“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.”
Emma McNally (b. 1969, Essex) lives and works in London. She received her degree in English and Philosophy from the University of York. At the same time she became a self-taught artist.
She recently exhibited at Cockatoo Island for the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016). Before the same works were part of “MirrorCity”, an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London (2014-2015). In these drawings Emma McNally creates large-scale cartographic patterns that explore the space between the virtual and the real, mapping the rhythms and disruptions of the world in layers of graphite and carbon on paper. Her works remind to detailed charts of constellations, diagrams of military bases, complex musical scores or extensive circuitry boards. McNally’s meticulously drafted, intuitive drawings are maps of a mindscape. They are wholly imagined and informed by her observation of complex systems and interest in science, technology, philosophy and music.
With her artistic studies she’s searching all sorts of ways of thinking visually about space and time. She takes inspiration by the spiral paths of particles in bubble chambers, the cellular mitochondria or the Hubble Deep Field images. She also likes looking at images that show fleeting events and images of aerial views of cities at night and aerial images of airports, both in use and obsolete, as well as the Nazca Lines. These kind of visual references are really different from each the other but we can find them all in Emma’s drawings.
Graphite as the perfect medium
Emma McNally choose graphite as the only medium in her big drawings. It’s an interesting choice because it recall something undone, unfinished and unstable. Therefore it’s the same technique used for sketching and easy, fast outlines. 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 and separation.
As she mixes map and art, the artist also find a scientific reference graphite. She thinks of carbon in different states: coal, diamond, smoke, black oil; as well as water in all its states: ice, snow, mist, rain, vapor. In conclusion she wants her works to be humming graphite sound-fields: vibratory, oscillatory, multivoiced assertions and hesitations, yet also full of silences, voids, ghosts, residues, and remainders.
Drawings and sounds
She thinks of these drawings as fugitive, heterogeneous gray areas. They are the turbulence between noise and signal. Emma said she constantly listen to sound when she draws. Then she tries 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 her drawings.
Sources and pictures from: