Emily Strong is a figurative oil painter based in Eastern Pennsylvania. She was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1992 and received her undergraduate degrees in Fine Art and Psychology from Moravian University of Bethlehem, PA in 2015. Strong’s study of psychology has greatly influenced the conceptual and formal aspects of her work.

Strong works primarily in oil on canvas, creating raw, intimate spaces that explore the many complexities of physical relationships and identity. Through these explorations, she invites discourse on how gender, race, age, weight, disability, etc. are portrayed and discussed and how this affects an individual's relationships with themselves.

In addition to her personal studio practice, Strong is a mural artist, curator, artist's model, and co-founder of the online gallery Manifold Global.

Artist Statement

My figurative landscapes invite contemplation of physicality through painted, fleshy compositions. I create raw, intimate spaces that explore the many complexities of physical relationships; with the self and with others. This series is an inclusive celebration of humanity and form.

Unconditional acceptance is a central theme in this series. The compositions do not shy away from rolls or “imperfections”; rather it gently lingers on them. In celebrating these attributes, I hope to show that these are not features to be ashamed of, but accepted - even treasured - as a part of being human. By not including any other objects, background, or personal identifiers, it invites the viewer to consider the body exclusively within its own context.

The tangled limbs and corpulent hills create a bewildering landscape, challenging the viewer to decipher how many figures are present, what parts of the figures they are seeing, and what genders may be represented. By using tightly cropped compositions, it limits the opportunity to project certain assumptions about the subject based on features that could lead to quick stereotyping. It frees the subjects from presumptions based on perceived feminine or masculine traits, age, nationality, etc. The body is free to be viewed without being hastily categorized and dismissed.  

This series has evolved to include another layer of connection between viewer and subject. Each new painting includes an interview conducted with the subjects of these paintings. These interviews give the subjects a platform to express their own experiences with their body and with how the media and their communities challenge or support the way they physically exist in the world. Their words hold the power to relate with viewers who may have had similar experiences or to provide insight to viewers about someone who they may have previously considered unimaginably different from themselves.

Where are you from? Did you grow up in a creative environment?

I am from Eastern Pennsylvania. I grew up in the Lehigh Valley, which is located between Philadelphia and New York City. I earned my undergraduate degrees in Fine Art and Psychology from Moravian University of Bethlehem, PA in 2015. I currently live and have a studio in the Lehigh Valley.

I was exceedingly fortunate to grow up in a household where the arts were celebrated. Art and music were an integral part of our home. My parents were musicians, involved with local orchestras and musical productions. My older sister, also an artist, was passionate about drawing, comics, and new media. My mother, now a sculptor, made and repaired porcelain and soft-sculpted dolls when I was growing up. A wide range of art supplies were always on hand and creativity was encouraged. Art is something that we’ve always shared and enjoyed together. Everyone in my family has always been, and continues to be, incredibly supportive of my work.

Who or what has compelled and/or encouraged you to create your art?

Art and art-making have always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve always responded to visual information and had a desire to capture what I see in order to share the beauty I observe with others.

I have also always had anxiety about speaking--worried that what I say could be misunderstood or that I might say the wrong thing. I find it easier to communicate complex narratives and ideas visually.

What is the key topic or issue that your work addresses?

Inclusivity and celebrating the human form, unrestricted by age, gender, weight, ability, race, etc. Challenging the male gaze, but also the white gaze, heteronormative gaze, able-bodied gaze, etc. and trying to foster a sense of compassion and understanding.

Art can be a powerful tool for activism and I feel it is important that my work be about more than the struggles and concerns that have directly affected me. In order to more accurately represent the experience of others, my most recent body of work includes interviews with each of the models that I paint regarding their experiences with their body and how society and the people in their lives challenge or support the way they physically exist in the world.

In using this intimate, collaborative approach, I have learned so much from the models I work with and I am inspired to share those lessons and unique perspectives through my artwork as well as by sharing the model's own words alongside the paintings.

What is your biggest source of inspiration?

Stories, humanity, and the desire to connect and make sense of our existence.  

If you weren’t creating art, what would you be doing?

It's hard to even imagine a life where I wasn't making art, but if I wasn't, I would probably be focusing on my other interests within the arts, some of which I already do in addition to my studio practice: curating, archiving, and conservation. I've had the opportunity to curate exhibitions for both historical works and contemporary art and find that I love interacting with other artists and facilitating art reaching an audience. Curating is an art in itself and, much like the individual artworks themselves, can be a compelling mechanism for storytelling.  

If I wasn’t working within the arts at all, I would continue my study of psychology and pursue a career in that field, most likely in counseling or research.