About this body of work:
I work in a variety of mediums but the documentation of the process is where my visual interest rests. My recent work reveals a fantasia of handcrafted elements, where various textiles and traditional craft techniques exist in harmony with vibrantly painted abstractions. The process of radical transformation and regeneration is the core of my artistic practice.
Why do you do what you do?
Creating is a cathartic and meditative process. It allows me to fully express with my hands what I often cannot express through my words. I believe that creating art is a process of learning about oneself. I paint to put the puzzle pieces of my life together, to better understand myself and my purpose. The more I make, the more I learn, through my materials and processes. The more I learn, the more I can share with the world, and hope that someone else may understand and find a connecting strand of themselves in my work. Creating also allows me to let go. Attachment is one of my biggest weaknesses (to places, people, things) and making work helps me learn how to detach a little bit. To put so much time and thought into a piece, and feel such an intimate connection with it can be so powerful, but to be able to let go of it and put it in someone else’s hands is much more beautiful to me.
What’s your favorite thing in your studio or work space?
My insane collection of fabric scraps. It’s also my least favorite thing. I rarely ever buy any new fabric, or new art supplies for that matter, which is challenging but an important part of my artistic practice and my life. Most of the fabric I have has been given to me from tailors’ scraps, other artists’ trash, or old clothing of mine that has been torn or ripped. If I cut a piece of fabric, I’ll make sure to save all it’s teeny tiny pieces, all the little fiber puffs and pulls. There’s so much beauty in them. It’s a little bit insane and can sometimes be difficult to keep organized, but it certainly keeps me working. I like to use every possible scrap I can and try to stick to a pretty strict no waste rule, both in and out of the studio.
You mention having an “insane collection of fabric scraps”. Could you elaborate on how that started or what attracts you to fabric and fiber?
I’ve always been drawn to textiles, and started collecting fabric in my tween years as I was developing an interest in fashion design. I certainly didn’t have the drive to create back then as I do now, and unfortunately those fabrics collected a lot of dust.
The collection of fabric scraps that I have now really took off a few years ago with my interest in having a sustainable art practice. When I was in residence at the Vermont Studio Center, I witnessed how much artists would waste on a daily basis, and it really bothered me. I kept finding all these goodies in the trash and would collect them (excess paint, paper, fabric, yarn) and use them in my art-making practice. I wanted to accentuate the beauty in even the smallest things that most creators might see as waste. Evidently, I started collecting my own waste and reusing it. I had begun using a lot of fabric in my work, so I would collect every scrap left over, whether 5in or 5mm small. Then people started donating their scraps to me. This one artist from India gave me five grocery bags stuffed with fabric scraps from a tailor in India. I was like a kid in a candy store.
This body of work visually demonstrates vast patience with embroidering/ sewing/ stitching by hand. Where did your fascination with that craft begin?
I developed an interest in fashion and textiles at an early age. One creative outlet of my childhood that I recall was cutting up old clothes and fabric and trying to create something different out of them. I was never very good at it, but was always interested in clothing construction and exploring different ways to reuse fabric.
I took a fashion design and clothing construction course in high school because I thought that was where my creative career was taking me, but after two weeks of a fashion design course at SCAD, I quickly realized that particular field wasn’t for me. Painting gave me so much more freedom and allowed me to tap into a creative side that I didn’t know existed. After receiving my BFA in Painting from SCAD, I realized that “painting” could mean so much more than paint, a brush, and a pretty picture.
Making clothing requires so much patience and I have a lot of respect for the people that do it, but I don’t have the kind of patience to create something that has to fit a body- an object where the final product can be envisioned beforehand- and so easily replicated (for the most part). Oddly enough, embroidering certainly does require quite a bit of patience. Embroidering and creating my own reconstructed works has been a much more meditative process and allows me to really connect with each piece. I usually have no preconceived ideas of what the piece will look like, which makes it that much more exciting.
Was there a person in your life who taught you those skills or was that something that just naturally evolved through your being a creative?
