Emily Counts, Artist


Portland is a place where, so the saying goes, the ’90s are alive and well. And it may very well be the only place that could have spawned an artist like Emily Counts, who deals with the self-reflective nostalgia of outdated technological innovations once found in her childhood home: dial-up telephones sculpted in porcelain and stoneware, a life-size fax machine, an interactive Mac SE computer made from walnut, casting epoxy, glass, porcelain, copper, and electrical wiring that acts as a two-way mirror after a button is pressed on the keyboard, lighting up the sculpture’s interior. “I’m interested in the mystery of these inventions that we seem to take for granted in our everyday life,” says the 35-year-old Seattle native, who we first spotted on photographer Carlie Armstrong’s blog Work.Place. “For me, there’s a thin line between technology and magic.”

Magic, of course, is another particularly west-coast fascination, and Counts regularly incorporates it into pieces like painted plywood volcanoes bursting with latex lava, oversized crystals, and mystical ceramic heads. Although Counts received her BFA in painting from the California College of Arts and Crafts, she’s resolutely a mixed-media artist, and she says that sculpting clay actually comes more naturally to her than brushwork. “When I’m working on a painting, I have to be constantly inventive and creative at all times,” she says. “I like that sculpture allows breaks in my process, when I can sit and mold and do something without thinking. Sculpture is more meditative.” For her face figurines, though, her glazes act like paint; they’re delicately pigmented with real white- and yellow-gold luster. (Lusters being solutions containing real gold and other metals, which after firing at a relatively lower temperature, fuse to the glossy glaze.) “It’s important to me that the gold is real,” she adds. “It gives the end product more meaning and value.”

Along with her signature use of gold, Counts’ other trademark technique is her distinctive use of poured epoxy resin, a corroded-looking coating that gives her sculptures a sense of fluidity, movement, and decay. She makes the pieces in a spacious studio in the basement of her North Portland home, where Armstrong shot the photos for her blog that we’ve borrowed for this story. The setup allows Counts to be as messy as necessary. “When you’re experimenting with resin, there’s always a learning curve involved,” she says. “That being so, it’s nice to have a forgiving concrete floor.” Though the space is convenient — especially considering her habit of working late into the night, every night — she admits it can get lonely. “But I also like that solitary time; I’m addicted to surprising myself, and that’s why I make art.”