The Newcastle Art Gallery Youth Advisory Group acknowledges the Awabakal and Worimi people as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and live, and pay our deepest respects to Elders past, present and future. The Youth Advisory Group is dedicated to honouring the culture and traditions of our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through the visual arts.
Emma Wilks is an emerging artist balancing full-time work and artistic pursuits. Wilks’ process uses alternative elements of printmaking that often involve a range of media and experimentation, relaying the multi-faceted relationships between the creator and the medium.
Karmun: I fell in love with your work at the 'Clouds' exhibition at Newcastle Art Space (NAS) in July 2021 (curated by Leah Fawthrop, Louise Falkner and Catharine Neilson). I see a lot of organic imagery in your drawings with the white pen, and it's so satisfying to watch the videos of you drawing with it! Your technique of mixing up the cyanotype with some white pen drawing is what this zine issue is all about. How did you come up with this idea?
Emma: The combination of cyanotype with white pen all began with an accident. I had this big idea of just producing drawings by drawing on tracing paper and then creating a cyanotype print from that drawing. However, the plan didn’t work out and I overexposed the cyanotype and only faded lines were left on the beautifully blue paper. I didn’t want to waste the paper (and we all know how expensive Fine Art paper is), so I decided to just draw over the ‘failed’ work and it just blossomed from there. I didn’t plan anything, I just started drawing and it was nice and refreshing for it to work out better than I ever imagined.
Can you talk me through how that work of art was made, what's involved and what you were inspired by?
I enjoy repetitive shapes and lines so in my works you will see a lot of recurring patterns and symbols. Sometimes they mean something, sometimes they don’t. In the work Trapped in the downside up that you saw at the ‘Clouds’ show at NAS, they do mean something. I wasn’t necessarily inspired by anything other than the dreamy colours of a blue sky and fluffy clouds, but in making the work of art, I encountered something deeper. As I drew, the concept transformed and the work turned a little darker. The title is Trapped in the downside up embodies the feeling of being overwhelmed one minute and then calm and content another. I have days where I feel so amazing and happy and others where I’m so low, sad, and lost, and this contrast is what inspired this work in the end. The work turned out to be very personal, but I also think others can relate to where I was coming from.
The artwork itself was not too much work - just a long time just drawing and doodling until I was satisfied. In the work, you can see there are little white clouds - one of the curators for the NAS ‘Clouds’ show saw my work on Instagram. They asked me if I wanted to be in the show and so that’s what made me take the next step and invest in getting it framed.
I didn’t want to splurge too much but still wanted the work to look its best, so I approached another well-known local artist Lyndall Campbell who has a background in professional framing. We collaborated on the frame because I’m always open to new ideas and pushing boundaries (in my world anyways) and she came up with the idea of doing a box frame around the artwork. I thought the idea was amazing so that’s what we did. The result was that my finished piece was intertwined with another work of art. The frame is reclaimed timber that I painted with white acrylic paint and cyanotype to match the artwork.
Who are some mentors that have helped inspire you or shaped your practice?
I first learnt printmaking while I was doing my university degree in Fine Art at The University of Newcastle, and absolutely hated it. However, for some reason, I enrolled in the class again and encountered an amazing woman, Deidre Brollo, who helped me fall in love with the medium and inspired my practice.
Whilst I was at university, I had another lecturer there, Una Rey, whom many of us know as an amazing curator and artist. She gave us a tour of her show at NAG titled ‘BLACK, WHITE & RESTIVE’ in 2016, which opened my eyes to political and cultural aspects of Aboriginal art styles, how it could be taken advantage of and manipulated or also celebrated and educational.
Are there works of art within Newcastle Gallery’s printmaking and drawing collection area that you really connect with?
There are a few artists within the collection who inspire me greatly such as Virginia Cuppaidge and Brett McMahon - specifically his coloured work, Canopy. LINK HERE
An exhibition at NAG in 2017, ‘Abstraction: Celebrating Australian Women Abstract Artists’, was a firm favourite of mine as abstract art is my favourite style. Other artists such as Mazie Turner, Grace Cossington Smith and John Olsen also inspire my practice. My works of art may not look like they have been inspired by these artists, but their uses of colour and linework are really inspiring. It’s very free and unique and I love that. 😊