Emily Harris’s work is deep rooted in her childhood growing up on a family farm. Nature has always been the central subject of her work, recurring as a metaphor to tell stories within her art and evoke personal feelings about our complicated relationship with the earth - stories of awe, joy, a sense of home, growth or anger and frustration at our destruction of the natural world. Emily’s work is uplifting and emotional - She works predominantly in paint and experiments with performative elements and living sculpture to bring it into the real lives, spaces and experiences of people.
Emily’s ‘Why buy Roses In February ’ print was created using a cut-out from a painting of Narcissi 'paperwhites' being carefully harvested alongside the crossed out word ‘cliche’. In line with the thought-provoking nature of her other works, it compels us to question the cliches that we have come to consider the norm at this time of year.
A LITTLE BIT OF BACKGROUND ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE. HOW AND WHEN DID YOU START AND WHY?
I began my formal art practice alongside my communications job at the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) in 2019. I grew up on a farm where becoming a practising artist wasn’t necessarily a valid career choice. But, I have always loved to make and paint thanks to encouragement from my darling mum. The RA is led by a roster of living artists called Royal Academicians for example - Antony Gormley, Tracy Emin and Yinka Shonibare. By being exposed to the way of life of an artist and especially influenced by the democratic access to being an exhibiting artist thanks to the Summer Exhibition alongside the explosion of Instagram, I formalised my own studio practice in 2019.
My art practice is my solace. It is the place where I feel free and can escape from the pace of everyday life. My other solace is the natural world, undoubtedly linked to my life growing up outside on a farm and to our basic human need to feel connected to nature. My work shows how these two places of solace work in symbiosis. I hope my art helps people connect to these entities that I believe are undervalued yet utterly imperative to life.
WHY WERE YOU INTERESTED IN BEING INVOLVED IN THE CAMPAIGN?HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO YOUR EXISTING PRACTICE?
I want my work to encourage people to lean closer to nature. We are disconnected from the rhythms of the night and day, the moon cycles, the seasons and the natural lulls and times of hibernation and of growth and flourish. Our culture encourages exponential growth and ‘always on’ activity to the disregard of our natural state. Both my work and this campaign asks people to tune back into nature’s seasonality and make small changes to our habits that listen to the natural rhythms of the world.
AT SSAW, WE REALLY FEEL ART CAN MAKE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON OUR UNDERSTANDING AND CONNECTION TO SEASONALITY. HAS ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR DRAWN YOU TO CREATING WITH/BEING INSPIRED BY THE NATURAL WORLD AS A PRIMARY SUBJECT?
Before setting up my artist practice I had moved to London and found the transition to city living hard and particularly detrimental to my mental health. With my day to day predominantly spent behind a laptop in an unnaturally lit room, my body was desperate to reconnect with nature. It felt that something was missing.
My disconnect to the natural world was my first art work I created when I got into my studio. The Flowerhead began as a vibrant representation of the inner creativity within us all, but that is shunned by the corporate world we live in. It also questions the belief that creativity and intelligence, most widely assumed as human traits, should be separate from nature. The flowerhead is dressed in a suit, reflecting the day-to-day grind society finds itself trapped in.
Now, my work focuses on all aspects of our complicated relationship with nature. It reoccurs as a metaphor to tell stories within the work and evoke personal feelings about our complicated relationship with earth - stories of awe, joy, a sense of home, growth, disconnect and destruction of the natural world. Ultimately, I hope that I can fill people's homes and spaces to encourage respect of our natural world in all forms.
WHAT IS YOUR OWN HISTORY WITH/RELATIONSHIP TO FLOWERS/FLORISTRY/FLOWER FARMING?
Growing flowers is ingrained in my childhood memories of my grandma Pamela who was a keen gardener and kept the family farm beautifully pruned with abundant hanging baskets, fruit plants and a perfectly coiffed rose garden. She encouraged me to have my own little garden to grow flowers and vegetables in but she instilled a value to always enjoy the small moments of joy that nature provides - always stop and smell the flowers. I was also lucky enough to grow up in an idyllic village called Cottesbrooke that has an estate hall and gardens that I would regularly, if a little naughtily, explore with my brother. There was nothing better on a lazy sunny Sunday.
Flowers are used in my work as a central subject or sometimes metaphor as I depict the language based on their meaning or characteristics. For example I painted a beautifully formed plant I found in the Barbican Conservatory called Angel’s Trumpet. The flower used its sweet smell to entice animals to eat it but is highly toxic.The painting showed how the natural world, however underestimated and softly assumed, is deadly in order to protect itself.
WHO OR WHAT DO YOU TAKE INSPIRATION FROM, DID YOU LEARN FROM ANYBODY AT ALL?
