I spend a lot of time observing the beauty and strangeness of the natural world, and I know that my paintings- mere snapshots in time- can ever do justice to the intricacy that I see around me. The pleasure I derive from spending the hours, days, and weeks to study my portrait subjects- noting the delicate fuzz on the underside of a leaf, or the way color shifts along the length of a bird’s feather- is reward enough. The finished artwork often feels like mere artifact to me: proof of the time I have spent, and the awe that I feel, for each subject of each painting.
You might think that I sit down at my desk every day and ask, “What do I want to paint today?” A question that I prefer, however, is “How can I do something new today?” I am certain that it is a part of every artist’s personality to want to attempt the untested, practice the untried, and look towards whatever oddities are poking their heads above the horizon.
I find the sparks for my paintings everywhere I look: This weekend friends took me out in their boat on Jordan Lake. In the center of the water there is a tiny island with barely enough room on it for a dozen trees. Each tree on the island has at least five nests of baby cormorants and great blue herons balanced in its branches. How can I turn that ragged, squawking city of birds into a painting? Should the thin trees be silhouetted against the sky, or should I bring my point of view in close, so that we ourselves seem to be one of the birds in the nest fighting over a fish?
Yesterday my husband and I were walking by the river and looked down to see a school of carp and bass with their scales flashing against the dark mud. Will I use gold leaf, or silver leaf, acrylic or watercolor to mimic the effect? In order to capture the long, thin feeling of the river flowing by, should I stretch the painting out across three separate canvases, or would painting three canvases just become tedious?
I have a list of words that I find inspiring: Windblown. Snails. Stretch. Squashed. Erasure. Ladders. Beehives. Overgrown. None of these words has become a painting yet, but I hope they will soon.
I have spent the afternoon sketching out the plan for the third painting in a series I am in the middle of. The series is called Circle of Birds and the first painting in the series was inspired by a silkscreen made by the artist Charlie Harpur in 1960. My painting looks nothing like his, but as soon as I saw his piece in a book I inherited, I knew immediately what my painting would look like.
The painting I am sketching today will continue the idea of birds in a circular format, but this time combine goldfinches and serviceberries. I like the idea of the yellow of the finches against the purple of the serviceberries, but I have a lot of research I still need to do. How big are serviceberries in relation to goldfinches and at what time of year do the finches eat the berries? Would the birds be in their breeding plumage when the berries are ripe? The more I think of it, the more I’m afraid they wouldn’t be, in which case I might not want to paint the berries after all. Then what?
I love asking these questions. I love that every painting I create gives me an opportunity to answer these questions, and I love that every painting I create raises yet more questions to be answered. I couldn’t imagine a more satisfying cycle. –Emma Skurnick
When looking at the artwork made by Emma Skurnick one cannot help but be amazed at not only the attention to detail, but a sudden unfolding of a delicate beauty and harmony between each image. Portraits of North Carolina wildlife, flora and fauna are rendered with the utmost consideration and respect for each subject, as images are placed in, sometimes, humorous and highly imaginative situations. Emma currently has a studio in Bynum and is part of the Open Studio Tour through the Chatham Arts Guild.
Along with Martha Danek, Emma has a show of work currently hanging at the Carolina Brewery in Pittsboro. Called Down by the River it will be on display through July 30th. There will be a reception on July 1st, from 4-6 pm.
Check out more of Emma’s work at: http://emmaskurnick.com