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Artist Profile: Dustin Emory

Discovers His Passion and Makes a Difference

By Ellen Samsell Salas

Dustin Emory says he has a “wonky” work schedule. Every afternoon, after fortifying himself with a cup of coffee, he heads to his studio. In an old warehouse, now the haven of Emory and three other artists, he pours himself into his art, often until 1 or 2 in the morning.

Emory paints until he is satisfied — changing, reworking, sometimes scrapping what he has created and starting over.

“It’s hard for me to stop working. I keep seeing wrong strokes. I keep working,” Emory said. Yet, his insistence on perfection doesn’t paralyze him.

“I know I can change it,” he said. “I know I can get to where I want to be.” In fact, being open to experimentation and trying different mediums, palettes, techniques, or canvases define his artistic journey.

Without any formal art instruction, Emory, now 21, only began painting in 2016 when, recovering from back surgery, he borrowed his younger sister’s watercolor set and painted a sunset and palm trees.

After painting that first watercolor, he was hooked, though he turned his focus to large portraits often inspired by photographs.

“I dove in,” he recalls. His immersion includes hunting for other artists on social media, studying their work and methods, and finding people and images that inspire him.

Fascinated with light, shadow, and contrasts, Emory works primarily in oils, which he says effects greater realism than acrylics and gives him the freedom to leave his work and come back to it over several days.

Applying the oils with brushes and scrapers, Emory uses “a lot of strokes and a lot of color. You can move paint really well on canvas. You can apply it, then move it around,” he explained. “I blend heavily, then create texture. I might take a scraper and move the paint just to give it some interest.”

In his paintings, Emory explores current issues, hoping to make a difference in the world. Through the interplay of light and shadow and an often-monochromic palette with perhaps a shock of color, sometimes a neon effect, his large canvases are uncannily realistic. Filling the foregrounds, the figures convey emotion through both expression and posture. They make viewers “feel as if they are in the image, grappling with the issue.”

“I like to think of my work as ripping chunks of the world out and offering them to the viewer to contemplate,” he said.

In his recent works, Emory conveys the dehumanization of incarceration, portraying groups of men, all dressed alike, their heads, torsos, and legs visible, but not their faces.

“I hope to always make work that I’m proud of, to bring to light issues I’m attacking, and I hope people will continue to reach out and ask about my paintings and topics,” he said.

For additional information, or to see more of Emory’s work, visit Instagram – Dustin.Emory.