Interview by Jess Petrylak
Who is Emma Magenta?
I am an artist, author and now I’m heading into film making.
In your TEDx talk, you stated that with art and writing you attempt to map the terrain of the collective emotional landscape, and describe yourself as as a cartographer of the heart. What does this mean in terms of your artistic process?
I guess through my process of these two mediums, writing and drawing, I undertake my mission to base jump into my own darkness, collective unconscious and all matters to do with inner world to understand the invisible forces at play in us all. I imagine myself sometimes as a kind of Indiana Jones undertaking missions to find the treasures hidden are I’ve surpassed the challenges facing me as I look at at the unlovable, the painful and the destructive aspects in myself. I go to these places and my drawings and writings are landmarks i leave behind as possible help for those making the same journey. My process is basically this to help myself and maybe create something meaningful.
What is your first memory with art?
It was seeing my mum’s sketchbook in our foreboding floor to ceiling library as a kid. It blew me away that she had this secret talent, she was an exhibiting ceramicist, so I traveled a lot as a kid for her shows. Drawing was always something I always did and didn’t think about it except that it gave me freedom and pleasure to do so. I always poured over comic books and the tipped-in plates in rare books in my father’s library. I guess my first experience of drawing being “art” was when I spent my lunchtimes at school in the library and read every book there was on Modern Art and I felt that these artists were my people, I felt for the first time, understood. I never thought I wasn’t an artist until after I finished art school and saw how the contemporary art scene was the opposite of creativity and it killed my mojo.
When visually portraying an emotion, what are some indicators you utilize, other than text, that gets your message across? Are there any recurring symbols?
I have my own symbolic language that was born out of keeping my visual language as simple as possible while conveying as much as I could. I used a lot of math signs such as equations, plus and minus symbols to convey positive and negative emotions, division symbol for feeling divided or confused. The human body for me is the ultimate tool for me to convey emotion and body parts doing certain things to express what is happening internally, such as the hair taking on a life force of it’s own. The hair for me is about thoughts that we have not surrendered thought patterns, contained ideas and cosmic consciousness at it’s best. Cutting hair is often used to release such thought history and growing it long is nostalgia in a way. Feet for me are our unconscious steps and I often use bird feet to show fragility and not being grounded. Blood tears is about ancestral pattern release and may appear negative but is actually the essential process of transforming one’s own darkness. Animals as well are used to convey the symbolic meaning of the animal such as foxes being sneaky, wolves are the instinctive part of the masculine, birds are the higher aspects of the spiritual dimensions of the human, cats are intuition and dogs are loyalty. Nature is always for me the source of all metaphoric glory, I derive all my inspiration from nature.
Are there any emotions that are too hard to portray? Too easy?
The works that people respond to the most are my very hopeful pieces which is natural, people don’t want to be looking all the time at the darkness. I began to introduce the darker side into my work, because that was what I was experiencing and I make my work to understand myself, not to appeal to an audience. A lot of what I have been doing of late is confronting for some people who have enjoyed my more Anne of Green Gables era of drawing, but that is the price i have to pay for being authentically where i am at. Having said that, the work that I am doing of late is opening me up to a new audience who are prepared to accept that life is not just a feel good mantra on a Facebook meme. I don’t struggle to draw the darkness, of late I am finding it harder to draw the whimsical, the über hopeful, but I can only be true to where I am at if I want to call myself an artist.
Your work is composed of simple but confident lines, and primary colors. How do these add to your message?
I think the style is actually where the artistry resides and also is not separate from the message. Most people look at it and think a child could do that and I say thank you. It is not easy to draw unencumbered by years of adulthood should’s and should not’s. Some people view my work through a very conservative lens of “art should look like this, but not that” I think the simplicity shocks people sometimes and they miss the point. The point is that the simplicity is a juxtaposition of the deeper message. I am merging the best parts of the child and adult into the one moment, such as the innocence, playfulness, emotional honesty of the child and the wisdom, experience and insight of being an adult.
What other visual artists do you look to for inspiration?
Unfortunately Frida Kahlo has been hijacked by Art Capitalism and turned into a fridge magnet and shopping bag, but i have loved her since i was 15. Her independence, politics, style and honesty. I love Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Louise Bourgious, Bill Viola, but to be honest, I have stopped looking at other artist’s work for inspiration as i see them more with appreciation. I derive all my inspiration from nature, observing human behaviour, books, conversations and meditation.
During what part of the artistic process do you feel most yourself?
Drawing for me is when I come in to the true essence of myself. It is when the intellect is dissolved and the heart is in control. Writing is more of a skin shedding process like I’m trying to exorcise demons. The best part of me emerges when the space between the intellect and intuition merges and I am no longer myself, but everything. That is when I do my best work and am the happiest being alive.
What is your go-to art making song?
It used to be Arvo Pärt, but now it’s ambient electronic artists like Dead Texan, Steve Roach, Harold Budd or 1970’s over toning singer David Hykes. Some times, Kate Bush or Bjork, but that is only if I’m not trying to pull down new ideas.
