Interview by Sam Desmond
Hailing from the world-famous city of Liverpool, England, artist Emma Worth, along with our founder, Rachel Wilkins, are part of the artistic tradition and spirit of the hometown of The Beatles. Meeting at an art show hosted by Conception (HiConcept’s parent company) and directed by Rachel, Emma found a fostering, kindred soul in her fellow Liverpool lady. Three years after their initial meeting at Conception: Liverpool, Emma was invited (i.e. told she absolutely had to come because of how good her work is) to show at Conception’s art fair for New York City’s Frieze Week. The first night of the show, contemporary art icon Chuck Close praised the innate talent of Emma’s work.
So what was it like getting to meet Chuck Close and having him compliment your work? How hard were you fan-girl’ing?
Chuck was one of the reasons I got into portraiture. Hearing him compliment my work validated my choice to pursue painting. It was like having a religious experience!
How did he [Chuck Close] approach you?
Chuck first spoke about my pieces to his long-time protégé, Suzanne Scott [read her HiConcept profile here]. We were both showing our work at Conception Frieze Week. He is kind, supportive, and down-to-earth.
You really felt like Chuck’s friend…
He even gave me some whiskey from his flask!
That’s close to “bestie” behavior!
It still all feels like a dream to me.
So how much confidence did you have in your work going into the show?
It was very low. For a while it felt like other people in my life wanted me to paint so long as it paid the bills, but I couldn’t find the inspiration or the self-esteem to be a real artist with trying to “9 to 5” my work.
How did you ever get the confidence to show? Let alone Frieze Week…
Well that’s where Rachel’s magic comes in. She and her amazing wife, Jen [Conception/HiConcept’s other founder] really recognized my talent and never stopped telling me how good I am.
Like Chuck, your work really focuses on “massive details.” The attention to the faintest of baby hairs or the slightest dimple is astounding. What’s your motivation to paint your subjects in hyper-realism?
I like to be as honest as possible. I want to show how people actually are—in a vulnerable, natural state. Even if it’s nose hairs.
Does that make it harder to paint clients’ portraits?
I don’t take commissions unless it’s clearly accepted how I approach a subject. I paint the way I paint. I choose my subjects and their representation.
You do have quite a few pieces that are stills from movies—my favorite is Wednesday Addams at the awkwardly preppy summer camp—what do you find painting movie scenes do for the original medium of film?
Art begets art. It’s a way of re-focusing the scene, re-living the moment, by taking a closer look at a particular snapshot. For the piece on Wednesday, I saw the stagnant sterility of the swimwear and the polo shirts with the awful contrast to the character’s spirit. It’s comedy, but profoundly sad when taken by itself.
Are there other directors you admire or use as inspiration for your pieces?
David Lynch’s work has a certain “dreamlike” quality to it. But it belies a harsh reality. Like underneath the beauty is this gritty realism. In Blue Velvet, where the cockroach eats the beetle, it’s such a natural, savage cycle captured.
So what would you say to the artists who don’t quite believe in themselves yet?
Listen, I used to keep my paintings in a room, never to be seen, because I never thought they weren’t good enough. I took the leap and let others see it. Art can’t exist in a vacuum.
Anything specific to Liverpool artists?
We come from a great city of artistic inspiration and proven artistic talent—follow your passion and don’t be afraid to share it.