When I met Emma Scott Smith

October is approaching, the month to raise awareness of mental health issues throughout Scotland.  This year’s ‘Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival’ (which I talked about in my last blog) will be providing the public with wonderful and intriguing insights into the links between the Arts and mental health. Explorative  works take the shape of drama, film, music and visual art. See the  ‘SMHAFF’ website for specific details.

Artlink Central is heavily involved in the running of the Forth Valley element of the festival and today, while volunteering, I was fortunate enough to meet and interview an artist who has an exhibition in the Cowane Centre for the duration of the Festival. Emma Scott Smith is an artist whose work explores themes such as isolation, vulnerability and femininity through paintings of the female form. Her work is unique and intensely personal, an admission she made to me herself, yet her work is something that reaches out to people, that speaks to their own, similarly personal, experiences.  Her exploration of the female form in part stems from the trouble she had with chronic spinal pain she suffered from since the age of twelve and looking at the pictures, I saw the theme of vulnerability and imperfection of the physical being, a subtle undercurrent to all her artwork.

A reputed artist, her first solo exhibition, ‘The Last Hope’ went up at the MacRobert when she was just nineteen, her art teacher having pushed her, recognising a unique young talent. She told me, with a smile, that she had painted form a young age and it had always been natural to her. This is something real artists, across all fields seem to have in common, their form of expression is a need, something like eating, breathing and sleeping; but  it also a burning desire, something they cannot exist without. Having only met Emma once I can tell that art is her existence, such was her enthusiasm and passion.

Emma is completing a PhD in Psychology at Stirling University and the link between the arts and mental health seems to be one that fascinates her. She has been involved with the university for ten years and is currently heavily involved in her project,  ‘The Artivism Intervention’ which allows sufferers of mental health issues to express their  experiences on canvas, because as she observed herself, it can be difficult to express these things in words, sometimes visual expression comes more natural. As she says on her page on theReveal Scotland Website , The Artivism Intervention is ‘a tool to express experiences of mental illness and oppression.’  She also mentioned her hopes that it could challenge people’s perceptions of mental health, a viewpoint I whole heartedly supported and have mentioned in previous blogs, this need to end the stigma surrounding mental health.

And thus, it seems natural she should be involved with the ‘SMHAFF’ festival, being such an influential figure in an attempt to present people to express their, sometimes painful, experiences through the medium of art, much like she does.   Her exhibition will be up from the 3-31st of October in the Cowane Centre (open 10.30am- 3.30 pm).

It was a pleasure to speak to such a talented, enthusiastic person who was so down to earth and willing to co-operate and share her ideas. Keep an eye out for her name as she continues to inspire and create. In the near future, she would love to have a project involving her in the community to reach people, as art is for everyone. Finally she left me with some parting words of wisdom, with a sense of playfulness that is truly her style. She tells me, it’s better to sit in a cafe among strangers to get work done. Her office has no blocks on the internet (the dangers of facebook!) and a constant trickle of visitors. She likes to go the old school route; pad and paper and go hiding in some coffee shop, untroubled and able to concentrate. I’m sure I’ll take this advice with me to University.




SAMPLES an exhibition of  large art pieces by Emma Scott-Smith: Artlink Central Gallery Space One, Stirling 

Stirling artist Emma Scott-Smith has suffered from excruciating back pain since she was twelve, but she’s overcome her illness to establish herself as one of Scotland’s leading artists, with her latest show in Stirling one of the key arts events in this year’s national Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Her healing relationship with art started at a very early age, as the artist says:

‘I have painted and created artwork ever since I can remember, making a conscious decision at around 11 or 12 years old to express how I felt through the art. I have always been fascinated by the human form, trees and surreal landscapes, so my artwork has always been dominated by the female form.’

All these subjects are a recurrent motif in Samples, the series exhibited at the Artlink Central Gallery Space. In these large works Emma Scott-Smith focused on female legs, immersed in a  dreamy atmosphere, surrounded by stylized natural elements. Her colour palette is easily recognizable: it's dominated by cadmium red, fluorescent pink, deep violet and hookers green. Deep evocative colours, living and breathing on the canvas.

‘I love art, self expression and colour with a great huge passion. I have a note book where I jot down all my ideas, then I use images from magazines, and pencil drawings to generate images of what is in my head and then how to get that out onto canvas. When I am painting or doing installation or video performance art, I get lost in that world, the world I am trying to create, generate and most importantly challenge!’

Emma Scott-Smith is currently studying her PHD in psychology part-time at Stirling University. Based on her personal experience, her research focuses on a process she has created called The Artivism Intervention. The project allows individuals to use a visual narrative alongside discussion to express their experiences of mental illness on canvas. It was carried on during art workshops that took place in a local mental health and arts support group, culminating in a six-week exhibition of participants’ artwork to the public. Emma relates this approach to art:  

‘As an individual who experiences chronic pain daily I utilise my own personal artwork to express my feelings of pain, isolation, passion and hope. My paintings are very indicative of my life experiences and enable me to express my experiences to others via a visual input.’

