The Kennedy Center

Emily McPeek


Van Nuys, California
First Award: $10,000
Age: 19
"Painting has made me who I am and who I am has made my painting."
Emily McPeek doesn't remember a time in her early childhood when she didn't have a pencil in her hand, ready to draw. Her early art-making years were inspired by cartoons and comic strips, where the malleability of cartoon character faces could be fashioned to reflect any expression or feeling. McPeek came to oil paints later in her teens, and it is this medium that she now considers her "life-long partner."
McPeek fills her canvases with detail, whether it is the monumental bodies of three women praying or a tableau of the people and wares of a fruit stand. McPeek meshes realistic depiction with cartoon-ish exaggerations that distort and reshape figures and forms. Capping the distended bodies are halos, which function as a tool to transform her paintings into icons. While not explicitly religious or unreligious, McPeek's paintings-as-icons reflect her love for humankind and always feature common folk. McPeek, who has Tourette syndrome, says she paints to illuminate her subject matter's divinity and inherent beauty, even, as the artist states "they have an oddity about themselves as I do. Human beings are imperfect, but that is exactly what makes them great."
McPeek is currently an undergraduate student the Roski School of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California.
Emily McPeek