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  • James Stewart

Emma Hurst - A Conceptual Journey

Updated: May 14

Emma Hurst is the daughter of an architect, and so grew up in a creative home. It is no surprise then that she too chose a creative career.

On graduating from Bath Spa University in 1995 with a degree in Graphic Design, Emma started her own graphic design business, Moozicreative. Then in 2010, alongside the business Emma Hurst returned to her first love, painting.

These initial works were landscapes, with close up foregrounds that you felt like you could step into. The main subject of the works were wild flowers and other flora that you find on the downs or on them edge of fields. In the distance often you would see hints of the Arun Valley or the South Downs.

West Dean 2018

In 2018 Emma Hurst obtained a Graduate Diploma in Visual Arts from West Dean College of Art and Design, this was quickly followed by an MA in Fine Art in 2019. These two courses were pivotal in the development of Emma Hurst's work, which changed substantially over the two years.

The images above show a selection of Emma Hurst's work for her 2018 Graduate Diploma final show. Based on the square each work plays with concepts of place, scale, function, mass etc.

As part of her 2018 Graduate Diploma Emma Hurst created 'Painted Paces', a large painted land work consisting of four giant footprints on the hill above West Dean College. Each footprint is 30m long by 12m wide.

Working with the archives at West Dean House, Painted Paces referenced Edward James's carpet design inspired by the wet footprint of his wife (Tilly Losch) after a shower. Using her own footprint Emma Hurst references how humans shape and interact with the environment we live in. Linking the past, present and future in one piece of work. 

This is a literal statement of man's mark on the land, and can extend to everything we do including roads, buildings, agriculture and cities.

West Dean 2019 -

The images above are from Emma Hurst's 2019 MA in Fine Art Degree Show at West Dean: 'Eutopia'.

Emma Hurst’s installation Eutopia, which refers literally, to a “good place” eminently attainable in the real world, as opposed to utopia, an impossible ideal. Her work Eutopia is driven by a desire to slow down the way we look by extending the experience to embody a genuine physical response to her work.

Emma Hurst encourages the viewer to sense and perceive her installation of unstretched sculptural paintings in the same way that the play of light or a textured surface relates in the world beyond the gallery and themselves.

Working directly with the architecture of the building, Emma Hurst’s unstretched sculptural paintings create a 3-dimensional exploded collage in space and are hung simply or tortioned from various points in the room. They accentuate a sense of place yet create new realities and possibilities. Some reach to the ground from high up, changing the way one normally interacts with paintings.

The process of making and looking at a painting are intimately related in Hurst’s work.

Establishing a physical relationship with her materials is important, as are the dimensions of the canvas in relation to her body. Emma Hurst’s actions are physical and labour intensive but methodically carried out allowing chance marks to evolve. She experimented with layering colours, the effect of folding or crushing the material then unfolding and different methods of applying the pigment dyes.

When the canvas is dry and prised apart, Emma Hurst makes conscious adjustments to ‘faults’. This process involves a constant movement to and from the canvas, or moving the canvas elsewhere until her connection with the painting is achieved.

The paintings are thus the result of countless conscious decisions. Emma Hurst feels that if the painting is working the viewer is also subject to the same awareness. She hopes that as the painting gradually unfolds, the viewer’s experience will echo that of the artist in realising the work.

Her work is still based on the square format but some elements were released from this formal structure, being large expanses of canvas, painted with pigment dyes. These works act together to fill a space, creating views through and barriers that need to be navigated to discover more.

In addition Emma Hurst created 'Dodecahedron' (see below) as part of her MA degree show at West Dean.

Made in corten steel, this structure is 2.15 m across. It was purchased by a private client from the show, and later that year displayed as public art for the 2019 Arundel Festival and Gallery Trail.

South Stoke Barn Installation 2020

In May 2020 following on from Utopia the year before at West Dean, during the first Covid Lockdown, Emma Hurst created her first large scale installation in South Stoke Barn, near Arundel.

Using a number of canvas panels of varying sizes and shapes, Emma Hurst created her representation of the landscape around the farm and up onto the South Downs.

These canvas panels have been coloured using pigment dyes on both sides, and then in some cases folded to add prominent lines.

The resultant work is a 3 dimensional immersive space, which the visitor can walk through and around.

2024 South Stoke Installation for South Stoke Idyll

Emma Hurst’s installation, as yet untitled, in the undercroft will consist of three canvas panels stretched between the four original structural pillars holding up the floor above.

draft visual of Emma Hurst's South Stoke Idyll Installation in the barn undercroft.
Draft visual of Emma Hurst's South Stoke Idyll Installation in the barn undercroft.

The canvas panels (each one 180 x 260 m) have edge sections sewn on and the ‘hems’ left rough. These ‘pockets’ will conceal metal strips that provide structure and effectively a hidden frame for the three panels.

Each panel is then painted individually with various pigment dyes, then folded using a printing press converted to a sort of mangle. The folded material is squeezed tightly to clear any excess water, but more importantly for the folds to leave a permanent trace or line within the structure of the material when later unfolded and hung.

This lengthy process is important in Emma Hurst’s practice, the many stages of which cannot easily be determined in the final piece.

South Stoke  barn undercroft.
South Stoke Barn Undercroft

The warp connecting the panels to the four columns, will be woven through holes on the hidden metal framing strips. Tension will be achieved in the same way a corset is tightened.

Corrugated Side of a barn at South Stoke
Corrugated Side of a barn at South Stoke

Whilst the three panels may hint at a horizontal landscape, there are also vertical elements provided by the folding and application of dyes. These hint at the many upright structures found on a farm: posts, fencing, side panels on the new barns.

Emma Hurst says "I am interested in creating new possibilities and presenting work in alternative and unexpected places and locations. Working directly in response to place, to architecture and surrounding landscapes, my installations are combinations of new works and selected paintings from from my increasing library. My painting process is labour intensive, committed and performative. I allow the paint to puddle and pool, soak into the surface and through to the underside, staining each fibre as I move over the surface in a manner that combines control and spontaneity.”


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