Colour Me Happy!
In a world which can sometimes feel a wee bit bleak, we'll take the joyful work of Ilfracombe artist Emma Gibbons, thanks!
Shall I let you in on a little secret? Don’t tell her I told you, but Muddy Devon’s very own Commercial Director Emma Gibbons is a T-A-L-E-N-T. She doesn’t tend to shout enough about it, in my opinion, but that’s where I come in. Juggling being mum to a gorgeous girl (and dog, Ronson), wife to a musician and, of course, Muddy, Emma also happens to produce some of the happiest artwork around – seriously, look at her Instagram and then feel those endorphins flow!
Now, since North Devon’s Art Trek Open Studios event is nearly upon us for its fifteenth year, I have the perfect excuse to tell you a bit more about her, since she’s going to be exhibiting for the duration at Ilfracombe’s Fleek Gallery. I’ve managed to extract all you need to know about her, so have a read, then do go say hi, won’t you? She loves a glass of champagne!
So, who is Emma then, and what does she do?
Well, here’s the official blurb, before we delve. In a nutshell, Emma combines paint, ink, glazes, glitter and mixed media to produce curious & joyful pieces of art from her studio on the North Devon Coast. Inspired by five years studying in London at highly acclaimed institutions Goldsmiths University, London Guildhall and Camberwell College of Art, Emma has also satiated some serious Wanderlust over the years, travelling extensively through Europe, Asia and South America, bringing vibrant colour to her work along with themes of discovery and exploration. She admits to “being in love with colour” and views each of her artworks as “a little adventure – something for you to explore”.
Right Emma, how did this all begin?
I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder. I love miniature things – dolls houses, Barbie shoes, Polly Pockets (remember those?!) and of course the baby bottles of booze you get on planes. Even plane meals actually! The way they’re all compartmentalized. As a kid that was genuinely my favourite part of the holiday. Yeah, weird.
The bottle thing has been a part of my practice for a very very long time. I’ve been working with bottle miniatures for about 15 years. Initially when I was trying to make a living as a jobbing illustrator in London I used them as an innovative way of getting potential employers to look at my CV. I was doing a lot of Victoriana graphic illustration at the time – all London streets, top hats and madams with big skirts and bigger bosoms. I’d been to a few lectures all about how hard it was to even get a look in – to get people to notice you before they even bothered opening your portfolio. So I used to hand-draw Victorian newspaper articles advertising my illustration services and send them to the heads of illustration agencies rolled up in an empty Captain Morgan miniature rum bottle. Like a message in a bottle that has mysteriously found its way to the right person. It was a pretty good idea. It landed me a few nice jobs (including one for the Sherlock Holmes Museum), and I got to drink a lot of mini-rums in the process!
Jobs! So where have you been, before washing up on Devon shores?
I’ve worked in the art business for a very long time. My entire working life in fact. While I was studying in London I produced mixed media artwork, children’s books, theatre sets, costumes and miniature sculptures. I also exhibited at the ICA, the Oxo Tower, was published in Time Out Magazine & gained an MA. Then, industry heavyweights came calling…Jay Joplin’s White Cube gallery, The Chapman Brothers and Victoria Miro before Damien Hirst, for whom I was an exhibitions manager & curator for 4 years.
My years with Damien Hirst were undoubtedly the most influential for my own personal practice. Love him or hate him, he creates works that are undeniably reactionary – designed to make people think. My hope is to tap into that emotion and elicit pleasure, passion, excitement, nostalgia. He also taught me that art is art. If you say it’s art – then it is. I’ve always respected that.
Is it true that you’re actually a pirate in disguise?
I’ve known my whole life that I come from a long and prosperous bloodline of sailors, pirates & smugglers. My family are Cornish and we all grew up competent sailors, with that ‘affinity for the sea’ thing possessed by proper old-school sea folk. Boats have been a part of our family history for centuries and well, while some of the more charitable members of the family joined the Navy, many of them clearly decided there were more prospects in pirating and smuggling. I have ancestors that built the Titanic in Belfast and more that died on her voyage from Southampton. We do boast some high-calibre villains among our precarious lineage however, including the aforementioned Captain Morgan and the not-so-charming Judge Jefferies (The Hanging Judge). So for me, the bottles are a throwback to my heritage and ancestry, as well as representing something special, unique and bizarrely destined for some unknown but essential recipient.
So how has the bottle-theme evolved?
My first bottle works contained notes. They were tiny confessions, or secrets, hidden within the private world of the ‘message in a bottle’ with no real recipient – just a message. I made them for several years, and sold them throughout galleries in Cornwall and Devon. They did well, but as with all things creative, eventually I found that they had become a process for me rather than a passion. I was – a bit bored. It took me many, many months to come up with the concept I now employ but I really wanted them to invoke some sort of emotional response in the buyer. I wanted the works to speak to them personally. I wanted each viewer to find a combination of colours that appealed to them, or a bottle (or two) of which they were particularly drawn to. There’s beauty in order and I wanted to create beautiful, ordered things that didn’t need to contain notes – because they contained colours that each viewer could be moved or excited by.
When they started to come together I was thrilled. They actually looked better than I had ever imagined, which is kind of every artists’ dream! They continue to convey a unique preciousness, which is accentuated by the high-quality bespoke framing and pure white backgrounds. And the fact that people buy them and then get in touch to tell me about their own connections with the work is beyond rewarding. It’s more than I could ask for really. I’m very blessed in that regard.
Ooh, speaking of which, anyone we know snaffled your work?
Erm…Dawn French, Tim Marlow, The British Library? Oh, and Lauren Laverne – that enough for you?!
Finally, there’s no denying your work is happy – is that intentional?
I do believe that art should be joyful. Life is full of challenges and I hope my work can bring people a little bit of daily joy. A little bit of happiness, sat on your wall. Smiles guaranteed!
About the Art Trek: this fab collaboration running from 14th – 30th September gives an opportunity to the artists, many working in rurally isolated places, to raise their profile and showcase their work directly to the public. For us visitors it affords a rare opportunity to meet these artists and makers in a relaxed atmosphere, chat about their work processes, see demonstrations, join in special workshops and events but also giving the potential to buy or commission unique, hand-created artworks from those taking part. What’s not to love about that?!