Artist Emily Johnston
“Stop me if I’m going into way too much detail,” says Emily Johnston, pausing to take another sip of her coffee.
It’s late afternoon at Abraço Café in the East Village and Emily is describing the process behind her Ash Drawing photography series, which she recently debuted in fall 2018 at Scribner’s Catskill Lodge. She creates them by casting ash out over snow - ash she gathers from communal fires from as near as Scribner’s to as far away as the South of France. “There’s no sense in trying to make it look a certain way, it’s about the act of releasing,” says Johnston. “And you don’t have a record of the work unless you make a photograph of it.” Emily documents her process via video and in digital and film images - the ephemeral nature of ash existing in contrast to the act of capturing it in a still frame.
“I like the idea of creating work that I can’t really claim because it’s coming from a natural process,” she says. “With the ash, the wind is going to dictate more than my hand what it’s going to look like. I’m almost more of a vessel. It’s liberating.”
Much of her art is reflective in nature, referencing abstract manifestations of rituals and lived experiences. These qualities attracted Studio Tack, the design group behind Scribners’ interiors, and her intimate naturescape photographs can be found in each of the hotel’s 38 guest rooms and in the lobby behind the front desk.
Johnston grew up in Paris, studied art and literature at a university just outside of Chicago, and has been practicing photography ever since. In 2015, after spending years living in New York’s East Village, she traveled upstate to Andes for a few months to make art and enjoy a bit of a respite from city life. A few months became years, and now Johnston calls the Catskills home. “I realized I didn’t miss the city and felt really content,” she says of her initial time upstate. “Being in a place where you’re not constantly interfacing with people allows you to hear yourself think.”
Johnston’s endless curiosity and creative instincts keep her open to new concepts and contemplations. Most recently, she’s been commissioned to write and compile a portrait of Iona, an island within the Hudson wetlands that houses a massive archive of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. Johnston also hopes to establish a residency in Andes to create space for artists to connect and collaborate. “One of the things I miss about the city is the breadth of possible creative and intellectual exchanges...the idea is to bring those conversations and exchanges up here,” she says. “The thing is, I really love the city, seeing friends and going to museums, but I also love knowing that I’m just a few hours away from the quiet of home.”
By Anna Deutsch
Photography by Casey Kelbaugh