Art Night 2019, Artist interview: Emma Talbot

by Cass Art

This year Cass Art is supporting Art Night and commissioned artist Emma Talbot. Emma will be exhibiting her new series of paintings on silk at The William Morris Gallery and other locations throughout Walthamstow. We caught up with Emma to talk about her work, the materials she uses and the upcoming Art Night.

Art Night is London’s largest free contemporary art festival, and this year the fourth edition will showcase contemporary art in locations across Walthamshow as part of Waltham Forest, London Borough of Culture 2019 and King’s Cross for one unforgettable night on Saturday 22nd June 2019.

Hi Emma, thanks for taking the time out of your busy preparations for Art Night to chat with us!

Firstly could you tell us a bit about your journey as an artist?

I was always drawing from very young, and think I always wanted to be an artist. I went to art schools in Canterbury, Birmingham and the Royal College of Art. But the significant turning point for me was when I became a widow in 2006. It felt like my life had crashed - but to be honest, it helped me work out what was important. Making art seemed to give me a space to reflect on what I was thinking and feeling, and I realised I could let go of worrying about whether I was making ‘good art’ and make whatever I wanted, just for me, about things I really cared about.

Emma Talbot, ’Suspended In Natural Space-Time’ (2019) Watercolour on Khadi paper, 30cm x 42cm. Photo Emma Talbot

And how did you come to be involved in Art Night 2019?

Helen Nisbet, the Artistic Director of Art Night, posted an announcement about Art Night being in Walthamstow. I told her I was really happy to hear that, as I’m based in E17 - and she came to the studio. The commission came about through our conversations.

Details of Work in Progress for the Art Night commission for the William Morris Museum. ‘Your Own Authority’, Acrylic on Silk photo credit: Emma Talbot

For the event you’re exhibiting at the William Morris Gallery, and also throughout Walthamstow. Is it a bit daunting to show in a building with such a rich creative history? 

More exciting than daunting. It’s great to have the opportunity to make work for such amazing sites and to think about how to respond to these spaces in an inventive way. Both the venues I’ll be showing in have very distinct histories and features, which present lots of ideas about what to make.

Emma Talbot, ’Portal' (2019) Watercolour on Khadi paper, 30cm x 42cm. Photo Emma Talbot

I can see a connection to William Morris in your use of pattern and floral motifs – are artists such as Morris a big influence for you in this side of your visual language?

My work takes on lots of ideas from decorative visual languages but I tend to make up the patterns and motifs I use, based on my ideas, rather than already existing things. There will be a conceptual reference to William Morris in the commission, thinking about how nature is organised and comes to represent ideas/ideals - there are lots of plants in the work, but I’m not directly using any of his iconic patterns.

I’m also responding to Madge Gill’s work, which will be on show at the William Morris Museum at the same time as my piece. Madge Gill was a spiritualist and an outsider artist and made some incredible work. My work opens out the idea that we all have an individual voice, but we’re simultaneously part of a much bigger scheme – a multiverse.

Emma Talbot, ’Floating in Visions’ (2019) Watercolour on Khadi paper, 30cm x 42cm. Photo Emma Talbot

And speaking of visual there seems to be nods to many other cultures, styles and histories – particularly relating to womanhood and femininity, with some of your work almost acting as a Yoni meets O’Keefe moment. Where are your other sources of inspiration?

I’m really interested in imaginative representation; I prefer images that are linked to inventive ideas rather than the rules of Western ‘realism’. So, I’m really into the kind of imagery you mention – ancient and non-western approaches to depiction, early medieval painting, mysticism, folk art, outsider art, non-objective representation and poetic modernism. I want to see how the interior world of thought can be represented in idiosyncratic ways. I think this kind of image-making can more accurately represent experience. I admire feminist writers (Cixous, Irigaray, Millet, Acker, Nin) who identified the need for women to be able to articulate their experiences on their own terms, in their own language(s). Everyone has the right to do that.

The narratives within your work have a wonderfully reflective and melancholic tone – would you say that melancholy is a state of being that informs your work?

Reflective thinking informs my work – the kind of thinking that slows everything down or suspends us in another conscious space – like dreaming or reading, listening to music. The subject of the work, life experience and consciousness, draws out all kinds of feelings, including melancholy.

Details of Work in Progress for the Art Night commission for the William Morris Museum. ‘Your Own Authority’, Acrylic on Silk photo credit: Emma Talbot

It’s interesting that the figures in your paintings are faceless – how did you find your way to this conscious omission?

The figures in my work are based on what it feels like to be me, seen in my mind’s eye. We can’t ever see our own faces, except in reflection – we look out at the world as if through a portal, unaware of our own facial features. Also, I wanted to let the viewer imagine who the depicted figure or voice of the narrative is, to project onto them, without worrying about recognising someone specific.

Emma Talbot, ‘Open Thoughts' (2018) Acrylic on silk, Never Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen, Germany. Photo Achim Kukulies

Your work takes you across paper, material and canvas and even sculpture!  Could you talk us through your use of materials?

The starting point is always drawing, with watercolour on paper. The larger painted works are extensions of the drawings, usually acrylic on silk. I like the fact that silk is fluid and the painting can be any shape. The 3D work is like making my drawings in 3 dimensions. Many of the 3D works are made from hand painted fabric - there’s a big cross over between all the ways I work.

And if I delved in your studio what would I find; are there any specific brands you tend to return to?

I always use Golden Acrylic and Windsor and Newton watercolour, but you’d find lots of other fabrics and materials.

Details of Work in Progress for the Art Night commission for the William Morris Museum. ‘Your Own Authority’, Acrylic on Silk photo credit: Emma Talbot

Apart from your own work of course! What other events are you most excited about for Art Night 2019?

So many great things! I’m looking forward to Jo Namy’s Automobile and commissions by Zadie Xa, Frances Stark and Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings.

And finally, what’s next on the horizon? 

I’ve got some things coming up that I’m really excited about – one person shows at the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, Dundee Contemporary Arts and Eastside Projects in Birmingham.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us Emma. Good luck with the installation and we can’t wait to come and see the work at Art Night 2019!


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Find out more about Art Night 2019

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