Vitamin D3 interview Emma Talbot
We speak to this contemporary artist, featured in Phaidon's new, indispensable survey of contemporary drawing
“Emma Talbot’s art developed in the emotionally raw context of bringing up two sons without her partner, following his death in 2006,” writes Paul Carey-Kent in Vitamin D3, Phaidon’s new, indispensable survey of contemporary drawing. “The intimacy of small works on paper suited her psychological stories of piercing emotional honesty, which detailed the couple’s previous life together. Talbot’s idiosyncratic pictorial language came out of those reflections on love and loss.
“Distended heads signal that thought dominates her figures, but their faces are blank – so the features don’t carry the burden of meaning and viewers can therefore project themselves into the narrative. Rhythmic patterning, with the waves of long hair often providing the template, build up to swirling intensity. Talbot has also developed a unique calligraphy to integrate her inner monologue into the work – not her everyday handwriting, but a mixture of upper and lower cases and differing sizes that enables the maximum variation of emphases.
“Sometimes, indeed, her drawings are pure text. From that relatively confined starting point, Talbot’s methods and scope have expanded rapidly so that, in the words of curator Iwona Blazwick, she ‘makes radiant drawings and polychromatic sculptures on an epic scale; and combines word and image to express the lyricism and the pain of subjectivity’. Large paintings on silk in multi-panel installations, textiles suggesting protest banners, sculpture and animation confidently tackle such global topics as the future of humanity, the balance of people and nature, and the addictive consequences of the digital. The personal is mapped on to the collective, with Talbot’s remembered experiences and speculations on the subconscious linked to a mixture of references from popular and literary culture to explain, as she says, ‘what it’s like to be me, alive today’. Small, text-free watercolours are still an important part of her practice, retaining much of her long-established language, but now grouped into suites of linked works with mythical undertones.
“Sounders of the Depths (2019) shares its title with Talbot’s major show that year at GEM Museum for Contemporary Art in The Hague, which traced a path across several installations between birth and death as – in her words – ‘epic moments that everyone has experienced or will experi-ence, but which we are unable to remember or imagine’. The living were portrayed as sleepwalking between those two defining events. An accompanying text work enjoins us to ‘listen / to the body of the world gasping in horror / once gathering in seeds, heavy with fruit, now barren and depleted / an open cry’. No wonder the sun in Solar Flare (2019) seems more ominous than generative, even before we get to The Future Exploded (2019). Fast forward and the aged woman using old methods in The Future, Collecting Water (2019) seems to come from a post-technological vision of what the future might hold."