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Artist Emily Somoskey

Emily Somoskey (b. 1991) is a 2-D mixed media artist and painter from Northeast Ohio currently based in Walla Walla, WA. Her work explores the complexity and ever-changing nature of perception through the layered use of oil paint and collaged photographic imagery. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, most recently at Saranac Art Projects in Spokane, WA, and Eastern Oregon University in La Grande OR. She pursued a BA in Art Education/Painting at The University of Akron in Akron, OH and her MFA at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, MI. Emily is currently teaching painting and drawing as a visiting assistant professor at Whitman College. Emily’s mixed-media paintings use a balance between representation and abstraction to explore the ways we simultaneously experience physical and mental space. Using the disparate mediums of painting and collage, she creates a complex and nuanced language that weaves together moments of clarity and ambiguity. Through her work she references the shifting and overlapping nature of our experience with the sensate and psychological realms; giving form to the complexity, instability, and enigmatic nature of our lived experiences.

"As a mixed-media artist and painter, my work gives form to the complexity, instability, and enigmatic nature of our lived experiences. Through the use of recognizable structures and symbols, ranging from domestic to imagined and transitory spaces, my work offers the illusion of security, using playfulness, novelty and imagination to subvert, or even generate, feelings of tension. Recognizable subject matter surfaces amidst an expanse of abstraction, alluding to both the banality and mystery of the day-to-day. These works take a look at how we navigate the familiar, respond to the unknown, as well as how these feelings speak more broadly about the complexity of what it means to be human. The complex tension of their visual density calls for contemplation; asking the viewer to slow down in order to navigate, discover and dwell within them.

I align my conceptual framework with Tim Dant’s theory that our relationship to the material environment is in continual flux. In his book, Materiality and Society, Dant states that “The phenomenological perspective shows us the nature of being with materiality is not fixed or predetermined, but is emergent and so shaped by the temporal dimension as much as the spatial.” I aim to capture this mutability in my work through the use of abstraction, creating spaces in transition that offer differing levels of readability and ambiguity to the viewer. Through my work, I reference the shifting and overlapping nature of our experience with the sensate and psychological realms, fusing the mind and the world together through both reality and artifice."

Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts.

I’m originally from a small town in Northeast Ohio (just outside of Akron), but I have been living in Walla Walla, WA for the past couple of years as a visiting professor at Whitman College. I received my BA in Education from the University of Akron, and taught K-12 art in public schools for three years before taking a break to pursue my MFA at Michigan State. My journey as an artist has been very much tied to teaching, and my current position has given me the ability to balance the two in a really productive and sustainable way. I always feel energized about getting into the studio after working with students, and I learn so much by working with them and engaging in their individual creative interests. I really enjoy the community aspect of it too- it helps me gain new perspectives and connect with others, all of which helps me think about my own work in a different way.

What kind of work are you currently making?

I’m currently working on a combination of large and small-scale mixed media work on canvas, made primarily with oil paint and collaged digital prints. I just finished a couple of 6’ x 7’ paintings, and have another one that size that I’m about to get started on. The next one will be a bit different because it will be divided into multiple parts, and I’m curious to see how a fragmented surface might play with the way that I use fragmentation of space and imagery. The large scale allows me to play with perception in a more encompassing way than I’m able to do on the small scale, although I see it all working together to create a visual language that can broadly and somewhat universally speak to our human existence, through both the subjectivity of it and things that are more concrete.

What is a day like in the studio for you?

My studio days generally consist of a block of time on the weekends, and a couple of hours here and there throughout the week. My studio is in the art building at Whitman, right next to my office, so it makes it feasible for me to get in there for a couple of hours in between teaching or meetings during the week. I can get a lot of little things done throughout a work day when I have an hour or two- like gluing down collage material, gessoing, stretching or building canvases. I use the bigger blocks of time on the weekend to really dive into the work and get into the creative headspace needed to figure the paintings out.

What are you looking at right now and/or reading?

Lately I’ve been really engaged with looking at, reading about, and listening to podcasts about painting. I continue to be fascinated by the potential of this medium to not only generate meaning, but how we can better understand the complexity of our world through it. This past November I traveled to NYC and saw so much work that I’ve continued to think about and look at over the past few months, particularly Jennifer Packer’s “The Eye is not Satisfied with Seeing” exhibition at The Whitney, and Elizabeth Murray at Gladstone Gallery. I’ve also been reading a couple of really great books about the abstract language of painting: Pterodactyl Cries by Erik ReeL, and Painting is a Supreme Fiction: Writings by Jesse Murray. Both of these books have altered my perspective on abstract painting, and how we come to find and define meaning within and outside the realm of art.

Where can we find more of your work?

My work can be found online at my website (, and on my instagram @emsomoskey for studio and in-progress images. I currently have work at Olson Larsen Galleries in Des Moines IA, and in a group exhibition at Well Well Projects in Portland.

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