Get To Know Visual Artist Emily Grace Harrison

Posted by Madeleine Till, February 04, 2018
Emily Grace Harrison Selfie

Artist Emily Grace Harrison with her installation "you got me dreaming in colour"

Emily Grace Harrison is a visual artist based in Toronto. Emily's work is playful and relateable, and explores a variety of techniques and mediums in a way that puts a spin on concentional drawing and painting. Her site-specific installaion in our current show "Outside the Frame" utilizes plasticine and re-worked scraps of cut up paintings to turn our lobby wall into a tactile and inventive canvas.

Can you describe your work + background, and give us a little insight into your influences?
I’m a West Coaster who grew up on Vancouver Island/Hornby Island before packing up and moving to Toronto five years ago. Before the move I’d been attending university in Nanaimo, studying anthropology and urban geography while hanging out with the hippies, surfers, rockers and ravers who called that city home.

But also during that period I took time away to travel Canada, The Caribbean and Central/South America. So when you pile all these experiences and subcultures together you might get a sense of what underpins my practice. My saturated palette, especially in the figurative work, is definitely connected to gig lighting used at the small bars my friends and I hung out at. It’s really only in the last year or so that I’ve started unpacking how my past lives are all fitting together. My work, more and more, is an attempt to hold onto those experiences and people, and to bring them with me as I learn who I am as an artist.

Emily - installation close up

Close up of "you got me dreaming in color", 2017

How did working onsite at The Drake in front of an informal audience of Drake staff and patrons differ from working in your studio?

Well, I actually made my figure and wall composition in its entirety at home in my studio – The studio was like a rehearsal where I planned and had all the pieces laid out ahead of time. At the Drake, I came in and went to work with the labour of reconstructing the piece: In that sense, the installation was a performance component.

EGH installing

Is plasticine a material you’d like to continue to work with? Does it have any major limitations/possibilities as a medium that you’ve discovered thus far?

Because plasticine is an oil-based clay it never fully dries out and hardens, and so I’m often asked about the archival aspect of these works. I have seen artists make plasticine works that are mounted in plexiglass boxes and under frames. But in my case, at least for now, I’m totally cool with my works not lasting forever; once the project is up, it can be photographed, then taken down, and the plasticine rope can be used over and over again to make new pictures. After all it is a medium designed for play, not permanence — Things don’t always have to last forever, such is life.

Emily Grace Harrison, "you got me dreaming in colour", Site-specific installation, 2017

Emily Grace Harrison, "you got me dreaming in colour", Site-specific installation, 2017

What initially drove you to experiment with plasticine?
I was fortunate enough to do The Roundtable Residency in Toronto this summer, and as part of that I made tall towers of plasticine wrapped around stacks of beer can empties. When I was asked to make a new work for The Drake, I knew that I wanted to pick up on the plasticine thing. But unlike the short-term residency exhibition I knew it would have to be a project that would stand up to a three-month life in a hotel lobby. I began doing experiments in the studio with different armatures and, through trial and error, developed this stable, plasticine-wrapped rope that I could nail into the wall.

I really love plasticine - it comes in awesome colours and, differing from paints, I can layer, fold, and cut the material to mix colours. Much of my practice is hybrid in nature and so I’m also fascinated by how these plasticine-ropes carry the language of drawing while having the dimensionality and materiality of sculpture. Maybe somewhat counter to these contemporary art concerns, plasticine has unexpected power by being seen as a low-brow crafty material for children. In these ways, this methodology both answers and challenges the art system, while staying rooted firmly in play.

Where do you see yourself and your practice in a year from now?

Currently I’m on a residency near Daegu, South Korea where I’m hoping this break from Toronto will propel my practice forward along new tangents. Once home though, I want to keep working in my studio as much as possible. I want to take my practice into new places where the realms of my imagination become real objects. If the last year is any indication, I will likely phase from medium to medium, pushing both 3D forms and the flatter painted works back and forth. I’ll probably make some messes along the way, shake my head from time to time and – most importantly – be excited and surprised at where both myself and my art end up.

To keep up with Emily and her work, be sure to follow her on Instagram. Outside the Frame runs Dec. 21, 2017 - Feb. 7, 2018, and features work from Emily alongside artists Alex Ebstein, Kate Bonner, Daniel Simmons, and Virgil Baruchel.

Posted in: Art

Tags: drakeart