Telling the Stories of Our Times
“My work is really about a very personal experience of being alive at this period of time.”
We visited Emma Talbot in her studio in London to talk about how she transforms the intangible realms of thought and emotion into tangible expressions on silk canvases. Read more …
As she introduced herself in the opening moments of our conversation, Talbot articulated her artistic project as an exploration of stories that echo the zeitgeist. Touching on big contemporary issues, such as societal structures, and our relationships with technology, ecology, and nature, Talbot describes her art as an interrogation of the human condition: “the brevity and fragility of life itself; what is given value and worth, what is memorialised, and the inevitable experiences of love and grief.”
Talbot’s artistic repertoire spans from paintings on silk to animations and drawings. The latter always works as her starting point: “I developed a practice in which I start withdrawing, and I let myself draw whatever comes to mind without really trying to direct the subject of the drawings or what they’re exploring so that I can see what it is I’m thinking.” Yet, it’s only after a phase of deep research – online, through reading, or by seeking diverse forms of knowledge – that she refines and enriches these raw expressions into motives and narratives.
In her winning proposal for the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, Talbot took as a starting point her fascination with Gustav Klimt’s painting Three Ages of Woman (1905), which features a naked elderly woman standing in apparent shame. In her mind, the woman looked like a future version of Talbot herself, and so the figure became an avatar to tackle some of the contemporary issues that Talbot addresses in her practice.
Talbot’s pivot to using silk as a canvas reflects a profound quest for artistic freedom. Influenced by writers like Hélène Cixous, who explored finding one’s own voice in writing, Talbot sought an equivalent liberation in her visual language. The ethereal qualities of silk offered the flexibility she craved – something drapable, cuttable, and wearable – a material that could carry the weight of ideas without becoming burdened by historical constraints.
Her intricate process of painting on silk involves a delicate balance, where fluidity meets substance, allowing her to control the marks on the surface while embracing the material’s inherent delicacy. The resulting large-scale paintings, described by Talbot as “collages of ideas,” become immersive experiences, inviting viewers into a dialogue with the intricate narratives within.
Emma Talbot (b.1969) studied at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design and Royal College of Art. Her work was showcased at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia as part of the exhibition ’Milk of Dreams.’ In 2022, she was awarded the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, which cumulated in the exhibition The Age / L’Età shown in Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia and Whitechapel Gallery in London. Talbot’s exhibition history includes solo shows such as “The Human Experience” (2023) at Kunshtall Stavanger ’In the End, the Beginning’ (2023) at Kesselhaus, KINDL, Berlin, “When Screens Break” at Eastside Projects in Birmingham (2020), ’Ghost Calls’ at DCA in Dundee (2020), and ’Sounders of The Depths’ at GEM Kunstmuseum in The Hague, Netherlands (2019-20). Noteworthy exhibitions also include ’Woman-Snake-Bird’ at Galerie Onrust in Amsterdam (2018) and ’The World Blown Apart’ at the same gallery in 2017. Her recent work ‘Seeds Grow in Fertile Ground (Every Thought is an Opening)’ (2023) was featured in the group exhibition ‘Irreplaceable Human? The Conditions of Creativity in the Age of AI’ at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Her work has found a home in collections worldwide, including Guerlain in Paris, British Council Collection, Arts Council Collection, City of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, David Roberts Collection, Saatchi Collection, University of the Arts London, Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth, Fries Museum NL, Arnhem Museum NL, KRC Collection NL, and AkzoNobel NL.
Emma Talbot was interviewed by Nanna Rebekka in her studio in London in April 2023.
Camera: Alex Newton
Edited and produced by: Nanna Rebekka
CIRCA – Emma Talbot Documentary
Installation view of ‘Emma Talbot. In the End, the Beginning’ at Kesselhaus, KINDL by art/beats
Emma Talbot’s documentary of the 8th Max Mara Art Prize for Women residency and her exhibition at the Collezione Maramotti produced by TIWI.
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023.
Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet and C.L. Davids Fond og Samling.
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