Printerly & Drawerly: Emily Wilson in the StudioJune 11, 2014
“Etching is my love,” gushes Emily Wilson. But spend ten minutes with her and it’s clear her practice is rooted in an even deeper love for the immediacy of drawing. In her studio, a huge piece of Mylar exists solely for her daily exercise of grabbing a chunk of graphite and making marks.
“I used to draw on my proofed prints to get a sense of where I would go with a plate,” she says, “but it turned out that those drawings were far better than the plates I would make later. I had to figure out how to make etching work for me. That’s when I began drawing on my prints and thinking of my work as mixed media.”
Incorporating hard and soft ground, drypoint, spit bite, and trace monotype, Emily’s work falls between abstraction and representation. Her forms are based on repeated organic shapes, animals, and built environments; she uses clumps of marks to represent gatherings, swarms, and patterns of travel. Underpinned by subtle layers of flat shapes and linework, Emily’s style packs the immediate punch of minimalism, then slowly unfolds its visual depth.
“I want grey on grey on grey–colors just different enough that everything looks really simple from far away, but becomes complex when you get close,” she says. “I want you to love my pieces from across the room, then feel lots of payoff for coming closer.”
During her six-week Workspace Residency, Emily pulled about 60 copper plate prints in a palette inspired by her drives past Oakland shipyards: briney green-grey and khaki, velvety navy and vibrant poppy and yellow. Her imagery–based on brick, wallpaper, cross stitch and quilt patterns–loosely evokes a sense of place. Printed on gampi, a tissuey Japanese paper, the prints floated around her workspace until a visit to R&F Handmade Paints sent them down an uncharted path: collaged on 8×10” wood panels, painted over with layers of encaustic wax.
It’s a logical step, as Emily already irons wax onto her large, multi-plate monoprints on whisper-thin gampi. The translucency makes her layers pop when her prints are floated on a larger white sheet of paper. But she came to WSW to free her prints from matting and to think about how small pieces can work in conversation to create visual and thematic arcs. Collaged and waxed into the panels, her prints are solid, luminous, and dimensional–borderless mixed media modules connected through echoing imagery and full of possibility for creating and recreating meaning.“I’m realizing that when my etchings aren’t presented as etchings–when they’re presented like this as mixed media–they become something really different,” she says. “This changes everything! I’m finding my voice in it.”
The process requires a careful balance of forethought and intuition. The hot, pigmented beeswax can be unwieldy, and once Emily commits to her layers there’s no going back. Her 15 pieces are still being resolved, but her sensibility is there, in the colors and the compositions built on pushing and pulling forces. Embedded in the milky wax, simple shapes pop against tight patterns and elegant, yet unrefined linework.
“I love the tension in the little space between two things that almost touch,” says Emily, pointing to an arc that nearly brushes against a flat mound. “I love the contrast of a really bulky, heavy shape next to a little pipsqueak of a line.”
In a final push for more pipsqueaks, Emily adds trace monotypes. By drawing on a sheet of paper placed on the top layer of wax, her lines are directly transferred onto the piece. It’s a relatively unsophisticated markmaking method that’s letting her loosen things up and embrace her “drawerly” side.
“It feels like cheating if I’m not using a really laborious process, like etching,” she says, adding a few tick marks along an ebbing and flowing school of tiny stitches. “But sometimes the easy, simple marks are the most beautiful. It’s about taking a risk: that’s where the beauty comes in.”
Emily Wilson is a Sacramento-based artist with an MFA from the University of Arizona, Tucson. She is the chair of the Department of Art & Art History at Sacramento City College and has exhibited across the US and abroad. Emily’s ideal studio space includes: natural light, an “outlet wall” for daily markmarking, other artists’ work, a playlist of “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, a grapefruit San Pellegrino, a sharp xacto knife, and tons of materials, because “I have no idea what I’ll grab any given day.” See more images of Emily’s residency here