Isolation and Female Empowerment: Interview With Emma Repp

Emma Repp is best known for illustrative, bright, and highly patterned portrayals of monotony and adaptation. Originally trained as a printmaker, she employs a similar calculated process and layered aesthetic to create whimsical images out of a combination of handmade and digital elements, but chooses to create with whatever she can find.


What is your story as an artist? When did you first decide to pursue printmaking and illustration?

When I was a kid, I did draw, but it was after I filled up notebooks writing stories about what I was drawing. I also made my own clothes, a boat for my guinea pig, some really weird baked goods, a lot of deep holes in the dirt, a series of giant stick puppet structures in the woods, and plenty I only remember when my mom reminds me.  My grandma was a painter, my dad went to art school, and my mom was a freak who loved that I was also a freak. I definitely had the kind of environment that pushed me to be a maker.

But as it happens, I wound up confused about what being a human meant, and super driven in areas unrelated to making. Luckily, though, after a lot of wiggling around and crying, I fell into printmaking. I made heavily patterned copper plate etchings, which eventually translated to heavily patterned ink drawings, which eventually translated to what I'm doing now. I keep calling what I make now "drawings," but maybe they are something else. Maybe they are lizards.

The weird thing is—I didn't feel like I was allowed to call myself an artist until... maybe last week. I think I called myself an artist last week. I've just made things because I felt like I would stop existing if I didn't.


Tell us about the inspiration behind your work:

Everything I have made in the past year or so is working to capture a feeling of loneliness and isolation in a state of excess, or female empowerment despite the environment. Those seem like two separate things, but they really came out of just being a female identifying human breathing in the world—and watching other people try to breathe in the world. 

Honestly, a lot of my inspiration came from riding the bus at rush hour after spending the day trying to convince humans (primarily men) that I am also a human. Existing is so bizarre right now, (and I know I've had it easy comparatively) but I want to capture that bizarreness.

I also love slurping up old photographs — the pictures we took when we couldn't see what they looked like until they were developed — I get a lot of visual inspiration from what we thought we wanted to see.

The colors and patterns are mostly just inspired by Nicki Minaj. I mean, maybe there is some kind of divine force telling me to use chartreuse, but I need to be listening to Nicki Minaj to hear it. If I ever meet Nicki, I would love to tell her how much I need her.


What is a piece of advice or a personal motto that you carry with you?

Don't fight your flow! It's flowing for a reason.


Tell us about a typical day in the studio.

My process has a few steps, but I have something going at every step so I can work according to my mood. The pieces start with line drawings on layers of tracing paper and watercolor paintings. When I get the paper substance finished, I scan and layer the drawings in Photoshop. I do a lot of coloring and crying at this point.

When I complete the image digitally, I transfer it to wood, and it gets its final details with paint. This is a new part of the adventure; I had been leaving my work in its digital state, previously.

Having a multi-step process came out of the printmaker in me — but it also came out of having big ideas in a little apartment while I had a day job at a tech company. For now, I still don't have a dedicated studio space, but I love that I can work on a piece on an airplane. I carry my notebook with tracing paper with me everywhere.


In your statement, you mention that you create with anything you find. What are some of your favorite materials to use and why?


But what I really meant by that is that my process just sort of happened with what I had access to. I think because my grandma was a painter, I thought I probably had to use oil paint for someone to tell me my art is art (although, she never would have wanted me to feel that way). I didn't have space or ventilation for that, but I still wanted to make 2-D art objects, so I made some work-arounds. It has taken a lot of self-help books, but I love the final result. I can get so much detail and depth.


What are some things you hope viewers take away from your work?

I want it to feel like you are dancing really hard alone to your favorite song — in your underwear — while eating a salad with your hands (and not choking on the salad).


What do you have planned for 2018?

It'll be my first full year where I am allowed to call myself an artist! I have a couple of shows lined up, and hopefully some illustration work, but I'm most excited about exhibiting during the Frieze Art Week in New York with Superfine! in May.