SPOKANE — Growing up surrounded by family members set on “practical and logical” career paths, Emily Somoskey knew that pursuing visual art full time would be a step outside her comfort zone.
But once she started high school, it only took a few art classes to draw her in all the way in. She remembered working on her first large-scale painting assignment freshman year.
“I just couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “When I was in my other classes, when I would go home … I just couldn’t wait to get back to the art room and work on it … and that feeling hasn’t faded.”
Now a visiting assistant professor of art at Whitman College, visual artist Somoskey has begun showing her work locally. Her work — largely mixed media and digital collage paintings of varying scale — will be on display at Marmot Art Space in Kendall Yards through October.
Opening the exhibit in Spokane was a relief after a year without being able to interact with the public in person.
“I really enjoy talking to people about my work … it always helps me to think differently about it when I can actually engage with people … and hear their thoughts,” Somoskey said.
“There’s a lot of things in the paintings that can help guide their experience or understanding, but I’m always most interested in what the viewers take away in their own way, without me telling them what they should or shouldn’t get from it.”
Before moving from the Midwest to teach at Whitman in July 2020, Somoskey had never been to Washington. But after finishing graduate school earlier the same year, the search for teaching work finally brought her west.
“I was looking for jobs all over the country,” she said. But “I was really excited about the job here because it’s one of the places I’d always wanted to go.”
Traveling here for the first time — during the pandemic with everything shut down — wasn’t ideal, of course, but she was excited to move here nonetheless.
“It was kind of a surreal experience … moving to a place I’d never been before and then quarantining,” she said. “It was kind of hard to even feel like I was living here … it was just such a strange time.”
It was a lonely initiation to the region, but Somoskey and her husband had their art to keep them occupied.
During the pandemic, Somoskey has been able to draw a great deal of inspiration from various manifestations of limits and restrictions. The general imbalance and uncertainty of the past year also comes through in her recent work, she explained.
“It’s constantly shifting … my work feels a lot more unsettled,” she said. “There’s a certain type of tension that I’ve been working with, playing between lightness and darkness and things that feel kind of mysterious, working between representation and abstraction.”
“Things look a little bit different now than they did before … and I think abstraction plays into that in a really interesting way because it’s about being with this unknown … being OK with not fully being able to see or understand or recognize everything.”
She remembered starting to see roped-off playgrounds near the beginning of the shutdown.
“That stuck with me,” she said. “I didn’t know what to make of it at first … but over time, that idea of things that have felt safe or things that are, are supposed to offer security or comfort … being taken away.”
When it comes to starting a project, Somoskey usually has a vague concept or image at the back of her mind driving the work. But the finished product is always a surprise.
“I’m constantly reflecting on the painting,” she said. “It’s a back-and-forth process – doing something, then stepping back. It’s kind of like a puzzle – trying to find the next move.”
To aspiring visual artists, Somoskey had the following advice: “Just keep going … the more you create, the more creativity you generate. Even if it’s just keeping a sketchbook … make it a priority. The time and repetition of just continuing to make, dedicating time throughout your busy schedule are crucial.”Visit emilysomoskey.com to learn more about the artist.