Open Frequency 2013: Paul Emmanuel, selected by Craig Wood

Open Frequency 2013: Paul Emmanuel, selected by Craig Wood Paul Emmanuel, Callwen, 2012, oil paint and hairgel on balwen fleece, 25 x 25 x 8 cm

Swansea-based artist, lecturer and writer, Craig Wood profiles the work of Welsh artist, Paul Emmanuel.


Paul Emmanuel is based on the boundary of Brecon Beacons National Park and the working farmland/post-industrial landscape of the Upper Swansea valley, Wales. It is evident that this very specific geographical position, spanning many types of culture, influences his practice. Emmanuel presents us with a multi layered yet succinctly formed proposition that becomes more expansive upon closer inspection.

In the making of the ‘fishing fly’ series, Emmanuel collected small discarded fragments of coloured plastics and other materials from the streets of Xiamen, China, whilst on a cultural exchange organised by the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea. These unseen, low-value scraps were 'imported' to Wales from China and offered to Gethin Williams, a local fisherman and expert fishing fly maker. The resultant flies become highly seductive miniature sculptures, presented as objects in their own right, or as a slowly rotating image, within the high definition projection, ‘Jupiter's Ghost’ (2012).

The contemplative nature of this slow rotation gives the viewer space to respond and interpret the work within an increasingly complex matrix. Alluring, like glitzy jewellery or Christmas decorations, the flies repel the viewer in equal measure, with their large, impaling hooks. Maybe our species, the viewer of art, are the ones being seduced into taking a bite? Significantly, the functionality of these objects is never realised as Emmanuel stops short of actually fly fishing: the work is suspended in fine art limbo and the viewer is forced to complete the work.

Paul Emmanuel Tonfildre, 2012

Paul Emmanuel, Tonfildre, 2012, oil paint and hair lacquer on balwen fleece, 33 x 26 x 13 cm

In the series of fleece works, named after Welsh hill farms, such as Blaenllech, Tonfildre and Nantyffin, Emmanuel has used Balwen and Texel fleeces: beautiful, traditional materials whose price has been crashed to the point where they have become uneconomical. The decision to apply oil paint to the wool is, of course, referencing the long tradition of painting but is offset by the counterpoint meaning created by the addition of modern hair products. We are faced with an altogether more disquieting undertaking which moves between beauty and abjection, high art and folk art, human and animal.

We also find such cultural clashing in a series of plant and flower works which have been hermetically sprayed with sheep marker before they begin to sprout or bloom. With ‘Black Narcissus’ (date), despite the intrinsic beauty of the lily’s colour and texture, Emmanuel has skillfully intervened and has, apparently, pimped them up genetically. Once the flower has blossomed, the result is a strikingly graphic and unpredictable partnership with the plant world: a perverse but strangely harmonious collaboration.

Paul Emmanuel Elephant Enclosure, 2012

Paul Emmanuel, Elephant Enclosure, 2012, Sheepmarker on wooden poles, 220 x 30 x 100 cm

For ‘Elephant Enclosure’ (2012), Emmanuel has again applied a thin layer of vivid, sheep marker pigment to an organic material, in this case the off-cuts from fencing posts. They are stacked with a playful aesthetic, suggesting a colour coding system, and inhabit an area somewhere between Arte Povera and the log burner. Once again the title implies a disquieting local/global melange, suggestive of significant environmental and economic shift. It is no coincidence that Emmanuel lives within earshot of the bizarrely located Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary. In keeping with all of Emmanuel's work, ‘Elephant Enclosure’'s position in historical time and place is ambiguous.

Emmanuel's work, utilising fishing flies, fleece, plants and logs, is rooted in the functionality of his rural location, but in addition is 'seasonally specific' work. It reflects the changing tasks which are necessary for survival in a rural Welsh setting, for example shearing, log storing, harvesting. However, this is far from a romanticising art project as we sense the impact of the enormous environmental, economic and cultural changes upon these most local and intimate of materials. As a consequence, Emmanuel has diversified: his materials are diverted from their traditional, utilitarian destiny and creatively caught in the all-encompassing, liminal space.

Craig Wood (Senior Lecturer, Swansea Metropolitan University), 2013

Artist's Biography

Born in Maesteg, Paul Emmanuel studied at WGIHE, Swansea, and Goldsmiths, London. He has worked and exhibited internationally and has been British Council International Resident Artist on two occasions and awarded Wales Arts International funding for projects in China, Taiwan and the USA. He has worked with John Cale and Tim Davies at the Venice Biennale of Art and on tour in venues in Australia, Germany and Wales. He was Welsh Artist of the Year 2011/12 and won a Creative Wales Award for 2012/13. He has since returned to China twice to research and develop work for a major group show at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea in September 2013. His most recent exhibitions have been The Diary of a Super-tramp,G39 Cardiff (2012); Scalped, Goat Major Projects, Cardiff (2012) and Farm Shop, Nantyffin (2013).

Paul lives and works at Nantyffin in the Brecon Beacons.

View Paul Emmanuel's profile >

About Craig Wood

Craig Wood is an artist, part time lecturer and writer based in S.W.Wales. Wood studied at Goldsmiths College of Art, London in the late 1980's and was a part of the initial YBA generation, exhibiting in shows such as Modern Medicine. His practice explores the spectrum of site specificity and collaboration. Wood has been a recipient of the DAAD residency in Berlin and is a former Gregory Fellow with the University of Leeds. He has exhibited widely within the UK and abroad. He is currently a senior lecturer at Swansea Metropolitan University.


Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of significant emergent artists.