Martine F Pugh meets the artist and supporter of Art in Healthcare.
Emily Learmont pours tea into delicate blue and white china and shows me through to her studio-cum-sitting room. She explains in a soft and clear voice that she comes from an artistic family and that she always loved drawing as a child, not on scraps of paper but on the blank side of redundant architectural drawings her father brought home from work.
After school, she chose to study at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) which in the late 1980's was buzzing with excitement.
Glasgow Street Scene oil, 185 x 154cm
The GSA figurative tradition suited her interest in people. Her paintings of that period in the Art in Healthcare (AiH) collection are expressive street scenes that show her keen sense of observation rendered with the flat perspective characteristic of Chinese, Japanese or Persian arts that still fascinate her today.
The Rainy Day oil, 124 x 154cm
Her inclination towards the fine arts was honed further still when Emily secured a postgraduate place at the Royal Academy (RA) School in London. She thoroughly enjoyed her time in the small department tucked away behind the grand RA buildings, sneaking out regularly to the galleries for her breaks still wearing her painting clothes, to feast her eyes on “beautiful things”.
When she returned to Edinburgh in 2000, she was commissioned by AiH to work with children in hospitals to find out what they would like to see on the walls around them. Holidays and sunny beaches were at the top of their wish list prompting her to produce a series of joyful paintings.
Beachcomber’s Mermaid oil, 65 x 79cm
The Art in Healthcare collection has no less than thirteen of her paintings of which four are wonderful swimming pool scenes that convey a feeling of weightlessness and escapism. This series coincided with a period of ill-health which led her to spend much time relaxing and exercising in the pool.
Drumsheugh Swimming Pool oil, 184 x 152cm
This experience heightened Emily’s understanding of the need of healthcare patients and her appreciation of the work AiH do.
“I really like the fact that my paintings are in AiH. I think art is such a good thing to have in a healthcare setting and doing art as well is a brilliant thing to do. I am pleased to have made that connection, that my work is going to be in hospital and hopefully that it’s going to cheer somebody up, that’s really important to me.”
When she found large oil canvasses too strenuous physically, she switched to watercolours and produced a series of illustrative paintings of angels and archangels for the Edinburgh-based Scottish Storytelling Centre Christmas 2009 exhibition. She found this new direction therapeutic.
Archangel watercolour, 70 x 50 cm
image courtesy of the artist
When she recovered her full health, she started painting with oils again but her technique had changed, smooth layers and glazes had replaced the thick impasto. This radical shift is perfectly suited to her new subject matter, angels, dragons, the creatures and landscapes of her imagination that she conjures up in great details with linear and precise brush strokes.
Emily Learmont’s painterly practice today is in harmony with her other pursuits. It absorbs her research for gallery talks on Scottish and Renaissance masters, George Jameson, John Duncan and Botticelli being particular favourites, and her current involvement with patients in healthcare settings.
Her style may have changed since her earlier paintings, but her rationale is still about transcendence of the mundane which she now conveys with fantastic realism.
Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh
With thanks to Emily Learmont.
The Glasgow School of Art http://www.gsa.ac.uk/
The Royal Academy Schools http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/raschools/
Scottish Storytelling Centre http://www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk/