Young Masters Interview with Rosie Emerson

Rosie Emerson specialises in making contemporary cyanotypes, a photographic technique invented in the 1800s.  Here she tells us more about her work, which will be shown as part of the forthcoming exhibition ‘Young Masters: Dialogues’ at Sphinx Fine Art, 12 – 24 October 2015.

What is it about the Young Masters project that you are most interested in?

I am thrilled to be part of the Young Masters project;
I have chosen to respond directly to two paintings from the Sphinx Collection. Michele Tosini’s Allegory of Fortitude, and William Hamilton’s Calypso receiving Telemachus and Mentor in the Grotto. I am always looking to past to inform my practice, both in terms of subject and style and I am currently using a photography technique which is over 100 years old. So the project feels very much like a good fit with my work. The standard of all the work is incredibly high and wonderfully varied, it is an honor to be involved.

Can you explain to us what your work is about?

For the last 10 years I have been depicting solitary female figures, either with no background or in imagined and fabricated settings or landscapes.
I am interested in representing the female figure as icon and spectacle, a heightened projection rather than realistic portrait, figures stand on enormously tall legs, “as if they had subsumed the pedestals’ society had placed them on”, other times they are dripping in adornment. They are powerful and goddess-like. They are each an allegory of my own fantasy rooted in the rich history of the depiction of women from mythology to the modern day super model.
I use alternative photography, screen-print, collage and paint, I am as interested in my medium as much as my subjects, often combing unusual and different materials and techniques which draw attention to the surface, I am often trying to create a push and pull effect, toying with illusion of perspective and the flatness of the surface.

Which artist/s are you most inspired by?

Last year I visited the Uffizi in Florence and really enjoyed the story telling, staging and drama in the Medieval art, Lorenzetti and Botticelli’ in particular. Also the unusual shaped shrine like canvases of the works, originally designed for church rather than gallery environments. I have developed circular and arch shaped cyanotypes in response.
Another influence has been 18th century Japanese woodblock prints, in their use of negative space and areas of fine detail; they maintain a balance of both strong and bold and fine and decorative qualities, which I attempt to balance in my own work.

Can you tell us something about your background?

I was born in Dorset, in the English countryside in 1981. My father is a cabinetmaker and my grandmother a painter, so creativity is in my genes. My father reproduces old furniture and I cherished finding hidden draws in antique desks, and visits up to London to visit plaster mould workshops. The house is full of books on art, and broken old things, he is a maker and magpie, and now I am too. As a child I was always drawing and painting, it was not until I did a Foundation course at the Bournemouth Arts Institute that I discovered the magic of darkroom photography and then moved on printmaking and collage at Kingston University. Currently I live and work in my Hackney Studio.

What inspired you to become an artist?

I think my background is key to my ambition to become an artist, and there is an almost indescribable excitement and sense of wonder which I get when I view a piece of art which moves me. It is a similar feeling I get when I make work, There always has to be an element of surprise in how I make my work for me that’s where the magic lies.

If you weren’t an artist what would you be?

If I weren’t an artist, I would love to be a dancer or a circus performer, they are both professions I admire greatly but I am gifted with those talents; I love the theatre, so perhaps a set designer or a milliner.

What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?

Last year was a mile stone year for me; I was fortunate enough to show my work in different parts of world, I completed two Solo exhibitions and a residency at Somerset House as part of The National Open Art’s Competition. I also was awarded a Guinness World record, for making the world’s largest Cyanotype photograph measuring 46 Square Meters. It was created outside using the sun as a giant enlarger, and took place before a live audience, it was an ambitious and nerve wracking project; it was a wonderful feeling when the sun shone, and the exposure worked.

What are your plans for the future?

My Studio will be moving to Brighton next year, I am interested to see how a change of environment will affect my work. I have been exploring other alternative photography techniques, including a beautiful postproduction process called Mordan cage, which allows the blacks in a photograph to become loose and malleable. I am also getting married next year- so have a wedding dress to choose!

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