Art has helped Emma Scott-Smith to turn pain and isolation into something unique and beautiful, a work that she urges to share in order to show people ‘ that a day without physical pain will come’.

‘I want to express via my own personal artwork how pain can transform your life to be dominated by your own physicality and your on-going hope that a day without physical pain will come. […] A mental strength has replaced the body’s betrayal, thus the domains the bodies inhabit are full of powerful vibrant and colourful flowers, trees that are often menacing or quite beautiful in their fragility.’

Interview by Eddie Harrison 

E-mail: littlewritingmachine@googlemail.com

Telephone: 0141 572 0413

Mobile phone: 07811 335 932

For further information, please visit http://www.emmascott-smith.com/ 

Artist Emma Scott-Smith 

REVEAL: Emma Scott-Smith – Painter 

 Funded by Creative Scotland

Emma Scott-Smith’s flat is just a ten-minute walk from the Artlink Central office in Stirling where I work. Down one of the beautiful Victorian streets near Stirling’s Albert Halls, I’m impressed as I enter a world of large-scale artwork adorning every wall. Six-foot high paintings depict the female figure in various poses; dark greens, greys and blues give me an initial clue as to the mood and direction of this young artist’s work.

Emma boils the kettle and we sit down in her charming living room. It exudes an arty and intellectual vibe and doubles up, along with her hall, as a temporary exhibition space for all her artwork. A copy of Psychologist magazine lies on the coffee table, hinting at another side to her existence.

As we talk the pieces of the jigsaw come together to form a fuller picture. Emma is currently studying part-time as a PhD Psychology student at Stirling University, specializing in community critical psychology. She graduated from the same university in 2006 in psychology before completing an MSc at Queen Margaret’s in Edinburgh.

Prior to this excursion down the academic route Emma was a successful artist and exhibited widely. She gained her first solo exhibition at the age of nineteen entitled “The Last Hope”, held at the MacRobert art gallery in Stirling. Emma’s work focuses on the human form, mostly female, and tackles recurring issues of chronic pain, isolation and hope:

‘I adore colour, especially red. My work concentrates on the female form in surreal settings and exposes human form for all its weaknesses and strengths. I suffer with chronic spinal pain which has driven me from an early age to pursue a visual narrative of this pain and hope.’

Her work has now developed into examining the subjects of discrimination and society’s attitudes to and themes around disability. Her last solo exhibition – “Useless Eaters” (2005) – was named after a term used by the Nazis during WWII to describe disabled people. It was held at The Smith Art Gallery & Museum in Stirling.

As I admire the scale and boldness of Emma’s paintings, I can sense a life-long yearning to make sense of the body, of pain, of being a woman. There is a lot of emphasis on the details of the body: the muscles, sinews and joints. And while the limbs tend to be depicted in life-like fashion, the faces are haunting and other-worldly. The artist seems to be saying that pain can make your life all about physicality and deprive you of your personality. I also notice some small white lumps jutting out and forming a spine up one of the paintings. ‘They’re teeth’, says Emma.

Emma is caught up at the moment in her studies but aims to combine both her art and her psychology in the future to aid individual mental, social and physical health in the community:

‘I aim to develop my PhD work to further generate a form of social action research, using arts in mental health projects in the community to generate social change and social justice within society.’ 

Interview by Jamie Smith for Creative Scotland, REVEAL Project.

Emma Scott-Smith: Art, Academia, Pain and The Future

Mmm…where to start? My name is Emma Scott-Smith. I am a professional artist and community critical psychologist who happens to be disabled. My passion for art and painting has always been a strong guiding force and is fundamentally part of me. Thus, needing to paint is like breathing for me – something that has to be done often without thinking.

My passage into a world of chronic pain was fast and sudden. At age 12, due in part to a medical mishap and the complication of a previous illness, my chronic pain began. I started using a wheelchair as walking was exhausting and made the pain worse. Initially I found anything and everything almost impossible and as a result became confined to bed for about a year and a half. At 15 I was able to use the wheelchair more then at 16, after a stay in a hospital with no answers, I decided to take my doctor’s offer of starting strong pain medication. This was amazing as I was able to move more and paint without excruciating, unbearable pain. It was a huge step forward as living without painting had been tough.

I started exhibiting work at 17, my art teacher and friend Madeleine Cosgrove having recognised I had a unique stamp. She guided me through contacting local galleries, I was introduced to local artists and gallery directors and was offered my first solo exhibition at 18 entitled ‘The Last Hope’. ‘The Last Hope’ opened at The MacRobert Arts Centre when I was 19 and consisted of 25-30 pieces. I received funding from The Princes Trust and gained attention as an artist. STV News interviewed me at both the MacRobert Art Gallery and my studio. In addition, my exhibition featured in Artwork magazine, local and national newspapers which aided publicity. This meant a high footfall for the duration of the exhibition, which was great!

