Visual Arts
Photo by Lindsay Tripp
Photo by Lindsay Tripp

Spotlight: Emma Percy

by / Jul. 27, 2016 1am EST

Emma Percy slept next to a baby tree once, for the sake of art. They had built the raised bed in the gallery with their own hands and laid peacefully down next to it on opening day, affixing the slow unraveling of nature with the quiet transformation of sleep. They were hoping the piece would show a way to relate to non-human things.

Percy progressed from this installation at the Alfred University studio, where they will be a fourth year art student this fall, to the Franklin Street-facing art space that is Dreamland. They designed the exhibit to provoke ecological awareness, focusing on waste management by reusing materials and encouraging home garden growing.

“There are several pieces to the show and all of it revolves around seeds and seedlings,” Percy said about their July exhibit. “There is printwork and sculptural stuff, which are made out of homemade paper and living plants are also a part of the show.” Percy opened the exhibit with a seed-bomb making station and a coloring table where people were asked to draw their ideal world on handmade paper. Messages of peace and veganism and bright drawings of hearts were pinned on the wall.

Percy was inspired in an advanced papermaking class to explore different ways of creating sustainable art. “The class focused on finding meaning in the materials used,” Percy said. “The material in the artwork is part of the message”

Percy’s materials came cheaply. The handmade paper sculptures that contained the living plants were made out of blended up recycled paper. The living plants came from their family garden in Clarence and sat on shelves made out of old fence board. Even the soil for the plants and clay for the seed bombs came from their compost and backyard.

Photo by Emma Percy

“My style definitely involves reusing and recycling materials for my art because it’s important to be conscious of the resources you’re using,” they said. “It’s nice to give new life to things that would have gone in the garbage.”

Percy’s printwork, sculptures and installations generally involve plant life or working with the environment and are delicate and gentle in nature. “I hope to draw people’s attention to the smaller, quieter parts of life,” Percy said. “Nature is not always visible but it is interesting.”

At school, Percy takes advantage of Alfred’s rural location, interacting with local farmers to promote health and wellness. They helped organize a series of workshops through the school’s Women’s Leadership Academy and used their connection with the farmers to bring in people to help.

“We brought in people from the community and even other students to talk about beginning a garden and making your own home-care and body products,” Percy said. “We were trying to talk about how to make life more sustainable, more ecologically friendly.”

Percy commits to these principles in their personal life. They refrain from eating meat and try to buy food from sources they feel good about.

Their interest in combining conservation and art is rooted in their childhood, during which their family had a small vegetable garden. Percy made books and acknowledged that they have always been creative.

“I was always into making things to communicate ideas,” Percy said. “I knew I’d always be doing that.”

Outside of art shows, school projects and the various workshops Percy has led, including a seed bomb making class, they work at the screen printing company Great Arrow Graphics. Their life is immersed in Buffalo’s art scene.

“If I have free time when I’m home, I go to punk shows at Sugar City and events at Dreamland in between gardening and working on my art,” Percy said.

Their artwork goes beyond an interest in the environment. Being a part of the school’s Women’s Leadership Academy involves a dedication towards promoting feminism and social justice. Percy focuses on the queer community and queer theory. However, concerns for the environment overarch this involvement.

“I was thinking that I could use my senior thesis to explore how queerness manifests in conjunction with the environment,” Percy said. “There’s this generalization that queer people live in cities but it’s more complicated than that. The most amazing queer women, women I look up to, live in the middle of nowhere.”

In the fall, Percy will be leading and implementing a seed library at the town’s public library. They’ll bring in seeds from gardens, store them over the winter and offer them to the community members in the spring. A professor sought out Percy to lead and help out with this project, knowing it was something that complemented their interests in community building, environmental science and art.

“My artwork is more about the environment than personal well being,” Percy said. “I want to bring art to people who aren’t artsy. Science and social issues help with that.”

When asked how they have time to breath, the 20-year-old gave a small smile. “I like to keep busy.” 

 instagram: @emmalucillepercy