How do you decide what phrase or wording represents the emotion you’re depicting?
I don’t think too much about it. I guess I just wait for the feeling of what I want to say and then I wait for the words to construct in my head and then I wait for the feeling in the belly of certainty. I am always writing, thinking and constructing ideas in my head so it’s just a matter of pulling something down.
Why is it important as a contemporary artist to share your work online?
I used to struggle with the online world as my process is so organic and non techno and being a nature lover and all, but the beauty of online is that you’re simultaneously connected to people all around the globe while never having to leave your studio. It is a great tool to share your work and also take out the middle man, the vampires all wanting a piece of your creativity and pushing you into a tight box of how your work should be seen. I’m tired of that shit. I became tired of not being the one in the driver’s seat of my own creations. I am interested in connecting with people not just dialoguing with other artists in a narrow world of “experts”. I am more interested in people honestly connecting with my work, being online as opposed to physical galleries is that it helps you reach a broader range of people. Also, no one cares about your work as much as you do, so you have to love it like a child and take responsibility for it’s path in the world and the online process is more autonomous…for now.
What is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you in the studio? What’s the best?
Commissions with a brief are the worst. The worst. Sometimes they can help you think about your process in a new way, but rarely. Usually it is someone trying to squeeze your style into their average concept and usually it is a very twee feel good creation that makes my dark side grow stronger. Magazine work is usually my top Never Again thing to do, no, wedding present drawings actually are my all time low. The best thing is being left alone with no concern of where the work is going to end up and creating without external pressure or deadlines, no exhibitions and just making work to unfold something I’m trying to understand about myself. Once in an old warehouse studio in the city when I was 23, I was so in the zone, of my work, I left my body but was still in the room and i was filled with such an indescribable ecstasy that I was timeless and I became everything that has ever existed or will exist. That was my best studio moment.
You speak about the connection between growing older and the progression of censoring emotions in your TEDx talk. Why is it important to shed that censorship? How can it help the artist?
I feel like have I kept my child self intact and always see the world through the child eyes, so adults have always seemed so unhappy and I could never figure out why. It’s like I saw that they were always lying to themselves or taking on false roles to fill someone else’s agenda. It never made sense to me, until I became and adult myself, I saw how we get sucked in by our generational attitudes to how we should be. I was in my 20’s in the 90’s so irony and sarcasm were like social cues to kneel before if you were to be included and I just never could. I was always like “we don’t have to be unhappy guys, come on”. Censorship creates a false self and therefore your work as an artist is false and is buying into the strict codes of whatever era you’re passing through. It is this fear of not being included by your peers, but a true artist must be brave enough to walk alone if they have to and not be concerned if they’re not adored by their peers, to not conform, to trailblaze into deeper and deeper truths and realities IF they want to create meaningful work. If they just want a career that leads to a show at MOMA, then sure, conform and fill out those grant applications and dwindle your creativity down into the criteria of a panel of experts.
Do you believe art school creates “anti-artists”?
It depends on the art school and what era you go there. It’s better to get technical skills than theoretical skills in my opinion. Because art schools are now becoming privatized or they are here in Australia, it will mean a diminished education and more hoops to jump through to fulfill government criteria agenda. Doesn’t sound like a good place for artists. But then sometimes yes, it will make you become a better more accurate artist because you have seen that even the art world has succumbed to the tyranny of the system and you’re basically own your own. This is very freeing and i hope art school creates more anti-artists but not to be cool. I just want to see integrity, honesty, talent and work that speaks to me. I don’t want to read a manifesto on why you are creating visual art unless it’s in book format. Academia has killed art, but has pushed the ownership of creativity back onto the artist if they’re willing to walk it with brave autonomy.
What is the best advice you have ever received as an artist?
It was actually from no one. Everyone around me was adhering to art history and academia so I was alone. The best advice was something I gave to myself and it was this: “Give up art, accept that right now you’re an athlete, draw for fun, draw what you want and feel. It is your world and therefore the only rules are the ones you give yourself, the flaw is the entry point for invention of new aesthetic combinations.” So I did and here I am.
What is your plans for future art and your future self?
I exhibit my work in this remote mountain gallery, but I just won money to write and direct my first film that will be a combination of live action, magical realism and animation. I made an animation a few years ago for The ABC called The Gradual Demise of Phillipa Finch and this is my first short film called Remembering Agatha. It’s about a mother of 2 in a flagging marriage who finds a portal through the dishwasher to the forest of her child self. I’ve been writing the treatment and script since August last year and it will showcase in October 2017. I’ve been working on an accompanying illustrated novella as well. It looks like the film world is opening up to me with this and another project afterwards, i’m just going to explore it as a new medium. My future self is creating work, making books, films, drawings, making a new straw bale studio in my backyard, camping, building my vegetable garden. I’m involved in a community garden project next year so there’s that to focus on as well, lots of bush walks and longer term: constructing a community multi-platform production studio under my company name Cellar & The Attic.
Where can we contact you, buy and view your work?
My website will be up this year, but for now you can view/buy and contact me through the following: