Emma McNally

‘I THINK OF THESE DRAWINGS as fugitive, heterogeneous gray areas. They are the turbulence between noise and signal. They are a space of difference and deferral, a weather system of graphite. They are also broadband realms where signals at multiple frequencies are being transmitted and received—including those not usually within our “range”: sonar, ultraviolet, the very fast and the very slow. I’m constantly trying to disrupt the figure-ground relationship to make blurred areas where the conditions of focusing are undone.


I mine all sorts of ways of thinking visually about space and time: the spiral paths of particles in bubble chambers, which are infinitely fast and small; images of cellular mitochondria; the Hubble Deep Field images that probe deep time, where all time is held in the surface of the image but can’t be reached. I like looking at images that show fleeting events and images of aerial views of cities at night—all the emergent formations at a macro scale that look like deep-sea organisms in the dark water. I also love aerial images of airports, both in use and obsolete, as well as the Nazca Lines.

I constantly listen to sound when I draw—the white noise of rainfall; field recordings from all environments; the humming and buzzing of Francisco López’s album Buildings [New York]; the transmissions from the hydrophones under the Antarctic ice, streamed live on the Internet; as well as all kinds of music. I try to attend as closely as possible to the sound, and to transcribe the rhythms into the drawing, to make a sort of seismograph. Marks that are suggestive of the airborne or the sub-oceanic, for example, can come into relation with marks, lines, traces, and paths suggestive of circuitry, telecommunications, Morse code, molecules, stars, shoals, electronic pulses, particles, networks. These sorts of “readings” are at the center of my drawings.
Graphite is a medium that lends itself perfectly to this practice of rhythmic making and unmaking. The dense graphite areas act as engines in the drawing, emitting dark signals of loss, desire, longing, separation, reaching—they are the material “heat.” I also like to think of carbon—a material that is both an insulator and a conductor—in different states: coal, diamond, smoke, black oil; as well as water in all its states: ice, snow, mist, rain, vapor. I want the works to be humming graphite sound-fields: vibratory, oscillatory, multivoiced assertions and hesitations, yet also full of silences, voids, ghosts, residues, and remainders. As told to Himali Singh Soin for Artforum’s ‘500 words’

Emma McNally

(B. 1969, Essex) Lives and works in London. She received her degree in English and Philosophy from the University of York as well as an MA in Political Philosophy. She is a self-taught artist, possessing a subtle drawing style that fuels the complex mark-making of her large works in graphite on paper. She writes: “I like graphite’s materiality: its mess and dirt as well as its capacity to leave the cleanest, sharpest percussive marks and lines. I feel like I’m forging land formations when I use it, or scattering particles, or spiralling vortices of smoke and water.” Recent exhibitions include: Mirrorcity, Hayward Gallery, London (2014- 2015); Abstract Drawing, Drawing Room, London (2014); Atoms Insects Mountains Stars- Selected drawing, Trinity Contemporary, London; and Young Gallery, Salisbury (solo show, 2012); The Curator’s Egg Altera Pars, Anthony Reynolds, London (2012); Seeing/ Knowing, Kenyon College of Liberal Arts, Ohio (2011); State of Flux: Drawing in London (with Layla Curtis, Kate Atkin, James Brooks, Juliet Haysom); and Trinity Contemporary, New York and London (2011).

She is currently working in a studio on a jetty by the River Thames facilitated by the Canal and River Trust.

Dates images Emma McNally:
blackboard images 1- 4: 2012 Carbon Sound Field: 2011 CF5(dig) 2014
Choral Field images: 2014 Coherer: 2010
CSF(detail): 2011
Diag images (1-6) 2014 Double Orbit: 2012 ‘Drawing’: 2012
Field 12: 2011
Field 8: 2011
Field 5 (details): 2010 gs6: 2013
IL: 2013
ISHh3: 2013
MK2(1): 2013
MS18: 2013
MS8: 2013
sg: 2013
Transmission: 2011

copyright holder for all images: Emma McNally (All rights reserved ©)

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