Taking inspiration from the silhouettes and archives found in the London’s V&A Museum, UK-based artist Rosie Emerson has found a way to take traditional subject matter and make it feel new. Through employing new and old techniques, layering and utilizing different mediums, Rosie presents her classic subjects in a totally unique way.
We recently had the chance to do a Q & A with Rosie to talk more about what she’s up to these days and here more about what inspires her. Read below to hear more about her recent work, what inspires her, and what’s keeping her motivated during these unusual times.
Q: Given the world we’re living in right now, it feels like it’s important to start off by checking in. How are you doing and how has the past month been like for you?
Rosie Emerson: I’m fine, thank you. I’m feeling grateful for my health and my garden. The first few weeks were a very anxious time but I have curbed my intake of news and have refocused my energies to the things I can control and am feeling much more positive for it.
Q: Since social distancing began in the UK you’ve been using Instagram in interesting ways to connect with your audience and rally support for your art and others. Can you talk a little bit about how that has been going and what your experience has been like with that?
Rosie Emerson: Yes, I had a number of exhibitions and art fairs cancelled so have been using Instagram as a way to share my works and what I’m currently working on. I have done a few Instagram Lives which have been fun— I did one where I was hand painting some of my etchings, and another where I was building a little theatre set to photograph. It was fun interacting with people, answering questions and showing people around my studio. My process can be quite detailed and it’s always obviously apparent in the final prints that I have made the theatre sets by hand or that I photograph my models in my studio. Now felt like a good time to explain the process in more detail.
Q: Now for the question we’re asking just about everyone these days: what have you been doing to keep yourself in a creative mindset while you’ve been saying home?
Rosie Emerson: I’m lucky in that my studio is at my home, and I am quite used to being fairly disciplined and shutting the studio door behind me. I’m used to working quite a lot in solitude. The biggest challenge has been to juggle looking after my two kids, who are 2 and 4, but my husband and I are managing between the two of us; they are full of creativity and sense of wonder. If I can’t physically make my work for several days, my mind will always be plotting the next piece or series.
Q: Your work often incorporates a vintage aesthetic from a modern perspective, whether it’s a juxtaposition of subjects in the work or the way that color and texture is added to the piece. Tell us about an example of a work of yours that exemplifies the concept of “modern vintage”.
Rosie Emerson: Yes you’re spot on. Many of my works use vintage photography while others are contemporary portraits I take in the studio, but I always like that look from another era. My screen prints, rather than being crisp ink prints, are created using unusual materials like charcoal and bronze powders, even ash and sawdust. I think they add a much softer focus and a delicate texture to the piece.
I think one piece which is a good example of Modern Vintage is the Brigitte Bardot piece. It has that old Hollywood glamour to it. I added in the palm tree— which was from a photograph I took in Morocco. For a modern twist, I elongated the body so that it appears as if she has subsumed the pedestal she was placed upon.
Q: A lot of your work references the style and feel of past decades, even centuries. Is there a time period that you frequently return to artistically, and if so, which?
Rosie Emerson: There’s so many it’s hard to choose! I adore them all— from Grecian and Egyptian goddess to Art Deco flapper girls. I love Florence and the baroque Italian interiors, but If I had to choose one I’d say the pre-raphaelite era is one I return to again and again; I love the photography from this period too.
Q: When we think of your work, we think of muted, sophisticated and timeless colors: deep blues, sepia, grayscale, pinks. If you had to create a whole series with just one color (different tints, tones and shades are allowed), which would you choose?
Rosie Emerson: Great question. I immediately thought monochrome, because I am etching at the moment. I am very comfortable with greys, blacks and whites— but I’d love to throw a bit of gold in there too.
Q: Given that this month marks a big anniversary for KBFA and we’re feeling introspective: what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned since your first started working as an artist?
Rosie Emerson: There have been lots, but I’d say learning to trust my gut and the honesty and authenticity of the work. This extends to the people I work with, too. Feeling happy in my own skin has given me the freedom to take risks. If I know exactly how something will turn out, making it doesn’t interest me. I love to experiment, as I’ve been doing with some of my latest Photopolymer etchings. I have put different materials (netting, feathers, seeds, cellophane, salt) through the press with an inked etching plate to create both a silhouette and a subtle embossing on the paper.I like the mindset of leap then look.
Q: It’s hard to plan far in advance these days, but what are you 100% certain you will be doing in the next two weeks?
Rosie Emerson: I have an admin list as long as my arm which I’m going to try and ignore! I’m going to try and experiment making some landscapes with fabric and plaster and I will add some figures wading through the sea later on when I can photograph people. I like the idea of figures moving through the plaster, on a journey, but also part of the landscape.
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