The Stochasticism of Emily Kraus

Feature / July 2022

The Stochasticism of Emily Kraus

By Emily Blundell Owers

       American artist Emily Kraus has spent the last seven months producing paintings within the confines of her own strange invention. The structure is formed of a metal cubic scaffold, around which Kraus has stretched a raw canvas loop. She paints inside the space, and must shift the canvas manually as she goes, a process as disorienting as it is physically strenuous.

The paintings produced by this method are a far cry from what one might expect, having observed the rigid and industrial form of Kraus’ workspace. The marks are organic, repeating, but never quite identical patterns. Look closely and within them you might see echoes of natural forms — fish scales, snakeskin, veins. Closer, one even begins to recognise the twisted helixes of cellular biology. Having perceived these likenesses, it was tempting to compare Kraus’ process of creation to that of a god perfecting their “designs”. I was particularly drawn to this notion after learning of the artist’s background in religious practices: Kraus has spent time immersed in both Buddhist philosophy and Hindu folk religion, obtaining her degree in religious studies in 2017.

This transcendental parallel, however, turned out to be in direct contrast with Kraus’ truth: rather than deliberate or even fully conscious mark-making, the process of creating within the metal cube is one defined by the unknown. The structure, in Kraus’ words, is both a “shelter [and] tabernacle” as well as “a constraint and a boundary”. The paintings produced within it cannot be understood in any real way until they are removed and observed as a whole. This is, Kraus agrees, far closer to a metaphor for human existence than that of any all-powerful creator, her practice a reflection of how we make lives for ourselves within the material, often oppressive conditions of our existence. The canvas itself is a “looping world” patterned with experience — one that we continue to daub at, spurred on by “chance and surprise and belief and faith”.

Although Kraus sometimes intentionally alters the effects she makes based on that which she has previously observed in her loops, utilizing the small modicum of control allowed by her experience, the process each time yields almost entirely unpredictable results. Like any action we take, we cannot know with certainty the resulting reaction: all we can do is use our growing understanding of the limitations and potential of the structures we find ourselves in – be they societal, institutional, or indeed physical – to produce the effects that we desire.

There is, undoubtedly, a certain human delight in coaxing out beauty from difficult conditions. Unlike her previous figurative work, which Kraus describes as “attempts to reproduce images that already exist in the mind”, her series, entitled The Stochastic Paintings’ is closer to “dancing with a rigid partner”. The structure must be convinced – even tricked – into making such organic, beautiful marks, when by its very nature it appears “staccato, sharp,” and unyielding.

Indeed, Kraus began working this way as a direct response to the physical limitations imposed on her practice during her MA in painting at the Royal College of Art. Having previously worked on a much larger scale, Kraus found herself confined to an 8ft-by-8ft studio, devoid of natural light, unable even to step back and observe her work. Ironically, her first foray into formal artistic study, a pursuit once lauded for its explorative potential, here felt constrictive. “There’s less money, less space than ever before in these institutions” she explains; “even the studios look like office cubicles”. The first cubic structure was devised almost as a “fuck you” to the institution itself, a way to underscore its comical restrictiveness whilst still utilising it fully: walls, ceiling, and floor.

Kraus fully recognises that these restrictions have been the genesis for a whole new way of thinking in her practice; necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. This, she believes, is “just the start” of her exploration into how these structures can be used and adapted to create work. What the future holds is a testament to the fact that “working by contingency and the need to adapt” can produce ideas which, if followed doggedly to the ends of their potential, can allow you to move outside of the circumstances which produced them. After graduating, Kraus intends to create structures in different shapes, to engineer new automatic ways of looping the canvas, and even to create stacked scaffolds which she can move between. She will of course need more space, more resources, more time: “I’m not sure yet how it will all work. I’m still figuring out the mechanics”.

Image Credits:
1-5.  Images Courtesy of Emily Kraus