LIghtwoods House, Bearwood
December 9th-22nd, 2018
We love Emma Archer's watercolor works so much we want to want to steal them which is probably Abby Hoffman grade flattery; We want to immerse ourselves and our pals in them, in their languid beauty. And hey you can too because despite having decamped from Birmingham in the UK to the Italian countryside several years ago, Emma is back with a fullscale exhibition, Botanical Works, at Bearwood's Lightwoods House in December.
In between packing up her canvases in her old kit bag Emma emailed back answers to our as ever archetypally guileless queries...
OUTSIDELFT: Emma, you've said, you'd sort of taken a break from painting for a while. I don't know if people ever take a break from their art do they? It's always there every day, it's inescapable, nagging away, informing so many of our thoughts. Always. So what did you do while you were away and what inspired you to say, I can't stop anymore, I'm picking up the brush again?
Emma Archer: Of course you are right, I see myself foremost as an artist and this does inevitably shape my thought processes and decision making but historically creating the actual art pieces has only ever been a part of but always an integral part of my life whilst working for other companies or as I have been over the last 8 years or so restoring and building an old farmhouse in the Italian countryside. The restoration project has been utterly inspiring and time consuming, I always saw the building work that I did may it be re-pointing stone walls, to laying and grouting terracotta tiles to clearing the land and pruning trees as therapeutic, meditative in a similar sense to how I feel when I make marks. There is beauty in discovery, repetition, embracing the unknown and maybe having that creative head in the first place enables me to embark on such projects.
In terms of actually picking up a brush there have been moments, painting a pattern around the house, making a work here or there or we could see the general vision and design eye behind the transformation of our house as art as well as little things like the layout pattern of tiles, the colour chosen to complement the lime mortar, all little but aesthetically driven, my partner included too, he trained as an artist. It took a considerable amount of physical work and time to finally convert the cow shed into a working studio, not that any of this is any excuse to not pick up a pencil here or there at any point.
I too am a relatively new mother and so have been spending time with my son.
Making the works for this exhibition has been slow over the last year or so in the sense that I am able to squeeze in a half day here and there to work on something. I feel that I have an interesting body of work that at first I thought may look disjointed but now I am at ease with the fluidity and familiarity the works have.
OUTSIDELFT: This is quite a dramatic change for you in terms of composition... Can you tell us a bit about how your paintings come into being...
Emma Archer: Compositionally in general I work with my visible landscape, translating and reflecting what I absorb around me, when I lived in Birmingham I worked on cityscapes & skylines, loving rooftops and always scaling as high as I could to reach those rooflines. Before that I used to make huge abstract seascapes, as a student I would venture from Liverpool City centre on the train with huge rolls of paper and charcoals and sit & draw on the pier at New Brighton or around West Kirby.
My studio now is set within land that I tend and cultivate including olive groves, fruit and nut trees, woodlands and a vegetable garden. I have landscaped the area and planted many of the trees. I am a nature lover, I have always enjoyed bird watching, walking, wildlife & desolate landscapes. The inspiration for moving to Abruzzo evolved not just due to the affordable cost of living but on learning that the region is considered the greenest region of Europe, it holds rare flora and fauna and is amazingly diverse running from the Adriatic coastline to majestic mountain ranges.
Our house is set in an agricultural landscape in the foothills of the Maiella, these areas are teeming with life and are a rich source for production be it organic olive oil, or fields of grains, to grapes, to cherry trees or fields of caned rows of San Marzano for tomato passata.
I grow flowers and vegetables from seeds, all experiments. I feel much more connected with the outside world and we try to be more conscious about what we grow and what we eat.
I am simply looking out of my window and working with what I see, I will work from a flowering branch whether it be an almond in January, cherry in April or the various apples or pears that flower later in the year. I have been working on much smaller pieces, watercolours on paper at first. I guess with the time restraints this felt more manageable as the works can be started and then left for weeks and inevitably when I return to them, the flowers are dry, then I tend to work with a more intuitive approach adding layers and experimenting with colour. They are not direct translations by any means but evolve depending on the time scales, scents and sounds of the season or my frame of mind on that day! I love experimenting with colour.
OUTSIDELFT: Somehow, since I know nothing about art, I always think watercolours... A little less messy, and maybe machine washable. You can probably wear nice clothes while working. I mean, a little like those great photos Henry Moore, there he is with his chisel, and his shirt and tie like a low level civil servant... what do you wear while painting? Please don't think I wouldn't ask a man that, but invariably often, when I look around, mens' clothes are so boring... What are the risks of watercolours?
