Person of Marvel: Emma Colbert - Artist, Graphic Designer, Wonder Woman
“If all girls were taught how to love each other fiercely instead of how to compete with each other and hate their own bodies, what a different and beautiful world we would live in.” - Nikita Gill
Emma Colbert is a multidisciplinary artist working predominantly in painting, drawing and print. Her work concentrates on gender roles, sexuality, domesticity and tells stories of the female experience. Studying Fine Art at Blackburn University, this girl is going places, trust us, you have our word. Having already taken up her role as Artist in Residence for Blackburn Open Walls - a street art festival, as well as assisting fellow exhibitionists at the Tate in Liverpool, there is no stopping this modern day wonder woman. Collaborating with Lydia McCaig to create girls girls girls - a platform for the female experience, celebrating womanhood and raising awareness of issues that affect women the world over, Emma’s portfolio of work speaks to a generation opening up to conversations tackling issues of gender, sexuality and personal experience. A curator in the making, she has also been known to dabble in graphic design, is there anything she can’t do? We spoke to Emma about her inspiration, her passion for equality and how she came to learn all the words to White Lines by Grandmaster Flash - nothing but respect for the latter.
Did you always want to be an artist/designer?
No not always, in fact for a while I had no idea what I wanted to do, I think there is quite a lot of pressure for people to have it figured out quite early with what they want to do in life and for some lucky people they know straight away but I had to try a few things before I realised what I wanted to be. I would say I have always been creative and loved art, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to really pursue it as a career.
How would you describe the style and form of your work?
I would say my work has a mix of different styles, it tends to usually have big blocks of colour whether it’s abstract or figurative. I love working with the use of colour and shapes, someone once described my work as abstracted forms and I have kind of adopted that terminology.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I tend to draw inspiration from my own experiences and my everyday life, so my work has personal undertones to it and it is quite self expressive.
Much of your work focuses on shapes and colour - can you explain your process?
I don’t know if I have much of a process? I think it depends on my mood really, sometimes there will be a kind of evolution with the work starting with a sketch and that will eventually develop into a painting or print. Other times I just kind of randomly think I am going to do this and just do it, with no planning what so ever. In all my work there is always large areas of colour and lots of different shapes and I don’t know how to describe that process, it’s just kind of naturally evolved over time.
How does your work reflect the female experience and gender roles?
My work is based off my own experience as a woman, I sometimes wonder if I feel a certain way how many other women will at some point? My work often is me trying to make sense of something or question something and gender roles is one of those things that doesn’t make sense to me, no one should be expected to act a certain way or do certain things based off their gender. So, my work is an outlet for myself to explore these themes based off my own personal experiences within them.
We are increasingly seeing a surge in art that celebrates sexuality and gender fluidity - why do you think this is the case?
I think we live in a time where people are so much more accepting and embrace what it is that makes us different, gender and sexuality is fluid and there are so many layers as to what makes us individuals and I think that’s a beautiful thing. Art reflects the world we live in and I love that artists are choosing to celebrate sexuality and gender fluidity and are showing that we are more complex than just defining ourselves as one thing.
Can you tell us more about 'girls girls girls' and the concept behind this?
girls girls girls is an artist duo between myself and artist Lydia McCaig, our main idea is to promote equality and to own what it is to be a woman and to celebrate that. We also want to support other artists and give them a platform for their own work creating a kind of artist community. Our first project was an exhibition, we held an open call for three months and just under two hundred artists responded from around the world. We had twenty-five artists exhibit and the show ran for two weeks at Prism Contemporary in Blackburn. Since then we have worked on some pretty cool projects including a screen printing workshop at The National Festival of Making where we created protest signs about equality and gender. We have some more exciting projects coming up which I can’t wait to start.
Is creating a platform for collaboration and the coming together of artists something that guides and shapes your own approach to your work?
I love the idea of collaboration and I have been able to collaborate with some really amazing artists in the past! I think collaboration can take the form of a number of things whether it is artists creating a singular piece together or artists just discussing each other’s work and bouncing ideas off each other. I think an artist community is really great because you have a group of people who can work together and discuss work and inspire each other. Being around other artists has definitely helped shape my own practice and continues to be a source of creativity and conversation.
Do you believe in there being such a thing as creative block?
Yes! I get creative block all the time which I use to find quite scary and it made me constantly doubt myself, but now I think that it is something that should be embraced because some of the best pieces of work I have made have come when I have no idea what I am doing. Not knowing gives you the freedom to experiment and explore your ideas in new ways, so if you ever have creative block take advantage of it as you don’t know what the outcome will be.
What was it like to be a part of Blackburn open walls Festival/Exhibition?
It was so much fun and I loved being apart of BOW, it gave me a platform to showcase my work and this has opened up other opportunities for myself so I am very thankful. I think street art can sometimes be misunderstood as vandalism but BOW is challenging that misconception and making the streets of Blackburn a beautiful place to walk around. I was also able to meet some incredible artists, so it was a good week for me.
Do you have any idols in the sphere of art and design?
I would say the Guerrilla Girls would be my idols, they’re like feminist superheroes who remain anonymous and fight the injustice and inequalities of the art world. I also love what @potyertitsawayluv is creating! You can find her on instagram and she creates tit pots and I love how she is promoting positive body images for women, you can find boobs from every shape and size and it is refreshing to see such a diverse representation of the female body.
Do you have any daily rituals?
I don’t think I do! I should maybe start having some daily rituals, I love my face care routine but I would be telling a lie if I said I do it everyday… I would say every other day. I also try to draw everyday or write an idea down, so I guess that could count? Oh also tagging my friends in stupid memes which are mostly cat, food or alcohol related.
Is there anyone who has helped you over the years, what wisdom did they share with you?
Someone in my family once told me how much they hated their job at a family party and to find something I love and pursue it. That piece of unintentional advice has kind of driven me to find something I love doing, which has led me to do what I do now, so I am thankful for that! Also I’m really lucky to have an amazing group of friends who constantly share their wisdom with me.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on some murals which I will be painting soon in Manchester which I am really excited about and we are working on some pretty cool stuff with girls girls girls so look out for that as well!
Do you have a fun fact about yourself?
I can rap all the words to White Lines by Grandmaster Flash (badly but I can do it) and I also have a cat with one blue eye and one green eye who dances and goes by the name Jonathon or Jon Boiii.
If there's one piece of advice that you can share with fellow artists - what would that be?
Don’t overthink things and just create stuff, loads and loads of stuff. Some of it will be bad and some of it will be good but as long as you keep making stuff new ideas will keep coming. This is advice I am trying to follow myself, I often over criticise when making work and I feel like it interrupts the work flow and can sometimes take the joy out of creating, so just make and enjoy yourself!