Isolation and Female Empowerment: Interview With Emma Repp

Isolation and Female Empowerment: Interview With Emma Repp

Emma Repp is best known for illustrative, bright, and highly patterned portrayals of monotony and adaptation. Originally trained as a printmaker, she employs a similar calculated process and layered aesthetic to create whimsical images out of a combination of handmade and digital elements, but chooses to create with whatever she can find.

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What is your story as an artist? When did you first decide to pursue printmaking and illustration?

When I was a kid, I did draw, but it was after I filled up notebooks writing stories about what I was drawing. I also made my own clothes, a boat for my guinea pig, some really weird baked goods, a lot of deep holes in the dirt, a series of giant stick puppet structures in the woods, and plenty I only remember when my mom reminds me.  My grandma was a painter, my dad went to art school, and my mom was a freak who loved that I was also a freak. I definitely had the kind of environment that pushed me to be a maker.

But as it happens, I wound up confused about what being a human meant, and super driven in areas unrelated to making. Luckily, though, after a lot of wiggling around and crying, I fell into printmaking. I made heavily patterned copper plate etchings, which eventually translated to heavily patterned ink drawings, which eventually translated to what I'm doing now. I keep calling what I make now "drawings," but maybe they are something else. Maybe they are lizards.

The weird thing is—I didn't feel like I was allowed to call myself an artist until... maybe last week. I think I called myself an artist last week. I've just made things because I felt like I would stop existing if I didn't.

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Tell us about the inspiration behind your work:

Everything I have made in the past year or so is working to capture a feeling of loneliness and isolation in a state of excess, or female empowerment despite the environment. Those seem like two separate things, but they really came out of just being a female identifying human breathing in the world—and watching other people try to breathe in the world. 

Honestly, a lot of my inspiration came from riding the bus at rush hour after spending the day trying to convince humans (primarily men) that I am also a human. Existing is so bizarre right now, (and I know I've had it easy comparatively) but I want to capture that bizarreness.

I also love slurping up old photographs — the pictures we took when we couldn't see what they looked like until they were developed — I get a lot of visual inspiration from what we thought we wanted to see.

The colors and patterns are mostly just inspired by Nicki Minaj. I mean, maybe there is some kind of divine force telling me to use chartreuse, but I need to be listening to Nicki Minaj to hear it. If I ever meet Nicki, I would love to tell her how much I need her.

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What is a piece of advice or a personal motto that you carry with you?

Don't fight your flow! It's flowing for a reason.

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Tell us about a typical day in the studio.

My process has a few steps, but I have something going at every step so I can work according to my mood. The pieces start with line drawings on layers of tracing paper and watercolor paintings. When I get the paper substance finished, I scan and layer the drawings in Photoshop. I do a lot of coloring and crying at this point.

When I complete the image digitally, I transfer it to wood, and it gets its final details with paint. This is a new part of the adventure; I had been leaving my work in its digital state, previously.

Having a multi-step process came out of the printmaker in me — but it also came out of having big ideas in a little apartment while I had a day job at a tech company. For now, I still don't have a dedicated studio space, but I love that I can work on a piece on an airplane. I carry my notebook with tracing paper with me everywhere.

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In your statement, you mention that you create with anything you find. What are some of your favorite materials to use and why?

GLITTER.

But what I really meant by that is that my process just sort of happened with what I had access to. I think because my grandma was a painter, I thought I probably had to use oil paint for someone to tell me my art is art (although, she never would have wanted me to feel that way). I didn't have space or ventilation for that, but I still wanted to make 2-D art objects, so I made some work-arounds. It has taken a lot of self-help books, but I love the final result. I can get so much detail and depth.

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What are some things you hope viewers take away from your work?

I want it to feel like you are dancing really hard alone to your favorite song — in your underwear — while eating a salad with your hands (and not choking on the salad).

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What do you have planned for 2018?

It'll be my first full year where I am allowed to call myself an artist! I have a couple of shows lined up, and hopefully some illustration work, but I'm most excited about exhibiting during the Frieze Art Week in New York with Superfine! in May.

 

Studio Sundays: Sanja Milenkovic

Studio Sundays: Sanja Milenkovic

Sacred Lands by Drew Leshko

Sacred Lands by Drew Leshko