I naturally gravitate to green spaces and, as a self-taught artist, take inspiration from there. In the city it was the Barbican Conservatory, Kew Gardens and the Garden Museum. I recently moved back to the rolling countryside and am visiting various Hall gardens as part of my project to paint horticulturalists and people who connect with and work with the earth daily.
With the conversation about connection to nature and solutions to climate change growing, it is easy to continually come across new ideas and apply inspiration to my work. Currently, I am following my nose in this conversation to apply these ideas to my way of life and make my own vote for the changes back toward the natural world that I want to see. Here’s a few things I’ve loved recently:
Painter - Rosa Roberts, Emily Ponsonby and her swimming beauties and the natural forms of Camilla Engstrom
Photographer - Denisse Ariana Perez
Nature is a Human Right by Ellen Mills
Poetry of Mary Oliver
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
Isabella Tree - Wilding
Patagonia! Making earth the largest shareholder of their company
A very talented friend introduced me to seasonal eating in 2015 when they launched and ran a food blog called Great British Grub. She sadly doesn’t run it any more but she introduced me to the importance of this in our food industry.
HOW DO THE SEASONS AFFECT YOU IN YOUR PRACTICE, AND DAY TO DAY, NOT JUST IN YOUR WORK, BUT IN YOUR OWN ROUTINES AND PHYSICALLY TOO? HAS IT IMPACTED THE WAY YOU RELATE TO OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE?
Through my work I have been able to understand that I am fully a part of nature. It is much bigger than me and this has encouraged a different philosophy to live my life by… however embarrassingly grandiose that sounds!
I have noticed that I make work much more in the Spring and Summer months and tend to take time to recuperate, think, plan and do the more foundational work such as drawing and research in the Autumn and Winter. Imimic the seasons and the artwork has much more energy when there’s more daylight. This rhythm reassures me and helps me know that it’s ok to take a break. It’s okay to rest. The smaller moments of work will always grow into something bigger with time.
It has helped me gain this reassurance in my wider life too. When I started my artist practice I thought that I needed to do X by this time, or mimic those around me to be in a place of success. But now I focus on growing my own foundations and know not to rush this. Everything adds up and I need to just turn up, keep going and enjoy the moments of success when they come but know that there’s just as much value in the moments of peace and calm, even the moments of sadness, and the everyday too. There are seasons of life. No flower can bloom constantly and we must trust nature’s rhythms - if we keep tending to the small things, the larger things will grow as a result.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING?
I am painting and preparing for an exhibition in late 2023. This will be a body of work created through next year that takes imagery from the English garden and of people who work with the earth.
But really, I don’t really think it’s about me. I think it’s about what I and everyone else interested in this conversation represents. I hope that by being an active part of this quest toward a sustainable way of living and listening to the natural world that we are growing a larger pool of information and inspiration and starting the journey to answers to our big questions - how can we inhibit this planet in a responsible way?
Finding solutions to climate change is hard. And as we all collectively navigate the change, it undoubtedly throws up answers that contradict other information. The important thing is to not feel overwhelmed, but just make the small changes that you can toward the sustainable life you want to live.
Making art and painting nature feels good so I prioritise this in my life. Connecting with and walking in nature is an everyday habit. Starting to change the products I buy and food I eat is important to me. With these small changes made by lots of people, we are voting for larger change. And yes, there are other big changes that need to occur but, like water, we are building a force that will erode the big problems over time.
DO YOU HAVE ANY STRONG PASSIONS / VIEWPOINTS WITH REGARDS TO FLOWERS/FLORISTRY/FLOWER FARMING AND NATURE/SEASONALITY/SUSTAINABILITY THAT YOU WISH TO AMPLIFY?
In any industry that works with the natural environment there are various levels of intensity. Flower farming, arable farming, livestock farming are all the same. Having grown up on a farm and straddled the conversation between the farming community, other popular trends such as veganism, and political agendas, I firmly believe that big industry is the problem.
At this moment in the climate conversation, it’s hard to wade through the various contradictory opinions as we collectively try and find solutions. I firmly believe kind, considered dialogue is needed to help find these answers. And, it is my hope that we can find smaller, localised, community based economies that don’t need the intense pressures of industry that encourage us to throw pesticides on our land and in our waters, factory farm animals or encourage air miles. I believe there is an alternative that can be regenerative, more self sufficient and healthier for humans and the planet.
… And please don’t use farmers as scapegoats! They are working hard to navigate the political and societal agendas too and work so hard for us.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT FEBRUARY?
It's my birthday in February! So normally it's time for a party.
AND FINALLY, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR PERFECT VALENTINE?
Red wine, a fire and some silly dancing in the kitchen with my partner Ted and our bulldog Frank.