In these strange days we’ve been catching up with the abstract artist Emily Thornton who has spent the last two years working in Zambia and is now living in a world of sewing facemasks for Government hospitals, rumours around lockdown and fruitful studio living.
Emily Thornton moved to Zambia in 2018 and is now happily settled living just outside Lusaka. Having been teaching once a week at the local school, Emily now spends two days a week sewing face masks for the local hospital. Within a community of 60 others, they have already made 10,000 face masks and are set on making another 10,000 more. The rest of her time is spent back in her studio where Emily lives and works looking out over the Zambian bush.
Emily’s paintings are led by emotion and her work is charged with memories and feelings drawn directly from the landscape. It is this depth of feeling that radiates through her paintings. As each piece sets out to reaffirm that ‘people’s experiences of landscapes, emotions and memories are entirely connected.’
Being surrounded by the colour, light and intensity of the African seasons, ‘Zambia has given me the space to reconnect with myself.’ It has been a journey of acceptance where, away from the noise of London, ‘there is time to think, to know myself and understand what matters.’
At the heart of all her painting is equally an ‘obsession with colour and the need to discover new ways to express balance and tone.’ There is a constant quest to explore how each colour reacts and interacts with each other. ‘Often a single anomalous element of colour, found nowhere else in the painting, can anchor the equilibrium of an entire composition.’
Unsurprisingly Emily’s time in Zambia has been intensely creative, ‘making work I love and feel excited by.’ Her solo show ‘Under the Sun’ in London last September was a fantastic success and standing in that exhibition, surrounded by such incredible colour, energy and warmth, was a total joy.
Right now, stocked up on canvases, boards and paint as they wait for news of the expected lockdown, Emily explains life is a strange mix of anticipation and calm. There is time for sewing, cooking and, following a period of reflection after the intensity of her show last year, a new sense of direction in her painting.
Fired-up and excited by her latest work, Emily explains ‘I’m so relieved to have found this escapism, contentment and peace at the end of a day’s painting.’
Talking to Emily, it is also clear that in the midst of everything that is going on, this connection to life in her studio surrounded by the landscape and local community, comes with it the calming assurance that right now, ‘Zambia is home.’