Artist Statement

Emily Haag is a contemporary abstract expressionist based in New Jersey and is known for her sculptural sand compositions. Haag’s works center around the physicality of the material and how it plays with light and shadow, while simultaneously peaking into the inner workings of mental health.

With a BFA in Painting from Rhode Island School of Design, Haag works spontaneously and unrestrained. While studying at RISD, Haag’s works transformed from realism and still lifes to expressive and thick abstracts. Her works grow dense and heavy, being physically boisterous. 

Haag’s style of painting embodies meditation and a search for understanding one’s mental health. Through her processes of meditation, self-reflection, and manipulation of material, Haag strives to capture something that cannot be seen or shown, but rather felt.

I have always had a fascination with sharks. Their sleek lines, quick movements, their ability to instill terror. You feel a presence, but know you are incapable of controlling or changing its will… Imagine swimming in the middle of the ocean, the water calm, black, unable to see what lies beneath you. You’re being watched, hunted; not knowing what is coming for you until it’s too late. It’s the uncontrollable, the unseen, the mysteriousness, and the overwhelming weight of vulnerability. These emotions manifest themselves within me daily, and I have found my love for sharks to be a parallel to respecting and embracing the unknowns that surround me every day.


I begin each work impulsively and spontaneously. There is no planning or preconceived end product when I begin creating, as working towards an end goal immediately ruins the organic nature of my work. Mixing the sand into acrylic has become as much a part of the art as the piece itself. Shoveling layers of sand mixture, forming peaks and dunes, scraping away, carving, and building; the composition comes second to the process of manipulating the materials. The work itself is very physical, and quite literally heavy, with its own form of disorder in its materiality. Each piece I labor over consists of these thick sculptural marks that have a mix of harsh lines and deep scraping as well as organic forms that are built up to create natural shadows within each piece, and on the wall they are displayed on. You can see the thickness of the material and how it extends towards the viewer and tries to escape its own boundaries. Working with the sand mixture requires quick and intentional movements, for once it dries the form cannot be erased. 

The challenge and limitation of the sand mixture is very energizing, using motifs of memory and current states of emotional wellbeing to guide it. Sand is a very provocative material, soft and inviting, while simultaneously abrasive and irritating. Sand can greatly affect one’s mood, whether it gets stuck in your bathing suit or you let it run through your fingers and rest between your toes. The sand often evokes enjoyable memories and experiences of going to my grandparents’ beach house in the warm summer months. The rhythmic motion of the crashing waves gives a sense of comfort and familiarity. Jacques Benveniste theorized that water holds memory. Now a widespread cliché made known through the popular Disney film, the theory still rings true to my process. Memory is very important to my work, and can often be blurred or distorted by time. While the oceanic water has yet to hold a physical presence in my works, sand is its placeholder, often more pronounced. Sand, in its own right, is very important in my art making as a pushing and pulling of irritation and satisfaction that sand allows me to feel is reminiscent of what I want my works to express.

I once had a professor tell me to be the shark of my paintings, to attack the paintings like a shark. I think about this frequently. Working through my paintings I realize that I am both the shark and its prey. I struggle and fear this unknown, but I also attack it; I get extreme anxiety as an artist, but I strive to use that to my advantage and make meaningful work for myself.