Feature A Deep Dive into Emily Ponsonby’s Paintings

Championed by Ocki Magill
The Wick - Waterbed, Emily Ponsonby, Beeswax & Oil
Above  Waterbed, Emily Ponsonby, Beeswax & Oil
The Wick - Emily Ponsonby
Above  Emily Ponsonby
Emily Ponsonby & Ocki Magill
Escape The Ordinary, Emily Ponsonby
23 June 2022
Emily Ponsonby & Ocki Magill
Escape The Ordinary, Emily Ponsonby
23 June 2022
Blue Shop Cottage founder Ocki Magill is a true advocate for artists. At her gallery in Camberwell, south east London, which she established in 2018, she champions emerging and mid-career artists through an impressive programme of solo and group shows, workshops and residencies. One such artist is Emily Ponsonby, known for her celebration of the female form.

Ocki Magill says: “I’ve often said that when you’re exhibiting art in a space it needs to have a personal connection to you, a deep pull that connects you to the artist, their process or ideas in the work. When talking about Emily Ponsonby and her work, this couldn’t be truer. I had been a long admirer of the way Emily approached the body from back when she was living in South Africa. Making these beautifully delicate figurative works that held so much movement within them, Emily was showing a standout quality in the way she portrayed the body. It was as if the women she was painting were about to leap up out of the paper and glide confidently across the room. It was clear that Ponsonby’s ability to paint confidently, but with limited marks onto the surface, was something I had tuned into and over the next year or so I watched develop.”
Ponsonby’s work questions how it feels to be nude, to be natural and to be of the earth. She helps her models see their bodies through the eyes of an artist. To appreciate the beauty of their existence.

In 2020, her work began exploring the remedial effects of water, and her watercolour bathers emerged. It was also the first time she worked with Ocki Magill on Blue Shop Cottage’s first rendition of ‘Works On Paper’ – Ponsonby’s works all sold in the first hour of launching.

Magill says: “Emily had travelled off to Tuscany with another friend in her ‘Honda Jazz swollen with canvasses’ to do a self-initiated residency and I watched eagerly as jams were potted and bodies were submerged in cold baths and lakes. Her figures literally emerged from water on a solid dry surface – I remember seeing these works and feeling genuinely moved by them, by how she’d captured that feeling when your warm body emerges from cold water.

“In the heat of that first lockdown as a nation and as a planet we were at once alone but with anxious minds needing and seeking refreshment. Her bathers hit us where we needed to go. We all needed a leap into a cold lake, a shake-up, a ‘shedding of worries and thoughts – finding a tonic’.”

Ponsonby adds: “For years I’ve concentrated on painting a sensation or state of mind rather than a perfect representation of a fixed moment in time. It seems, from the humbling stories I received, that people saw their own inner worlds within these works, within the waves. In a time when our freedom was restricted, they were a tingling release of weightlessness in body and mind.”

Ponsonby and Magill teamed up again in the summer of 2021 for the Blue Cottage Shop’s ‘Bucolia’ group show, which featured four of her works. You can next see her creations in the group show ‘Act One’ this September, which will be curated by Jenny Webber and Fenella Brownlee.

Magill adds: “Emily is a brave artist, she moves herself around, often alone, to source her inspiration and as she connects with others, reading as she goes, absorbing the world around her, her practice develops and builds.”

About the champion

The Wick - Ocki Magill

In 2016, Ocki Magill found and renovated a derelict shop in Camberwell and named the building Blue Shop Cottage. In 2018, she founded its namesake gallery, opening with a sell-out show by Rose Electra Harris. As the gallery continues to thrive, 2022 will see the opening of its second exhibition space in South London, a larger space set across two floors where artists and collectors can immerse themselves.

“Her bathers hit us where we needed to go. We all needed a leap into a cold lake, a shake-up.”

Place of Birth

London, UK


Foundation at City & Guilds, three years at Leith School of Art, Edinburgh, and a year at The Royal Drawing School.

Awards, Accolades

Artist in residence at Villa Lena, Italy, and Casa Balandra, Mallorca, 2021.

Current exhibitions

‘Act One’, a group show this September, curated by Jenny Webber and Fenella Brownlee, and my next solo show is emerging gently, scaling the studio walls like a gecko.

Spiritual guides, Mentors

Rainer Maria Rilke for his wisdom, the sculptor Clare Trenchard for her zest and honesty, and crashing waves for bringing endless clarity and optimism.


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

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