Paper-Cuts, Subcultures and Infinite Spaces
April 28, 2019
E mily, we’d love to get to know you better. Tell us about your personal and artistic journey. How did you get to where you are today?
Like most kids, I was always creating while I was growing up. I was constantly either drawing, writing or acting. Initially, theatre was my main focus. I was engrossed with fantasies of performing on the theatrical stage. However, I was still always painting and drawing as a hobby.
In community college I double majored both theatre and studio art. When I transferred from college to University, I decided to pursue the Cal State University Study Abroad Program. Fortunately, I was able to live in England to study theatre at the University of Hull for one academic year. It was an amazing experience — one of the best of my life thus far — and during my travels around the UK and EU I started to become enchanted with the visual art that I saw at the grand art museums.
I was so affected by the art that I saw that in 2012, after I came back from England, I went to Cal State Long Beach and switched my majors from theatre to art. I’ve never looked back and nothing has ever felt more right for me. And I’ve been seriously pursuing art ever since.
For the readers that aren’t familiar with your work, can you describe it to us?
Sure! I consider my practice quite multi-disciplinary. My earlier work is much more traditional — being mainly large scale figurative charcoal drawings and oil paintings. I was focused on portraying subjects who belong to certain subcultures and express themselves through their sense of dress and fashion. Lately I incorporate mixed media such as paper-cut, Straw Marquetry and embroidery into my practice as well. I am interested in using materials that are predominantly thought of as craft or decor, playing on a tradition of work which is considered “woman’s work.”
Tell us about your most recent series, “Inner Realms” what or who influenced you to create this body of work?
Inner Realms featured nine works on paper which were made between 2015 and 2018. The title Inner Realms describes the internal psychological visions of my subjects expressed by means of personal dress and decor.
My urge to focus on subcultures (Goth, Dandy, Punk, etc) as a focal point of my work had re-emerged from a couple years of dormancy. In addition to clothing and fashion being a dominate signifier of subculture, I am also interested in home decor and our daily performances as outward displays of our identity.
Relating to my background in theater, I am interested in the way an actor dons on a costume to play a certain role. The stage is set with props, and in conjunction with the costume and gestures the audience can read the important details of a scene even before the actor has uttered a word.
You’ve been experimenting with paper-cut outs in your most recent work, what do you like the most about exploring this technique?
For me the most exciting aspect of paper-cutting is the ability for me to play with pictorial space. Before paper-cut, I used an established language of 2D flattened space (such as patterns), and 3D rendered space (such as the rendered human form). The marriage of these two spaces were used metaphorically to describe a sort of liminal reality.
In addition to these two spaces, paper-cut now offers a third space: the infinite. I love the way shadows now interact with the work, while the pieces are hung on the wall. Shadows can be thought of being symbolic for the unknown, the mysterious, etc. All of these spaces and interactions are very exciting to me.
How do you describe your personal aesthetic and does it match your work?
I wear a lot of black and I draw and paint with a lot of black. I’d like to think of my work as an extension to my personal aesthetic. The term “gothic” has been used to describe both my personal dress and my artwork, although that is not necessarily my personal word for either.
Although, I don’t mind “gothic” as a deceptive word, because I feel like the goth-subculture explores romanticism, nostalgia, and darkness which are themes that are embedded in my work.
Are you reading any books or listening to any podcasts at the moment?
Yes, I am a very enthusiastic reader and podcaster. Right now I am reading The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. She is becoming one of my favorite authors! I am also reading a very dense contemporary art book called Replacing Home: From Primordial Hut to Digital Network in Contemporary Art by Jennifer Johung. I’ve been slowly reading that book all year, and it is really been influential on me and my work.
As far as podcasts, I’m always looking for ways to learn as I work. I avidly listen to NPR’s Politics Podcast, Sam Harris’ Making Sense, Hidden Brain, and a bunch of true crime shows. If I’m not listing to a podcast or music, my guilty pleasure is listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks narrated by Stephen Fry.
Who or what have been your best teachers and/or mentors in life and art and what have been their most memorable advice?
At Cal State Long Beach I had many very good professors who taught me an incredible amount. Yu Ji, Marie Thibeault, Fran Siegel, Siobhan McClure, and Dominic Cretera to name a few. Apart from that, I keep a very close community of fellow artists around me at all times. I am so grateful for this, as it creates a reciprocal feedback loop of inspiration and support.
Do you have a side job or hussle that supports your artistic career?
I work at a bookstore. It’s great, and I’m lucky enough to be able to support myself and not have to work full time. That way I can dedicate as much time to art making as possible.
With the daily stress of life and simultaneous projects, how do you stay motivated?
I am lucky. Making art is an obsession of mine. I have to do it to maintain my sense of well-being. I try and keep focused on the bigger picture of my body of work as an integrated whole.
However, I also incorporate my artistic lifestyle into all manner of daily activities, directly or indirectly related to my studio practice. For example I consider hiking and physical fitness to be other aspect of making art, as it is during my solitary hikes that I contemplate my work and come up with new ideas.
What are you working on next?
I am really looking forward to finishing some figurative paintings which I have put on the back burner until my show at Flatline in May is fully installed. I also have ideas for some more fairly large paper-cuts and embroidery pieces which further explore my ideas of home and belonging.
Stay in touch with Emily