Alumna bringing realism back to the art world

A collection of Emily Copeland, BFA’15, and her thesis work, titled The Stacks, was recently on display at the Artlab Gallery in the John Labatt Visual Arts Centre. This was Copeland’s first solo exhibit.

Heather Hughes // Western NewsA collection by Emily Copeland, BFA’15, for her thesis, titled The Stacks, was recently on display at the Artlab Gallery in the John Labatt Visual Arts Centre. This was Copeland’s first solo exhibit.

Emily Copeland knows your eye better than you do.

Copeland, BFA’15, is perfecting the art of realism drawing. Only one year after graduation, the young artist is managed by Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in New York, which focuses on contemporary realist art. Currently, her work is part of the First Look exhibition at the gallery; she is working on completing a 12-piece exhibit for spring 2017.

“I’m now the youngest person in the gallery,” she said with a smile.

While many artists struggle for a few years (typically age 30 is the sweet spot where artists tend to gain notoriety, she said), Copeland was determined to do things differently and create her own opportunities.

She started to “creep” art dealers and galleries on their social media accounts, particularly on Instagram, and through following popular accounts, regular commenting and posting images of her work and process pictures she was able to make some meaningful connections. These efforts proved fruitful, as it connected her to Bernarducci Meisel Gallery and the alumna’s art now garners a price tag of about $10,000 ($7,000-$8,000 U.S.). She recently sold a piece to a collector in Australia.

“You reach more people on Instagram,” she said. “It’s a very modern way of doing things, but it’s the whole reason I have a career right now. I’m proud I’ve done it on my own. You don’t have to follow the typical route. You have to find ways to beat the system.”

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In 2014-15, she worked with piles – or stacks – of poker chips, books, wood, clothing and teacups. These elements were blown up much larger than life size to give it a surreal effect. According to her, this method gives the audience a unique viewpoint that exposes detail they wouldn’t normally see. Each stack was comprised of something different – different materials, textures and colours – causing a variety of different shades and tones. Even though these objects were completely random, she attempted to create a pattern of shapes that change from circular, to rectangular, to triangular, then back to rectangles and circles.

As a result of those efforts, that collection of her thesis work, titled The Stacks, was recently on display at the Artlab Gallery in the John Labatt Visual Arts Centre. This was Copeland’s first solo exhibit.

“I’d never thought I’d have a show here – let alone a solo show,” she said.

The London, Ont.-based artist dedicates about 10 hours a day on her craft. Her technique? She photographs vintage subjects, such as a worn leather baseball glove, a glittery disco ball or a burlap-wrapped spoon and fork. Using Photoshop, she magnifies sections of the image and recreates it in charcoal on Stonehenge paper, working from the top left corner and moving section-by-section. Some of the images can take upwards of 300 hours to complete.

She draws inspiration from Baroque era artists – Caravaggio, La Tour and Velazque – and their focus on mimesis (replicating what they see) and their contrasts with lighting. Her current influences are Jonathan Delafield Cook, C.J. Hendry and DiegoKoi, primarily because they work from photographs to create hyper-realistic works.

“Realism – people don’t do it anymore. They don’t really teach it anymore,” she explained, noting she doesn’t look for deep, contemplative meaning behind her works, instead she likes “creating things that are nice to look at. If I see an object, I think, that would look good in black and white in space. I don’t have a lot of meaning behind my drawings. With realism, I’m focused on the technique.”

Even though she has spent her whole life in art school in some form, Copeland didn’t always see herself becoming a professional artist.

She attended H.B. Beal Secondary School in London, which has a strong emphasis on the arts. At the time, however, she thought art would always be a hobby. She was pre-accepted into the Ivey Business School, but in second year switched to Visual Arts. Even afterward, she wasn’t committed to art as a career. However, in fourth year, everything changed – she fell back in love with drawing.

“I said, ‘Nope, I’m being an artist.’ Obviously I’m meant to do this. If I have to draw every day of my life, it’s not work,” said Copeland, whose work was recognized through the Undergraduate Awards program.

Her intricate drawings capture the texture and light reflections of an object in an almost photo-realist way. She is particularly attracted to drawing items that aren’t flat and have dimension to them. Currently, she is working on a large-scale vintage bicycle with a flower basket on the front.

She has created a few sport-related images, however she does not want to be pigeonholed into one subject matter. “I have my audience in mind at all times. I like to please different audiences.”

With such early success in her art career, Copeland continues to refine her talents and is always looking for new ways to connect with her audience.

“I’m very proud of myself. I work really hard. I’m very stubborn and when I’m not drawing, I’m researching. I want to prove (the critics) wrong,” she said.

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