Emma Chalmers

How often, when you’re wandering along a main street, do you stop to wonder about the spaces above the shops and their uses? Well today I had a glimpse when I climbed the stairs to the George St studio of Dunedin artist Emma Chalmers. Emma, a multidisciplinary artist working in painting, drawing, collage and kinetic installation, shares a third floor studio space with print maker Manu Berry, and filmmaker, photographer and video artist Max Bellamy. Before I sat down to chat with Emma I wandered into a gallery space at the rear of the studio to view some of her work, which you’ll see below.

Brought up on a farm in the Garston area Emma attended High School in Alexandra. In Year 13 she went on an exchange to Northern Italy and studied art at Liceo Artistico. Dealing with a new country, culture, language and family wasn’t as simple as it appeared from the comfort of her New Zealand home. When Emma befriended Roberta her family invited her to become their host daughter and what followed was an amazing experience.  Following the exchange Emma enrolled in Dunedin School of Art to do a Bachelor of Fine Arts and was lucky to return every summer to stay and travel with her Italian family.

After leaving Art School Emma shared a studio in Princes St with two other artists. She then decided to move to Stewart Island for six months, to gain a fresh perspective on women’s roles in rural communities. There she worked as a nanny, observed and interacted with the community and appreciated how tough remote living can be. The romantic image disappeared when she realised how physical rural life is – daily routines like chopping wood, and transporting goods without a car was laborious and time-consuming. A series of paintings resulted from that six-month stay.

Emma no longer has the privilege of working on one installation/art work at a time. She’s had to up the pace now she needs to make a living out of her art so has multiple works on the go. She supplements her income by working as a tour guide at Olveston House.

She’ll often play around for days allowing herself time to make mistakes and trial ideas before committing herself to the final work. Exhibition work is started well ahead of time.

When we started to discuss money and in particular, funding, we were both on familiar ground! Funding is always an issue – applying, applying and reapplying.  Emma’s proposal to Sanderson Contemporary Art Gallery in Parnell has resulted in her creating an installation in the style of an archaeologists dig site in their large project window later in the year. This space is made available for non-commercial, site-specific artworks, but there’s a catch, there’s no payment involved. Emma is working through the crowd funding site Pledge Me to recoup the cost of travel, advertising, printing and materials for this project.

Tramping, yoga, friends, and reading occupy Emma when she’s not in the creative zone. With the concert program playing quietly in the background I left Emma to her work and headed back out into the cool air, hustle and bustle of a Thursday George St morning.

Some of the works from the Exhibition: On the edge of the alphabet (works from Stewart Island)

The Strange Ranger 2 (2011) gouache on paper, 75 cm x 55 cm

Glutton (2011) gouache on paper, 75 cm x 55 cm

Sinkhole (2011) gouache on paper, 25 cm x 25 cm

The Drover (2011) gouache on paper, 25 cm x 25 cm

From the Exhibition: Papery Godfolk

The Industrious Virgin (2009) gouache on paper, 75 x 55 cm

Shoes for the wives of the un-employed

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