photo Benjamin Graham

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? What is your background and what brought you into art?

I was born and bred in London. I then moved to Italy when I was 19 to join a traditional painting atelier in Florence. I feel lucky to have grown up surrounded by artistic influences in my family.  My great uncle Denholm Elliott was an actor, my aunt Janie Elliott, a ballerina and Susie Elliott, a wonderful landscape painter. My parents always encouraged me to express myself creatively, and my father and sister are very talented draftsmen.

How do you experience the art scene in London? Are there any major differences with Italy where you received your classical art education?

I think it’s safe to say that the art education I had in Florence was diametrically opposite to the art education I would have received if I had stayed in London. I am grateful for my time there and still feel a deep connection with Italy, but I do love the thriving emerging art scene we have here. Something that I felt was lacking in Florence, but that image is slowly changing with big institutions like Palazzo Strozzi championing living artists and curating more cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions.

Can you see any limitations of freedom of expression in art in our Western society?

I think the Passion for Freedom Festival is most important in this respect, as it opens its doors to artists from all walks of life to make art without fear or limitation. I believe it is imperative to celebrate and foster our freedom of expression in the arts and I hope the P4 Freedom Festival will be around for many years to come, and that their current campaign and new charity status will reach donors who will help them help preserve this freedom!

Who would you cite as your inspiration and biggest influence?

My latest trip to Italy reminded me again of the sheer beauty and talent of the Renaissance artists, and I have a list as long as my arm of contemporary artists who make work I admire. Emily Young, Almuth Tebbenhoff, Ian Wolter, to name a few, but I’m mostly inspired by the human condition, situations and events. I’ve been listening to Bukowski’s poetry of late, and I like how he is a man for which nothing is sacred, despising the mundane while fearing anything average. I am attracted to the rawness of his words and how quickly he gets to the point of his message.

You said before, “I feel art has a duty to wrestle with society.” What do you mean by that?

I think society, like water, takes the path of least resistance. We have been brought up on mottoes like, ‘keep calm and carry on,’ and ‘turn the other cheek’, which is a bit of a cop-out really. Artists have a special position to form non-verbal connections, reaching people’s emotions, which helps to foster dialogue that can bring about action.

Apart from triggering the discussion, are you aiming to communicate a specific message or influence your audience’s thinking in a certain direction or is it left open?

The messages in my work fall under the umbrella of how humans behave towards each other, and how we treat nature and our planet.  My approach is firstly intuitive. I look at the placement of symbols and like to look at both sides of the coin in order to present questions, so it is left open, but I like to also get certain points across.

Do you often question your art after it has been created?

I question my work all the way through the stages. Making art is in itself a search for meaning. What is important is being able to convey what I wanted to say.

You seem to be exploring feminine motifs in your art? What is the meaning behind that? Why the vagina?

My sculpture of a vagina, which also resembles a Madonna and Child, comes up in two of my works; L’Origine du Monde and my triptych, The Sacred And The Profane. Both celebrate women in all our diversity. Both look at spirituality, Mother Nature and the Universe. Both question our role in society and how we are perceived.

Why did you take part in the Passion For Freedom art competition?

I came across the festival in 2014 through artist and journalist Ilua Hauck da Silva who was exhibiting her work Flagellation. The exhibition was impactful, engaging and emotionally charged. That was compelling. I wanted to be part of it because I felt that my work spoke that same language.

I was impressed with how P4Freedom curated so many varying works in one space. How the work interacts at a show is always very interesting. I look forward to seeing what the judges choose for this year’s festival!

Why did you start to explore freedom in your art?

Without the freedom to express ourselves, what is the point of art? Artists must feel free to speak out and share their stories unencumbered.

Have you been censored before?

I was recently censored from sharing the Passion For Freedom fundraising campaign on the grounds of Facebook saying that my post goes against their community standards on nudity or sexual activity. It was clearly in the name of art and thankfully this decision by FB was eventually reversed after Passion For Freedom complained, but my original post was never reinstated.

Do you think there is a real danger of losing freedom in our society?

I think there is always a danger of losing everything, so it’s important that artists make work that asks these questions. By celebrating Freedom openly we are keeping the conversation alive and that is a good way of preventing that severe censorship from happening.

You are interested in describing the human condition and building a picture of the human as inherently contradictory: brutal and civilised, ignorant and intelligent, lost and hopeful. Do you think it is the same with freedom? Can you see any contradiction in the area?

Humans are complex and contradictory and so it is only natural that the concept of Freedom can mean varying things to different people. On both sides of the political spectrum throughout history, people have incited violence to reach their end. Most people sit somewhere in the middle and pick and choose from both ‘sides’. Most are swayed without much questioning. Bukowski’s words in The Genius of the Crowd speak of his fear of the middle ground, to ‘beware of the average man’.

http://www.emmaelliott.com/

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