 or by appointment 262.753.3130