Emily Stokes is an Assistant Professor of Art at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. She holds an MFA in printmaking from Arizona State University, and a BA from Wellesley College. Stokes weaves together narratives with the iconography of rural vernacular culture to create her visual work. Recent achievements include a Northwestern College Endowed Research Fellowship (2017), a Purchase Award at the 29th Annual McNeese Works on Paper Juried Exhibition (2016), and an Alice C. Cole ’42 Alumnae Grant from Wellesley College (2014). Stokes has had solo exhibitions at Illinois Wesleyan University (2015) and Northwestern College (2016), and will have solo exhibitions in 2017 at the MacRostie Art Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
My visual work stems from an investigation into the ways in which countless artists before me have staged coded imagery to build plural meanings into their work. From Casper David Friedrich, the German Romantic whose atmospheric landscapes reveal meticulous observation of God’s creation, to contemporary artists such as James Turrell or Anselm Kiefer, artists have used their visual work to communicate much more than skillful illusionism. My work finds inspiration in their approaches to visual communication, but takes root in my immediate surroundings.
Since moving to Orange City, Iowa in 2011, I have become interested in the capacity of wide expanses of land to trigger anxiety, the intense preservation of cultural heritage, and the sense of resourcefulness that comes when “normal” amenities – shopping malls, cultural sites – are 60+ ice-packed miles away. Everything seems amplified, almost amusingly cinematic in a sparsely populated place. Using painting, printmaking, drawing, and digital imaging, I choreograph the recurrent iconography of my daily routines to suggest visual narratives. A jewel-like cluster of ice or a haystack’s irregular edges may cause me to pause and take notice. My work also includes animals such as the lamb, a nod to the agricultural quilt that is northwest Iowa and the animal’s loaded symbolic value. The fragmented imagery I composite together arises from unexpected encounters with beauty, generosity, humor, or conflict. And sometimes a quivering black line or burst of texture is all that is needed to unite these fragments and give form to my encounters.