Props, costumes, dramatic lighting; flowers, faces and tumbling fabrics. All these things feature in the work of Rosie Emerson, an artist who draws on mythology, history and today's fashion industry to elevate women to goddess-like creatures.
Emerson is one of the Artists in Residence at the National Open Art Exhibition, which will be running at Somerset House until 25th October. She will be working live inside the exhibition, making a bespoke Cynaotype print, and you can see her working on 8th - 12th October. On the 8th, 11th and 12th October she will be giving an artist walkabout tour at 12 noon, so make sure you catch her then.
In the meantime, we asked Rosie about the otherwordly women in her art, and the crossover of natural matter and art materials that she uses to make her pieces.
You work in a variety of media, but your subject matter is consistent – haunting images of goddesses and sirens, women from another world…What is it that inspires you to make work about these women?
I have always been interested in how women project themselves and how society projects women on an aesthetic level. From mythology, art history through to today’s beauty and fashion editorials the female figure has been elevated, beyond the everyday. I am conscious that I do not make portraits, but create facades of women; sometimes the women look strong, goddess-like, and sometimes vulnerable. I sit in unhappy paradox with the work I make. I am always lured by the beautiful, and beautiful is a word as controversial in today’s art word as it is in feminist debate.
If you could choose any one woman to sit for you in your studio, who would you choose?
Grace Jones, although Naomi Campbell has an amazing profile.
You’re not afraid of using costumes, props and theatrical lighting. Do you think this brings a sense of performance to your work?
Yes, my figures are always staged, and are acting with an awareness of the camera; I like to think that gives a sense of theatre. I did shoot a 3-minute Super 8 film, ‘White Knight’ which was the model looking into the lens continuously for the duration of the film; that certainly has an element of performance to it.
Why do you also use natural materials like ash and charcoal?
It’s fun and more unpredictable to use unusual materials, like powders. I started using sawdust in conjunction with screen-printing. Screen-printing lends itself to bold and graphic work; I wanted to soften and feminise the work. Charcoal leaves streams of pigment, which gives movement to the work, which I like in contrast with the stillness of the models.
You work across collage, drawing, painting and print-making – but do you have a favorite medium?
It is always changing; everything is always collage ’in essence’ to me, if that makes sense; I cut things up and bring things together. I am loving working with Cyanotype photography. The process uses the UV light from the sun; I work with real size photographic negatives and then collage with objects directly on the surface of the print, sometimes moving them during the exposure. It is a magical process, watching things expose and develop, and not knowing exactly how the piece will turn out.
What’s your favourite drawing tool and why?
I love drawing with ink. There is no going back with ink, and it forces me to be brave and to work quite fast, with energy and commitment.
What kind of work are you going to be making during the National Open Art Artist Residency?
I am very excited about the work I am going to make during my NOA residency. I am going to make a bespoke Cyanotype print which will be exposed directly over drawings taken from the architectural details of Somerset house. The end work will be on paper, and will be a figurative blend of the hand drawn, analogue photography, and it will then area’s will be hand gilded with gold leaf.
You can read more about the NOA National Open Art Exhibition here.
Visit Rosie Emerson's website here.