Emma Hart, artist: 'There is something magic about your hands in clay... your troubles fade away'

Karen Wright meets the artist in her studio in Peckham, south-east London

Karen Wright
Thursday 19 November 2015 19:17
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Clay day: Emma Hart in her studio in Peckham, south-east London
Clay day: Emma Hart in her studio in Peckham, south-east London

Emma Hart works in a studio in Peckham, south-east London. She was the first resident there in 2011 and says that when Space Studios bought the former factory they put in double glazing and heating. "This building was cold." Although there about 60 studios Hart admits she seldom sees anyone else as with a two-year-old daughter, Gloria, her time is precious. I ask her if she has a partner and she says, "Yes, a man who is an art fabricator. He helps in the whole range: studio to baby".

Hart was recently the recipient of the Paul Hamlyn Award – a £50,000 grant. "Sometimes you can only talk in clichés – it is art changing." I ask what she will spend the money on and she says perhaps making sure that the small kiln she has in the studio is better ventilated, and she might even have the money to get a slightly bigger studio.

Hart is also on the shortlist of female artists for the next Max Mara prize, and admits that getting the prize would be a thrill if nothing else for the residency in Italy. Hart, who was born in London in 1974, says, "I have never been out of London for more than three weeks. I want to look at majolica in Faenza."

On a table next to me is a group of ceramic shapes of bottles and glasses, incongruous in their naive shapes. Their fineness makes them outlines in space. "They are very difficult to make. It is like drawing in clay." Nearby is a large machine used for rolling out clay. Hart is currently experimenting with putting prints on clay. She shows me examples of her pictures of "hyped-up nature" that she takes herself.

Hart's recent show in the Folkestone Triennial took place in an abandoned flat. "It was brilliant for me. The kind of space I wanted to inhabit. It was grubby and messy and smelly." Seeing people negotiating the space among the fragile works gave her pleasure. "I do not know what the works are doing. They are really dumb. They are hard to make and I like making dumb work."

Hart has a PhD from Kingston University, but knows that what is important is not the intellectual content but the visceral reaction of the viewer. "I do not want to have an intellectual relationship with art but a physical one."

Negotiating a teaching job at Central St Martins and a baby – both new to her – requires organisation. But I think that this studio provides the sanctuary she needs. "I often bite the clay, scratch the clay. There is something magic about putting your hands in the clay. Put your hands in the clay and your troubles fade away. Screens are boring: who would make a video when you could make something with clay?"

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