“The luxury of having a studio”: Emily Motto on building a practice as a sculptor

Emily Motto in the studio

Since graduating from The Ruskin School of Art in 2014, multi-award-winning artist Emily Motto has exhibited prolifically in the UK and internationally. Right now, she is six months into a New Contemporaries studio bursary which has provided her with a studio residency for a year in The Bluecoat.

Motto exhibited in the New Contemporaries exhibition in 2014. Her sculpture, ‘A Bodily Capacity’ was shown at the World Museum during the 2014 Liverpool Biennial in a tour that also went to the ICA in London and the Newlyn Gallery in Cornwall. “It’s been five years since I’ve been in it and I just saw that there’s an opportunity to work in a studio in the Bluecoat for a year. I wrote a proposal for what I would do in the space and what I was working on at the moment and why it would be good for my practice.”

New Contemporaries supports the most promising artists from the UK’s art schools in makin the transition from education to professional practice by showing their work in an annual touring exhibition. Previous exhibitors have included Tacita Dean, Damien Hirst, and Mona Hatoum. Recognising the challenges emerging artists have in maintaining a practice with studio costs continuing to rise, it offers studio bursaries in the UK and internationally to recent alumni.

‘Holdfast’, 2018, A sketch for a window, cardboard, cement, plaster, foam, wood, digital prints, string, fabric

Motto recognises studio space as a challenge while developing her own practice, “I think one of the biggest challenges has been space for making sculpture. I feel like I don’t know that many people amongst my artist friends who are making sculpture. I found space really difficult, just the space to sit and be. They [the sculptures] are very fragile. I think one of the biggest issues is storage and space to be and make new stuff, and not feel disheartened to make more when you already don’t have enough space for the old work.”

Motto’s current work is characterised by seemingly fragile, temporal shapes constructed from paper and cement. She reflects on how her current practice has been taking shape, “I’ve been using so much cardboard and paper. I don’t want to use anything else, but I’ve been using cement and plaster to structure lots of thin and fragile shapes. Things that are quite flat-packable and movable. It could be a reaction to moving between different spaces. I think loads of things have been turning into something else. which is quite nice – having all these different fragments working in different arrangements.”

During the first six months of her residency, Motto has had the opportunity to meet artists working in Liverpool and make connections through the gallery. She believes the studio has given her the freedom to experiment and develop her practice: “I just wanted to experiment with composition, which I guess is the luxury of having a studio. I can play about and not worry about things being finished or ready for a show immediately. The studio is much bigger than I would usually be working in, and just to have so much time to experiment and try things out, not necessarily for anyone else to see, is quite freeing and important in developing new work. It’s an organic process thart I’ve been thinking about since I started working in the studio. There’s so much space, I can work on so many different things at once. I think it’s really useful to be able to make one thing, leave it for a bit and potter around doing some other things and see what happens. Leaving things, maybe a little bit unfinished, means that nothing is overworked.“

Studio composition, 2019, card, paper, cement, plaster, wool, pastel, acrylic, foam

The future is busy. In the new year, Motto is taking part in The Bluecoat’s family weekend and is excited about the potential to use the materials she has been using in her current work to create something interactive for families. As her residency comes to a close, she will open her studio for feedback as part of Liverpool Open Studios: “That’s a good part of the studio programme – rather than working towards something finished it’s quite important to have that space to be able to experiment and have the feedback from others that come by.”

Next year, her work may take a different direction when she begins work for an outdoor sculpture park. “It will be nice to make things that could be outdoors and weatherproof. In a way, the fact that [the sculptures] are coated in cement means they might be able to take some weather. I’d like to keep the fragility in the shapes but maybe make them a bit more physically stronger, without losing their energy.”


Find out more about Emily Motto’s work.

The Bluecoat family weekend, Take P-Art is on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 January.

You can see this year’s New Contemporaries exhibition in the South London Gallery until 23 February 2020.