One to Watch

Emma Copley paints everyday life in vivid color

Emma Copley makes paintings about the everyday. She draws inspiration from the people and places around her, which have changed over the years — she was born in Dublin, Ireland, lived in the US, and is now working in Cambridge, England. She works quickly and often uses photos or direct observation as a source of imagery for her works. She admires the likes of Van Gogh and Alice Neel, as evidenced by her play with color, form, texture, and gesture.

Emma has an MA in Fine Art from Anglia Ruskin Cambridge School of Art and a BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design. She was one of 25 artists shortlisted in The Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2016 and was a semi-finalist in the Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year Award in 2015.She participated in an artist residency at the Hospital Club in London in 2017. Emma has shown her works internationally in exhibitions and fairs in the UK, the US, and Italy, including the ING Discerning Eye exhibition, Lynn Painter Stainers Prize and Exhibition, and The Other Art Fair (London).

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

Each painting I make is inspired by everyday life: my dark sink full of dishes with the sun coming in the window, or my son and daughter sitting with their backs to me, watching TV. If I struggle with a piece, I study the work of artists I admire, for example: Van Gogh for his visceral use of paint and color; Alice Neel for her portrait likenesses and ability to combine gestural drawing with her painting; and Pierre Bonnard’s evocative colors and thrilling compositions.

I am currently fleshing out ideas I have for paintings based on love, war, and everyday life. I am making a series of paintings and prints, each about a different time, place, and character; offering glimpses into ordinary situations. I am also making a group of site responsive works translating specific paintings and sculptures in the permanent collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. These are 3×5 foot charcoal drawings on paper, layering marks and tones, exploring transparency and creating space within the two dimensional surface.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?  

Paint as much as you can, as fast as you can. Paint what you know. I always come back to these bits of advice. If I am not happy with my paintings, I make more, if I don’t know what to paint, I have a look at my immediate surroundings for ideas.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

I need music to paint most of time. I listen to a lot of hip hop and rock to get motivated. Playing loud music helps me to focus.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

Pierre Bonnard, Studio in Mimosa, oil on canvas, 127.5 x 127.5 cms. 

Who are your favorite writers?

Raymond Carver, What we talk about when we talk about love

Anton Chekov, About Love

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

About the Author

Jessica McQueen is Associate Curator at Saatchi Art. Need help finding art? Contact her via our free Art Advisory service at