As last year’s winner of the Younhee Paik scholarship, new alumna Emily Benz (MFA 2018) will be exhibiting her work at the Younhee Paik Studio for Art and Music this weekend. In the midst of moving and installing, Emily was kind enough to answer a few of our questions. We decided to focus on one piece, 66th, to learn more about her process and work as a whole.
Immaterial: How do you find inspiration for your work?
Emily Benz: My inspirations and ideas come mostly from past and present psychological experiences, but also from theeveryday - colors, sounds, tastes, all modes of perception are influential. Over the years I’ve moved to cultivate a strong “mindfulness” practice, which not only grounds you in the present moment emotionally but allows you to develop a high attention to detail, allowing me to observe and absorb things that could be easily overlooked. I also think that I’ve been able to derive inspiration just from being a relative newcomer to San Francisco - like so many others here. Coming from Portland, Oregon, I see so many similarities and differences between the two regions. It’s a strange feeling to reside in cities in transition. I think being aware of your surroundings gives way to inspired ideas more often than not.
I: What was your process for creating this piece?
E: When I made 66th, I was just beginning to experiment with using Corian and other solid surface brands as an art material. I started this piece over the Winter break during my first year at SFAI - when I was back up in Portland. I’d been working with a fabricator up there for a few years on materials and designs for stretchers and panels, and I wanted a really boxy, blocky profile to this piece - that would convey the sense of solidity and weight that this material really embodies. Being a small sized piece, I felt that weight was important. Not only as a technical contrast, but also because the content was and still is about such a heavy time in my recent life - my moving on from a place where I wasn’t at my best, mentally.
I: How were you feeling when you made it? What are you trying to convey?
E: When I decided to move to San Francisco - I did it to attend SFAI, but I also did it as an escape of sorts. Moving here was conducive to my goal of systematically overhauling everything around me - from my network of peers to my living situation. I was feeling very bereft, depressed, and stuck in Portland, and San Francisco seemed to be both a highly illogical (financially) and yet logical (proximity to family) place to move to. 66th depicts and memorializes the events that occurred in the last actual “house” where I lived in Portland - on 66th Ave at Holgate in SE Portland. Both the saturated colors and the emphasis on physical structure in the piece are indicative of panicked feelings - both elements are hallmarks of the types of attention I try to give to surroundings and triggering feelings, being of an anxious disposition.
I: How did you select your materials?
E: I chose to render 66th in an Acrylic gouache and some watercolor - as I wanted both a matte finish and a sort of stained quality to the Corian surface. Matte always feels drying to me - and I remember perpetually having cotton mouth in that house, which is ironic in a way since Portland is so wet and rainy. All of these little subjective details go into my decision making when choosing materials and content for a piece.
I: How does this piece relate to your other work?
E: In the grand scheme of things, 66th is very literal compared to some of my other work. This piece set the tone for my early graduate work. I feel I have a two-pronged approach to conveying ideas and experiences, and those are via figuration/ the narrative, and via abstraction/texture. 66th belongs to the former camp, but it spells out its relevance more clearly than some of my other pieces that contain the figure. It is one of my most beloved pieces in terms of the conversation it holds and the way it meshes so well both conceptually and formally with the types of works that I am doing today.
To see 66th and other works by Emily, come to her show, Anhedonia, opening on June 2nd at Younhee Paik’s Studio for Art and Music. For more information, click here.