Peeler Portraits: Seeing Herself Through Paint, The Power of Self-Portraits


When thinking of paintings, one would usually think of canvas and paint; however, cardboard seems to be getting more popular in Peeler. In her pile of paintings stacked against the wall, a group of colorfully painted cardboard sits between the stretched canvases in Emily Graves’s studio. While most art majors can be found in Peeler at all hours, you can always count on seeing Emily in her studio between 4-6 p.m., and often at other hours of the day.

While she is notorious for her portraiture abilities that mirror photographic abilities, Emily’s work has become distinct and autobiographical. While there are hidden stories within many of her paintings, the reality is masked by the bright pink and blue skin colors, and strange angels.

Like many, Emily didn’t seriously consider art until high school. After her interest emerged, it led her to look into Herron School of Art in Indy along with other art schools (she thought that art schools sounded sexy). However, when she visited DePauw and met Professor Berry and Misti Scott, she quickly realized that Peeler would be where she would grow most as an artist. Though, she didn’t declare her major until this past semester, as a sophomore in college, it’s proven to be what she calls an amazing decision.

Joslyn Fox: What is your favorite medium?

Emily Graves: Painting is my favorite medium, although recently I’ve incorporated drawing in my work with oil pastels and crayons and I’m really enjoying that. I’d still consider my work paintings though.

JF: What do you like to paint? How have you seen your work transform?

EG: Up until just recently I’ve made work surrounding sexual encounters. I’m now in a transitional phase where I’m drawn to ideas of heritage, mythology, and culture surrounding Iceland. I’m in an uncertain but valuable spot, we’ll just have to see what happens! Painting helps me to be vulnerable in ways I can’t be otherwise. Sometimes words aren’t good enough, or I don’t fully understand my feelings until I’ve laid them bare on a canvas. Often times it isn’t until after the painting that I can find my voice. I think my art helps me to be wiser person.

JF: What artists do you admire and look up to?

EG: Huge fan of Sarah Lucas! I was lucky enough to see her Au Naturel exhibition at the New Museum in New York City and I was changed. Her depiction of sex and the body is compelling without Lucas taking herself too seriously. And, as corny as it sounds, I’m inspired by other Peeler art students as well. We’ve got some serious talent over here!

JF: What would your dream gallery look like?

EG: I’m not sure, museums and galleries get boring after a while. Maybe a public bathroom or a church or your grandma’s living room, shake things up a bit.