Instantly intrigued by a sculptor working solely with cement, Art in Liverpool caught up with Liverpool Hope University student Emma Ashley to talk about her preferred medium and how her history as a dancer shaped her choice to follow her artistic ambitions.
If I could journey back in time and speak to the young Emma Ashley at the age of four, and tell her that she was going to create sculptures out of cement, I am confident she would have told me that I was wrong and insist that she was going to become a ballerina. However, if I could tell her that dance training would result in her sustaining physical damage that would divert her life path from Dance to Art, I’m sure she would have told me I was wrong about that as well.
I started training to become a professional dancer at the age of eleven, and I danced up to five hours a day, six days a week until the age of sixteen. But after suffering the routine sprains and strains to my entire body familiar to any dancer’s training, the injury which changed the course of my life occurred when I fell from a three-foot-high jump directly onto my left ankle. I still feel the effects of that fall today.
With a dancing career closed to me I began my training as an artist. After working with a range of media and materials I discovered that my true passion was for creating work in three dimensions, fascinated by texture and surface. It was after experimenting with clay and plaster – and not getting the results I wanted – that a teacher suggested cement as a sculptural medium. I have been captivated by this seemingly mundane substance – more familiar to a building site perhaps than to an artist’s studio – ever since.
Shaping cement is a joy: it is messy and magical, allowing its surface to be manipulated for a number of hours, prior to setting. I explore the relationship between material and abstract form, challenging the viewer to question both. I enjoy pushing my chosen medium beyond its limits, applying various casting methods to create optical illusions. This year I have been exploring the notion of gravity, aiming to create abstract cement forms which have a solid, stable, heavy appearance, whilst at the same time giving an impression of weightlessness and flux.
My initial inspiration was Anish Kapoor, and in particular his pigment works that I first saw in 2012. Other influences include Antony Gormley, the Boyle Family and Karla Black.
My aim is to continue to develop the cement works, allowing myself to be guided by the unique possibilities of the material and the process rather than by pre-conceived notions of sculptural form. I focus on the journey not on the destination.
Emma’s work can be seen in the 10,000 Hours Group Show at Exchange Court, and in the Fine Art and Design Third Year Degree Show, at the Liverpool Hope Creative Campus, Shaw street, Liverpool until 6 June 2014. Opening night 30 May 17.30 – 20.00.