I didn’t sew too much as a kid or even in college, mostly because I found the sewing machine daunting, and I never cared about putting too much time into sewing by hand. My mother was a little bit of a seamstress. I have fond memories of her sewing costumes and small stuffed animals for my sisters and I. It appeared to be not only a creative outlet but also an empowering tool for her. I can’t recall her teaching me any of these skills but I certainly think this creative process is deeply rooted in that part of my childhood and perhaps even in my genes.
You are also an installation artist and a muralist. Could you tell us a bit about these projects like “Color Bomb” and “Peace Tent”?
I enjoy creating playful, childlike installations, that are interactive and a kind of multi-sensory experience. “Color Bomb” was sort of a twist on yarn bombing. This was my first installation and I wanted to give off the explosion of color that is present in most of my work.
The “Peace Tent” started as a project idea between my partner and I. Initially we were thinking of creating a space to hold a workshop involving peace and the arts but the installation ended up being a peaceful space in itself. The rainbow colors are important, not only for symbolic reasons of acceptance and love to all people, but also because a rainbow is something beautiful in nature that we can all connect to. No matter how rough the storm, somewhere there exists a rainbow at the end of it. I’m enjoying creating work on a much larger scale and have some exciting ideas brewing for future installations.
What’s some worthy advice you’ve been given?
Kill them with kindness.
What music are you currently listening to?
My entire music library is basically comprised of electro-soul and future-funk music. There is an incredible underground world of electronic music that nourishes me and drives me to create the work that I do. Music producers like Late Night Radio, Vibe Street, Michal Menert, Daily Bread and Stone Soul are a few of my go-to’s, but there is so much interesting, progressive music out there…
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading a book called God’s Smuggler. It’s basically about a man’s life journey smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. I’ve been exploring my spirituality and this book just happened to land in my hands. I’m glad it did.
What’s on your bedside table?
Melody Beattie’s “Journey to the Heart” book (part of my daily morning ritual), a photo of my man and I with our awesomely carved pumpkins, a water bottle (I never go anywhere without one), my “Fun-fund” jar, a bag of dried lavender and a Merkin (don’t ask).
Um, dying to ask about the Merkin (that’s hilarious, by the way). Since I can’t, what would your last meal be?
Lavender cookies, ice cream and strawberries. That’s a meal, right?
How did you meet your partner, Jack?
We met at a music festival in upstate New York in 2013. It’s a pretty magical and funny story. Jack was volunteering, working the medical tent, and I asked if I could snag a bottled water (the one and only time I didn’t have one on me). We chatted for a few hours, and then ended up spending the entire weekend together just the two of us. I gave him my number and email, but silly me, I never asked for his. Turns out he threw away my info, thinking that he didn’t have time for a girlfriend as he was just about to start graduate school. I had no way of contacting him and I knew the only chance I had at seeing or talking to him again would be going to this other festival about a month and a half later that we had briefly spoken about. I volunteered, as he had said he would too…if he could go. He wasn’t there for the first few days and I thought that was the end of it. But the night we finally reconnected was magical and we both knew it was meant to be. We spent the weekend glued to each other’s side and after leaving the festival he took me home to meet his mom (whoa- early!) in Portland, Maine. We’ve been inseparable ever since. Jack is a Peacebuilder and Youth Educator and helps run an interfaith non-profit in Vermont that brings together Israeli, Palestinian and American youth. His faith and hope for peace in this world is astounding and inspiring.
Most memorable travel experience?
A few years ago I traveled to the Ukraine to see where my father grew up. His life before coming to the US wasn’t something that he shared willingly. I was so grateful to finally have the opportunity to learn about his cultural background and differences. The trip helped me better understand my family dynamics and has helped me build a stronger relationship with my father.
If you weren’t making art, what would you be doing?
Probably interior designing/decorating. There’s a part of me that loves moving, because I get to rearrange my things within a new space. It’s like a fun math problem for me, discovering the ways to make a (usually small) space work. I’ve always been my mom’s go to interior consultant. She really values my opinion, and I get to have a lot of fun with her space because it’s constantly changing and much bigger than my own.
Emma Balder is a visual artist- New England bred, Colorado transfer. She received her BFA in Painting and Art History from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She was awarded a one-year Staff Artist fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center and has received recognition in publications such as Studio Visit Magazine. Emma has exhibited both nationally and internationally and her works are included in private and public collections. Link to her personal site here.