Emma Prempeh is a fantastic British artist based in London. Prempeh studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths University of London, graduating in 2019 winning the Alumno/SPACE Studio Bursary award for 2020. Prempeh is currently attending an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art under the LeverHulme trust arts scholarship.
In 2019 she was announced winner of The Ingram Young Contemporary Talent Purchase Prize and shortlisted for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries, becoming a participant in their touring exhibition with her video work ‘Time’ at Leeds Art Gallery and the South London Gallery.
Please find below TWO interviews with Emma. One from 2020, and one from 2021 ahead of our exhibition Heart of the Matter with Gillian Jason Gallery.
How would you describe your artistic practice in three words?
Fragile, Temporal and warm
What issues do you believe need to change or be challenged in the art world?
Accessibility. I think it is essential to have other artists around you who are there to help and not afraid to tell you the good and bad sides of art making and the art world. Arts education should be able to be accessed by all, there is still a gap in those who can afford the high tuitions fee’s and those who cannot. Funding needs to reach marginalised communities directly and there needs to be more diversity in higher positions of power within artist institutions.
What is your studio like?
My studio is much like my bedroom, I like to feel comfortable in the space, almost like another home. It is a place where I want to feel like I can be emotional and engaged with the work by being as relaxed and at home as I can. I usually listen to true crime podcasts or neo soul however it varies on my mood, I tend to be dancing around quite a lot. As soon as I get in I have to take of my shoes and put on my sliders as well as making sure it is warm enough for me to feel comfortable enough concentrate for a few hours.
One item I can’t live without is my patterned painting stool, it has moved everywhere with me, my paintings are rarely ever hanging on the wall when I’m working on them, so I use it regularly to get really low as well as act as a knee pad.
Could you tell us a bit about the artworks you have in ‘Heart of the Matter’?
Red, White, Blue and brown depicts my mum in the 80’s at her first flat in Brixton. I was drawn to the image because I rarely see her in this position, sitting on the floor with a glass in her hand. I find it interesting to see moments of my mother before she became my mum and at around the same age as I am now. The name of the piece is suggestive of our Black British Identity, referencing the colours of the British flag along with the colour of our skin. I wanted to incorporate this, so I made the colours quite bold which at the time was very different and experimental in comparison to the colours I usually work with.
The Arrival represents being in two places or two dimensions. Whilst I was painting this piece I was thinking about the diaspora, suggestive of the idea of stepping into an unfamiliar place which has not become somewhere you can quite call home. There were moments where the opening seemed like a portal into the present or the past. Is she stepping into our world or is she leaving, who else might be beyond the door? I like that it made me think of time as cyclical and rhythmic.
Who are your art world role models or muse?
My muses at the moment are Lynette Yaidom Boakye @lynetteyaidomboakye with her dreamlike portraits I have loved for a long time, Michelle Williams Gamaker @michellewilliamsgamaker beautiful inside and out, her captivating films have always been an inspiration for me to play with film and video and fellow student at the RCA Graham Martin @graham.a.martin the way he fuses structure and form into dark ethereal like spaces is amazing and it’s great to be inspired by my peers creating around me.
Emma, Please tell us a bit about you and your work.
I was born and raised in London and I would describe myself as a multidisciplinary artist as I like to experiment with painting, video and various materials.
MY FAVOURITE QUESTION - If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be?
Fragile, temporal and warm
What ideas do you explore in your practice and work Emma?
My broader exploration is to attempt to depict things that are essentially intangible through paint: trying to evidence my perception and experience of time as spiritual nuisances and existential discoveries. Family and generational continuity make up a large portion of my current exploration. My search of spirituality enables me to analyse existential questions that are projected on my own reality; the fear of death, memory and ancestral ties.
HOW INCREDIBLE. What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a body of work that will lightly explore the inevitability of death. At this current time most of us are thinking about its the negative connotations , fed to us through the media from the widespread loss of life due to the virus. I'm going to attempt to celebrate life and death through the use of paint, projection and sound. There will be a compilation of images of my own family members, some who have passed away and some who are alive. To bring them together in the same capacity brings and equal quality to life and death, remembering those that are no longer here but who have left wonderful memories and experiences.
Is colour important to you EMMA?
Colour has always been important to me, my early work whilst at Goldsmiths University of London consisted of pale bright blues, reds and purples. I felt like I had to start from scratch and focus on more earthy tones before bringing it in again. My recent solo show ' The faces of Love' contains aspects of colours I'm hoping to work more with in the future. You will definitely see much more of this in my first museum show at the Lightbox in Woking.
Does your creative energy come from internal or external sources?
Generally, I believe it comes from internal sources. I want my work to be intimate and warm, they are a result of my exploration of the fragility of my own body due to my on-going experiences of health and perception. I like to paint through a feeling or an emotion, however sometimes this is through looking at external objects like photographs.
Do you have any shows or initiatives coming up emma?
I have a solo show on the 5th December at the Lightbox in Woking where I will be showing new work alongside artworks I picked from the Ingram collection. I am also currently studying my masters at The Royal College of art where I hope my work will develop, I feel like its quite stagnant at the moment.
This is a tricky one - Emma, If you could own one piece of artwork in the world, as if money or likelihood was no issue, what would it be and why?
It would be 'Red on Maroon' by Mark Rothko. I've visited the Tate Modern many times and for some reason this piece by Rothko has always jumped out at me. It reminds me of the colours I used throughout my work in the past, it gives me a feeling of space although it consists of two colours only. I feel as if I can step into the painting, through a gateway and into an ethereal space. Oddly enough it has been a great inspiration as to why my paintings lack objects. I feel 'Red on Maroon' has been very successful in giving me the feeling that I can escape my health issues and difficulties just by looking at it, only in the context of the dark room it was displayed in, I think the lighting played an important part.
If you could have a meal with any artist from any time, who would the artist be, what would you eat together and why?
I think about this a lot and I love to know the ideas around techniques, concepts and themes artists use across film and photography. Although originally a book by Joe Dunthorne, I love the film Submarine directed by Richard Ayoade. I'd love to know a deeper perspective about how he approached filming the adaptation. I've seen many interviews with him online but just being able to ask my own questions would be amazing, it has a raw, British coming of age quality, something I always think about. Hopefully this could be over some traditional Caribbean dishes like ackee and saltfish or curry goat, of course I'd consider his food preferences so if he is vegetarian or vegan there will be options like callaloo, you can find food for every type of preference with Caribbean food I don't think I could go wrong with it.
Who is your favourite historical female artist?
Probably Hilma af Klint, I've been introduced to her work many times over the years when I am vocal about my thoughts on spirituality and how to translate that into my practice. Her work is very different to mine but remains an inspiration due to the ideas of spiritualism and theosophy behind it.
Who are your favourite contemporary women artists?
Definitely Lynette Yaidom Boakye with her beautiful dream like paintings, Kudzanai Violet Hwami as visiting her solo show a few years ago at the Tyburn Gallery really fired up my belly with a renewed way of thinking about painting and Michelle Williams Gamaker, her video work has always been an inspiration to me, she makes me want to produce more film and use it to experiment with my work.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Thank you for interviewing me, I loved taking my time to answer these questions it really aids in how I think about my work and where my inspiration derives from, I hope you are all able to stay safe and well!