Emma Archer: I am a risk taker but watercolours in the way I have been working are I guess much more restrained but I do work with acrylics too and tend to prefer working on the floor. I do not worry about paint on my clothes, in my hair on my shoes! My son loves to paint his entire body and work on huge pieces of cardboard, mainly outside, full immersion! To be honest I am always dressed in scruffy farm wear as I am usually juggling a few jobs, I am not concerned too much with fashion, to be honest I have no clue, we are so far away from commercial shops that it isn’t something I even think about. We have been living a more frugal lifestyle, tucked away in the hills, no frills! I may have to address this though when I head back to the city!
OUTSIDELFT: These current paintings are on canvas and paper but do you see them in other forms and formats, they are so beautiful, like Quink in water from when I was a wasteful kid. They are mesmerising it's so still and it moves... Do you see this current work getting off gallery/living room walls and into peoples lives in other ways? Like lifestyle accoutrements...
Emma Archer: I have been thinking about making a large outdoor mural, I love the idea of taking colour and marks onto a much greater scale, a much more physical process and involvement, I am a dab hand at dangling off scaffolding. There is a street art festival in a Molisan village, cvta steet fest not so far from us that I have been visiting for the last few years and became very inspired by. These abandoned, desolate medieval villages around us are trying to encourage a little movement rather than falling into complete invisibility. A means to encourage local and the wider diminished tourism, weakened economies and younger generations just moving away. There are currently many street art festivals all over the world that I have been looking at through social platforms. I love the idea that the artwork is visible to all, that local communities can be a part of and inspired by, proud of or disgruntled by, the delicate works can tastefully enhance the more subtle medieval buildings or more blatant, statement works on walls call for change and awareness.
We hope to come up with our very own creative experience in whatever forms they may take, to enhance and honour the local history and work on boosting the cultural profile of our small village. I have been talking with our local council and friends in our village who too were inspired and we are hoping to create a similar outdoor art festival over the next few years.
OUTSIDELFT: Your Botanical Works collection is coming to Birmingham, to Lightwoods House. Birmingham/Sandwell border country... So people will be able to decide for themselves whether my incredible insights are true... You're from Birmingham and have a long history within the city's arts (probably now quite decimated) community. What made you choose Lightwoods House, it's a splendid location, I'll say.
Emma Archer: We came back last December for around six weeks to catch up with friends & family, I had been mooching with the idea of trying to get back into making a body of work to exhibit, our close friend and fellow artist Julie had just started working part time at the house and we were there visiting, having a coffee or two, catching up, looking at the space and gardens, the idea was muted in a walk around, it just felt right, so I booked the space for this December giving myself a year to see what I could come up with. No expectations, no pressure and so I am excited to bring a little of my more recent environment back home.
OUTSIDELFT: When you get back to Birmingham is there a place you just love to visit, or something you always do... anything along those lines...?
Emma Archer: I love coming back to the city, after around 11 months in a very isolated area having rarely visited a gallery for that length of time I am usually itching to see as many shows as I can. The usual haunts, ex work places like the Custard Factory, Ikon Gallery and Compton Verney are a must. This year I am looking forward to the Women, Power, Protest at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Hilda Burkitt portrait at New Street, awareness of the struggle, recognition for women artists, a shift in the balance that can only be positive.
I love the Birmingham food culture too and spend 11 months gazing at new places popping up online with my mouth watering so I do make an effort to visit as many of those as I can along with the Christmas markets and the Christmas Eve Carols at Bournville Green. As I have a young boy and a dog lots of parks and playgrounds too.
OUTSIDELFT: What single thing are you most looking forward to or feeling optimistic about for 2019?
Emma Archer: Italy has already completely banned plastic bags and our nearest islands, the Tremiti Islands banned single use plastic as of May, the hopes of a push towards a complete ban on single use plastics ahead of the speculated date of 2021 throughout Europe.
I am feeling optimistic about a shift in the current political landscape.
I am looking forward to spending more moments with my son and making works and planning an exhibition on Italian soil around Autumn time.
I have become increasingly fascinated with neuroscience and art therapy, I have spent some of this year working and creating with children, making outdoors and in English with local kids, I would love to foster and develop that in some way for 2019.
Bearwood B67 5DP
0121 569 4141
20% of proceeds to be donated to Muscular Dystrophy
Visit Emma Archer's website here