So, how did art move into the realms of academia? I was offered solo and group exhibition work which then led me into teaching in the local community. I enjoyed workshop sessions with teenagers and within disability community art spaces. This gave me a further interest in ways to use art as a tool to challenge oppressive attitudinal responses from society about disability. After gaining success in group exhibitions at The Talbot Rice Gallery and The Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh, I decided to go to university to study art as an aid to aspects of social justice for minority groups.

I left school at 12, so my education had stopped early. I applied and wrote my first essay and gained entry to an access to degree studies programme, moving on to a BSc honours degree in Psychology. Whilst doing this degree I had my most successful solo exhibition to date – at The Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling – entitled ‘Useless Eaters’ (2005). ‘Useless Eaters’ was a term used by the Nazis during World War II to describe disabled people. This exhibition was held towards the end of my undergraduate degree and was incorporated into a Community Psychology course: students visited the exhibitio and I gave a lecture on disability, art and inclusion.

After completing my undergraduate degree I began an MSc in Health Psychology in Edinburgh and started teaching elective units on Mental Health in Theory and Praxis for 4th year students. I also taught developmental psychology and gave lectures in education to 3rd year students as well as teaching art with fellow artists.My field is community critical psychology – this looks at people in their everyday context, the impact society can have on disadvantaged groups, and radical ways to tackle a problem.

I developed ‘The Artivism Intervention’ by asking mental health service users (MHSU) – via art workshops and an exhibition – to express their experiences of mental health on canvas. My PhD research explores art used as a tool to express experiences of mental illness and oppression. Thus, ‘The Artivism Intervention’ began:

“The artivist uses her artistic talents to fight and struggle against injustice and oppression by any medium necessary. The artivist merges commitment to freedom and justice with the pen, the lens, the brush, the voice, the body, and the imagination. The artivist knows that to make an observation is to have an obligation” (Asante, jr. 2008).

Artivism is a proactive, awareness-raising practice that aims to challenge social consciousness. This awareness can affect an individual’s daily life whilst also having a positive effect by potentially transforming people’s social reality.

Currently, I am continuing my PhD research part-time alongside doing my art. ‘The Artivism Intervention’ research has been published in The Psychologist (May 2011 issue). I have also just taken part in Forth Valley’s Open Studios, where the public gain access to many private studios. In October, as part of The Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, I will show a small exhibition of work.

My plan for the next two years? I have launched my website www.emmascott-smith.com and am looking for funding and an exhibition space in Glasgow or Edinburgh for a new large-scale solo exhibition project. For this project I am working on a new body of work in three parts: ‘The Bow’ collection of small 8×12” canvasses all depicting soft, luscious, crisp and degrading silk bows in various colours, textures and states; ‘The Leg’ collection, concerning the power and fragility of the human form, legs being grounded to the earth by gravity, flowers that grapple, entwine, wrap, grow and flourish around them; and ‘The Form’ collection of large-scale canvasses depicting the female form in surreal landscapes – representing life’s cycle of returning to the earth, the ground and nature where we all began. 

Interview by Jamie Smith, Creative Scotland Project.

The Psychologist, May Issue, Vol 24 (5) 2011, Written by Jon Sutton.

Image by Zack, for a project by Emma Scott-Smith, visual artist and community critical psychologist. Download PDF for poster. Please note that a production error in the print version has led to this not being the centrespread, so this PDF is best if you want to print it and display.

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At Stirling University, Scotland, postgraduate student Emma Scott-Smith is researching how art can be used as a tool to stimulate critical discussion about individuals’ daily experiences of mental illness.

The research project, ‘the Artivism Intervention’, combines art, activism and awareness raising. ‘I’m using Conscientisation,’ Scott-Smith tells us, ‘a concept developed by Freire whilst reading Marx. It can help mental health participants to become aware of social, psychological and political conditions that can oppress disadvantaged groups.’

Experiences of mental illness can be difficult to express into words, so the Artivism Intervention allows individuals to use a visual narrative alongside discussion to express their experiences of mental illness on canvas. This particular artwork is entitled ‘Pressure’ by an Artivism workshop member, Zack. ‘The work expressed his feeling of being watched and judged by society, weighed down by treatments and medical professionals,’ says Scott-Smith.

The art workshops took place in a local mental health and arts support group. ‘The Artivism Intervention allowed me to work with people experiencing mental illness during an initial three-month period of art workshops once a week. This culminated in a six-week exhibition of participants’ artwork to the public. The exhibition aimed to raise awareness and insight into individuals’ experiences of mental illness, their daily experiences from the discrimination people face.’

 - Find out more by contacting Emma Scott-Smith directly on emma.scott-smith@stir.ac.uk.

Does your work lend itself to a striking image? E-mail jon.sutton@bps.org.ukto feature in ‘Big picture’. 

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