Artist Spotlight: Emma Burry’s Longing Expanse

Newfoundland’s Emma Burry uses our island as a template for her award-winning piece, Longing Expanse, selected for the annual BMO 1st Art! Competition


For 16 years, BMO Financial Group’s 1st Art! Competition has honoured visual arts excellence for post-secondary institutions from coast to coast. That includes right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, where Memorial University of Newfoundland, Grenfell Campus graduate Emma Burry was selected as our provincial recipient for her submission, Longing Expansive. 

‘Pretty Overwhelming’

“I couldn’t get over it really,” says Burry of the honour. “It was pretty overwhelming. I was shaking for two days after.”

Annually, the BMO 1st Art! Competition selects 13 emerging artists across Canada, with one national winner and 12 regional, awarding cash prizes to the selectees as well as showcasing the winning pieces at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery in the University of Toronto from November 15 to December 8th. 

The St. John’s native, now living in Carbonear, was encouraged by the top notch educators at Grenfell to apply to the competition. 

“We’re fortunate in Newfoundland to have Grenfell. It’s the only art school on the island and they really try to enforce it because it makes such a difference with us being from a small province to kind of give us the opportunity to get out there in the world,” Burry explains.

Having studied visual arts at Grenfell, Burry recently accepted an offer to progress her education at the renowned Emily Carr University in British Columbia, taking her talents from east to west once more.

‘Constants For Me’

But Newfoundland and Labrador will never be far from her heart. It is, in fact, the backbone of her work.

“I feel like Newfoundland is a very interesting place to grow up,” says Burry. “Unlike most places we have so much nature around us. We have the ocean next door as our neighbour. I grew up as an only child and I spent pretty much all my summers growing up with both sets of my grandparents. They both live in rural, outport Newfoundland and their houses are both right on the water. I’d play out on the water, and there weren’t very many people around, so the ocean became a really important piece of my life. As I grew up, families are in a constant shift and change. My parents went through a divorce. I continued to be alone for a lot of it. The horizon and the ocean were kind of constants for me.”

Burry’s submission, titled Longing Expansive, is inspired by our island. Consisting of two panels connected by finely woven strands of blue yarn, the piece represents solitude and comfort that comes with being surrounded by sky and sea, something we Newfoundlanders know all too well. 

“My biggest thing with my artwork was to try to find a way to represent this constant, which was the horizon,” Burry explains. “Every-time you look out it’s there. It doesn’t matter if it’s foggy, rainy or sunny, you can still see it. I started to think about the horizon as this metaphoric space. It’s not tangible, you can’t touch it and you can’t get there, but when you look out at it you almost live in it. For me that space was where I could figure my thoughts out and be who I wanted to be and I could live my life.

“In my artwork I was really striving to try to represent that and make it a physical space, a physical thing that people could actually see and touch and try to bring them into my world. Instead of looking out and seeing a line you see a woven area. 

“The process of making Longing Expanse ended up becoming almost like a friendship or a relationship between me and the work,” she adds. “I spent hours weaving it and knitting it together and really fabricating this space that I had always thought of in my head as being real and being there, but now just bringing it alive and giving others the opportunity to be able to experience themselves.”

Inspired by Home

Burry acknowledges that Newfoundland and Labrador is now and always will be, her muse. Whether living on the west coast of the island, Canada or farther abroad, the call of home and the memories of that sky and horizon, will always impact her art. 

“I think if I lived somewhere else or grew up somewhere else it would be completely different. I wouldn’t have the same connection that I do to the environment around me and to the ocean and to the horizon. I think Newfoundland is a huge part of growing up and now my practice and how I think things through.”

For more on the 2018 BMO 1st Art! Competition visit If you’re in Ontario, check out Burry’s Longing Expanse when it is showcased at the University of Toronto this fall.

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