Monday, May 16, 2011

We chat with Robyn Emerson...

Robyn at mike CC
Robyn on the opening night of Fragments of a Universe.

A Wimmera
Artwork, Wimmera by Robyn Emerson.

We had a fantastic turn out on Saturday 14th May for the In Conversation program with Robyn Emerson.  There were loads of people who were fascinated by the encaustic medium and asked Robyn lots of questions about her inspiration and how to get started in encaustic.

For those who missed out on this great public program, we interviewed Robyn for this post!

So, tell us a little bit about yourself Robyn, how did you get into painting?
I'm originally from Melbourne, and I trained initially as an English teacher. I loved University and I wanted to go there forever, (I thought I'd end up an academic) - but then I ran out of money, so I qualified as a teacher and taught for my first year out at Wycheproof in the Victorian Wimmera. I lived out by myself in an old Victorian farmhouse miles out of town and six kilometers away from my nearest neighbours. The farmhouse had a red corrugated iron roof, a quince orchard, a huge woodpile of mallee roots as big as the house, and huge fireplaces in every room. I used to stand outside and just look at the sky a lot and it was just so beautiful, I vividly remember the moon coming up so huge and close out on that flat paddock underneath miles of sky and I started off painting soon after that.

What is your attraction to the  encaustic medium?
At first I painted in watercolours because I loved painting outside and I loved the immediacy of the medium. From the very beginning I was always focused on the actual surface of the work because I think that’s where it all happens, where the whatever it is that is art happens, so as soon as I saw encaustic work where you can reveal many different surfaces within the one work I just fell in love with it and I knew straight away that it was what I was meant to be doing.

How would you describe your work?
I use the multi layered surfaces of my paintings to hold a mirror up to view landscapes of spiritual or emotional realities, more than just being interpretations of a physical place. The best way I can describe my paintings is that they are a visual response to the more intangible aspects of experience, memories, reflections and realities, and although they could be called landscapes in some respects, they are more sub conscious explorations of my inner world. Each layer of the paintings in my paintings is like a filament of time preserved onto the canvas with colour and wax to provide a window onto what, as Robert Bresson says, “Makes visible what hasn’t yet been seen.”

What achievements are you most proud of?
For achievements to date that I’m proud of, I’m probably proudest of getting everything ready for this exhibition and for sticking at the process of painting, even when it seemed like it was too hard or I didn’t want to keep going. But that I said, I really feel right at the very beginning of what I want to do in painting and I have so much I want to do in the future, I really don’t look back at all. I’m very excited about all the work in mind’s eye that I still want to do, and all the paintings to come, so perhaps what I'm proudest of is definitely still to come! There is so much more for me to do and accomplish yet.

If you could collaborate with another artist, you would it be?
I couldn’t collaborate with anyone else, painting is a very private thing for me, and I just couldn’t do it. I don’t even want to teach at all, I think the creation of art is such a private, personal thing I couldn’t imagine even talking to someone else about it until the very end, and I don’t.

I actually can’t even have someone else’s art in my house, because I so value the development of my own personal set of visual signals in my paintings and I don’t want to reference anybody else’s work.

Painting for me is such an personally intense experience as well; I can’t imagine anyone else even wanting to be a part of that!

Who are the artists that you admire?I really admire the work of Emily Kngwarreye and if I could own any work of art it would be one of hers. There is something so breathtaking in every single one of her paintings, combined with a complete deftness of touch and sureness of colour that never faltered once.

Rosalie Gascoigne too is another artist I so admire for her ability to adhere to the singularity of her vision throughout her life, particularly in a time when making art with found objects wasn’t a fashionable thing to do.

Ian Fairweather was an amazing artist and I so admire him because painting was everything to him, all his life. If either of us was able to collaborate with others (which we cant) he would be the artist I would most like to paint with, although he would have to cut his toe nails first, I couldn’t stand painting with someone who had long dirty toenails like he had.

What is your work practice like? Do you listen to music or paint in silence?
I have a fantastic studio in Parslow St. studios with other 22 artists. My studio is just the best place, its big, with my jars of waxes, colours, feathers; bark everything on the window sill. And the view is spectacular, across to the Warburton ranges on clear days and the view of the moon rise over the Yarra second to none. I have to work in a studio, my house has a lovely garden and I'm always finding things to do there, I have to weed that spot, I have to feed the chooks. So I close myself off in the studio and I love it in there. I get in, make a big pot of green tea and put my headphones on (I paint listening to loud music sometimes or lectures on art or philosophy at other times). I’ve just got a new ipod to have everything in one little square and I painted many of these paintings while I was listening to the soundtrack to Eat Pray Love till I was sick of it. I also love Jazz, particularly Paul Williamson’s Hammond Combo, and the title The Voice Within was taken from one of his songs. (If you want to hear him he’s on at the coming Stonnington Jazz festival.)

What do you want other people to take away from seeing your work?
When people look at my work I hope they will somehow recognize or see something in them that touches them, that somehow they will connect with and recognize something about themselves in the works. I would also really like to think that they would see something beautiful about the work.

Where do you want to be in 10 years time?
In ten years time I don’t know. My future a couple of years from now is so full of paintings and things I’m already planning right now, but ten years seems so far away! I think maybe in my dreams Id like a country house to paint in all the time, - maybe an old farmhouse in the Wimmera or Mallee just like I used to live in in Wycheproof, with an orchard and miles of sky, a studio with a French door onto the verandah so I can just step outside at any time and see the stars blazing, and a huge fireplace to keep me cheerful in winter. And in the best of all possible worlds this house would come complete with a chef to cook all my meals and a gardener to tend the veggie plot and the orchard so that all I have to do is paint!

Fragments of a Universe is open to the public until Saturday 28 May.  To see more of Robyn's work you can visit her website at

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