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Emma Cousin

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Photo credit: Faris Mustafa


 Oil on canvas


Oil on Canvas

Emma Cousin (b.1986) makes paintings and drawings that often start with a piece of word-play or colloquial phrase. This is used as the title of a work that expands on that piece of fragmentary text that is often allusive or playful, for works that feature figures engaged in what might look like private games, relationships or forms of communication with each other. Her works respond to the way language is structured and its limitations.

Cousin has said “The ideas around social systems - how bodies hold each other up, fit together, support or destabilise each other has been a concern for some years. The struggle to an equilibrium physically and psychologically as well as a play with sensorial opposite - pleasure/pain, love/violence, disgust/attraction. The symmetry of the paintings’ design encapsulates that struggle...” (interview with Hettie Judah, 2022)

The figures in Cousin’s works often form a circuit of some sort, as if they might become a machine that collectively articulates a system. Cousin uses the bodies of the #gures she depicts to explore ideas around communication and non-communication to question our relationship to each other and also to think about the ways bodies operate in space. That space might be interpreted as a post-human space, where alteration and augmentation allow the subject to create new versions of ourselves in order to communicate with each other. Cousin has stated: “I’m curious about our expectations of our bodies and judgements of other bodies. I’m testing their limits and interested in putting the bodies at risk. They exist in a liminal space which is a place of discomfort, an edge or a boundary.” (Interview, Elephant magazine, June 2018)


Selected Solo Exhibitions

Tunnel Vision, Niru Ratnam, London (2024)

Game Face, Niru Rattan, London, UK (2021)
Introductions, White Cube, London (Online), UK (2021)

Drawing Biennial, Drawing Room, London, UK (2021)
New Dirt, Solos at Goldsmiths CCA Gallery, London, UK (2020

Sigma Sigma Sigma, Milton Keynes Art Centre, UK (2019)

Marty, Edel Assanti, London, UK (2018)

Leg Up, Lewisham Arthouse, London (2018)
Aids to Living, Dolph Projects, London, UK (2017)

Missing You Already, White Conduit Projects, London (2017)

Selected Group Exhibitions 

Women on the Verge, Rhona Ho man, Chicago (2023)

High Humanity, Jack Siebert Projects, Paris (2022)
I’m Stepping High, I’m Drifting and there I go Leaping’, Xiao Museum of Contemporary Art, Rizhao, China (2022)

Girl Meets Girl, Kunstlaboratorium Vesto en, Norway (2022)
Superbloom. Brooke Benington Gallery, Milan (2021)
She Came to Stay. Andrea Festa Fine Art, Rome (2021)
Ridiculous. Elephant west, London (2020)
Outlines. Austin Desmond gallery, London (2020)
Soft bodies. Castle#eld gallery, Manchester (2020)

Survey, Jerwood Arts. Survey Show, touring to G39 Card , Bluecoats Gallery Liverpool & Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead  (2019)

Flumblelovelifekisturbingandflexy. ASC London (2019)
Absinthe. London (2019)
Ultra. J Hammond Projects. London (2019)

Survey. Jerwood Gallery. London. Touring Nationally (2018)
Wasp. Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2018)

Making Painting: A survey. Touring show. Germany and London (2018)

Painting Vol 1. Group exhibition. CGK Gallery, Copenhagen 2017 Mudhook. Tintype Gallery, London (2017)
Strangelands, Collyer Bristow Gallery, London (2017)
Silk Room, House of St Barnabus, London (2017)

When All The Saints,  Oil on canvas, 280 x 190cm (2022)

Time At Hogchester Arts

Started by reading. About deep time. About how to measure earth, contain it, weight it, value it, store it, archive it. I felt in touch with the huge elemental cycles cemented in colour- colour as a human experience. Even though it is not practical to sit (wet and dank), I find myself compelled to be in the greens, the silver grass and the black, blue mud, the itchy burnt yellows. 


Walking, I imagine I am carrying the little fish, Ichthyosaurus anningae with me, all up in my throat, the ancient fish of history buried, swallowed, and carried within like some calcic current.


The freedom to slip time, work outside for hours and to walk to all the shifts of the day.


Lying down in the shadow of myself; a mock photo shoot with a tree, its bark fallen underneath made me want to slip between it and the trunk. The hollowed branches sticking out as arms reaching, the gnarly joining points like the scapula of a swimmer’s back (Kate Winslet in the film Ammonite). I go with the instinct to connect, slot in, try on ‘nature’ – moss hair, bark skin, rock teeth. Unfolding as a way of holding something lightly. Sharpening my teeth on the landscape.


Being in and looking at a landscape at a time of war (multiples) summons Grant Wood, Paul Nash and the British Surrealists before Joan Semmel pops in mind bringing sex and shadows. Fragmented landscape, plus the geometry of its seams plus the romantic element.The landscape is a meeting place. Time travel is airless. The landscape is under pressure. Why sometimes is gravity heavier than others? 


After drawing the geometry of the lily pads and the bodybuilder chickens and the goat legs like oak banisters I become interested in the structures around the trees, some contained, held up or protected against predators (deer) with one or two appearing to be postural correction devices. 


Features of this landscape are named after body parts, grannies’ teeth, or lady fingers, coined by tourists finding human form in the landscape. Decay, digestion and regeneration are central here, from the dead animals fossilised underfoot, to the cliffs sliding into the sea in great slabs, the rubbish of the skittles churned up with prehistory and the stories set in Lyme Regis, where the gentry used to come to cure their gout, which is a type of calcification of the joints. Some stones on the beach seem to wear their organs on the outside as if they might breath better that way, others are crisscrossed with fine lines like a hand-made drawing laid on them, communicating something or leaving directions. Inscriptions, impressions, and reverbs in rocks as patterns, fragments, and organising system. I note the veins on rocks, a secondary sheet like material deposit that forms within a pre-existing rock, calcite, or quartz, bands or stripes, also called cleavage. History is sending us messages we can’t read.


I buy some devil toes at the shop. The fossilised poo is overrated. How do I even know it’s real fossil and not just old poo? I also buy runes, even though I don’t really know what they are or how to use them. I like the idea of having another language to hand and eye. 


I get back late and miss the pigs, they only appear to be fed around 4pm. I walk through blue clay and night soil, a concealed collaboration in the strict wildness. At dusk it is harmonious disarray, unity and diversity displayed in repetition with variation.


At night I hear an owl over the studio. Slapstick and camouflage are interchangeable in this landscape. 


I fall asleep thinking about gryphaea and iron earths.

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