Backlog: Interview with Emily Pettigrew

Art Deco, Maine, marriage; we talked about it all in my recent interview with artist Emily Pettigrew.Waiting for Dinner in Maine

Emily was born in Maine but now lives in New York City. She hold a B.F.A in Communications Design with a minor in Art History from Pratt. She often paints in more harmonious neutral shades of green, browns and whites.

What’s your day job?

I work in Manhattan at a rare book store. I do a little bit of everything there but I spend a lot of time photographing books, cataloging books, sometimes I do a little bit of book restoration too. It’s a really nice atmosphere to work in, my bosses are three sisters in their ’70s who inherited the business from their father.

Does your job inspire your artwork at all?

Yeah definitely. I do a lot of paintings based on images from or plots of books I’ve read and the books I collect. Also I get to look at so much book illustration, I’m constantly discovering artists I’m really inspired by. I love the Golden Age and Art Deco kind of aesthetic that were popular for book illustration. Seeing Kay Nielsen’s illustrations for ‘East of the Sun West of the Moon’ as a kid is what made me want to become a painter I think, so I’m always excited when we get Nielsen books in at my job.Country of the Pointed Firs

That sounds so inspiring! Is there anything else you can think of that has been inspiring you?

Recently I’ve been most interested in doing paintings that are set in Maine, which is where I’m from originally. As a kid I didn’t really appreciate the very stark and kind of puritanical aesthetic of the scenery and architecture but now I’m realizing those things really influenced the way I paint. What made me make that connection I think was when I started noticing painters, whose work I connected with really strongly, were also from Maine or spent time living there. There seems to me to be a kind of purity and simplicity that’s common in the work of those artists.

Would you say that environment affects you a lot? What about outside of art? Does it have a strong influence on your mood and lifestyle?

Yes, definitely I think my environment does affect me strongly. In terms of my life outside of art, I value alone time and being outdoors and especially like being able to combine the two which is difficult living in NYC haha. Graveyards are a good place to get that. I think those things probably come from growing up in Maine.

Do you think people are the same everywhere? Or that the people you meet differ a lot depending on the city?

I guess we are all inherently the same, but I definitely think a city like New York changes people. I’ve been here for about 8 years I think and I’ve had to adapt a lot. It has made me much more capable but also a lot more jaded haha. I was recently saying to a guy I met that when I found out he had only been living in the city for about a year I was thinking ‘oh good he hasn’t been ruined yet.’How Sad How Lovely.jpg

So where do you think the colors of green that you use in your work stem from?

Green has Always been my favorite color. I never saw a green I didn’t like, except neon green I guess. I think it’s a very simple color and doesn’t seem contrived. There are a lot of colors I don’t use because I find them kind of jarring or inharmonious.  

Do your aesthetic preferences clash with pop culture?

Yeah probably, definitely with pop art. My subjects and style are a little old fashioned I think. I’ve always liked older things better, old furniture, old houses, old books, just not old men haha.

What about your values? Are you fairly traditional?

In some ways I guess. I would like to get married someday which is starting to seem like it’s becoming an anachronism but I also believe in not judging and allowing people to live in whatever way seems best to them which traditional values didn’t leave room for. That’s an interesting question that I hadn’t thought a huge amount about.Island in Maine.jpg

I think it’s interesting because it’s like the new alternative.

Yeah I agree, I wonder if marriage is going to die out. I find the culture of our generation, especially in NY, to be kind of emotionally stunted and lacking in intimacy. But I also think this generation has made a lot of great social progress in recent years in terms of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, racial equality, etc. Although it’s still so far from being enough.

How do you think “hookup culture” plays into that?

Yeah the whole ‘hookup culture’ is kind of soul sucking to me because it seems there isn’t any other alternative. I’m not sure if that’s mostly a New York thing though or if it’s much more widespread.

Emily’s work can be found at or on her instagram @_Emilypettigrew_

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