Emma Walker’s new collection of paintings, ‘Surface Immersion’, illuminates the creative power that dwells between contradictions and boundaries. Drawing inspiration from extensive travel and an innate desire to absorb the world around her, the artist explores connections between landscape, memory and the subconscious through texture, tactility and surface. Her works traverse worlds within and without, looking at how our innermost selves are interwoven with the vast universe.
Walker’s abstracted imagery emerges from a combination of experimentation and automaticity, each mark mingling with her memory in a fluid process of revelation and concealment. Layer upon layer of paint is applied on timber, scraped back, sanded, gouged, carved and glazed – physical processes that attempt to emulate the geological occurrences causing continents to move and shorelines to reshape, etching the faces of rocks, rivers and ravines. These various techniques create a multitude of surfaces that trick the eye. When is the line painted, and when is it carved? What is receding and what is protruding? The artist reflects, ‘My process appears to be a mirror of self and the undulating confusion of existence’. As such, the works are in a perpetual state of becoming – nascent formations that resist fixed and finite meaning.
‘Surface Immersion’ creates atmospheric spaces wherein divisions between self and other dissolve in the layering, the additions and subtractions, and the search for forms. ‘I want the paintings to be dreamy places that the eye can get lost in, for the viewer to experience a form of reverie when looking at them; to feel something’, Walker states. Alluding to the ideas of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard – who conceptualised space in terms of the ‘dialectics of outside and inside’, prompting a revision of these boundaries – the works are exercises in dissolving divisions between material and mind, surface and immersion.
From ancient escarpments etched and eroded with the lashes of time to cellular structures and root systems, the paintings move between internal and external landscapes in ways that are given form by the viewer’s imagination. Carved channels twist and turn across the board like sprawling river networks or veins circulating around the body. Shadows are cast by trails of tiny burrows as Walker plays with positive and negative space, light and dark. In some areas, bare board reveals the very first gestural marks, while others are obscured with opaque paint, each different surface acting as a site for psychological, emotional, physical and geological immersions. The boards bear the memory of the artist’s tools like former lives lived, their tactile topologies marking tangible presence and the imprint of absence.
The physicality of Walker’s making process imbues the works with a sense of struggle and resilience, and a deep sense of history. Crafted into irregular forms that defy the traditional rectangular configuration, the paintings feel organic and autonomous, sitting proudly on the wall as if floating in space. For the artist, ‘each painting has its own personality; they are a family of unruly characters with numerous common traits and resemblances. I see them as hybrid creatures, paintings that are trying to make a sculptural proposition of some sort.’ The artist carves open a space between the different identities of painting – in naturalistic terms as an illusion, and in formalist terms as a flat object. ‘The truth is, a painting has the potential to be many things: an object, an invitation, an illusion, a plane, a portal and series of questions. It may sit on a wall, but it still occupies space. It also penetrates psychological space. I wanted to indent that space and drift both towards and away from the wall as well as in and out of people’s minds, whilst also trying to understand my own’ reflects Walker. ‘This is an investigation that I am still scratching at the surface of’.