PROFILE: Painter Emma Davis

Through the keyhole: exploring an artist’s home and studio

Esther Lafferty meets East Oxford Emma Davis to hear more about her home, her studio and her art, as she prepares to welcome visitors into it for Oxfordshire Artweeks (4th-11th May; venue 97).

Emma lives in an archetypal Victorian terrace in East Oxford, packed with original features. And not only that, there’s art history on its very walls. ‘When we moved in we stripped the wallpaper of and found paintings and murals on the plaster beneath – scenes of Oxford filled one bedroom, for example. I was fascinated to find out who had done them and so I investigated the previous occupants and we discovered that ‘decorative house painter’ called Pimm was recorded at the address in 1901. And then, when we stripped some deteriorating wooden cladding off my two-storey building in the garden which is also Victorian we uncovered the most amazing stained glass windows beneath – a series of six which light up the space magically. It’s incredible to think that they’ve been hidden for decades with no one knowing about the. We couldn’t believe it – it felt like finding treasure!’

This isn’t the sort of house which you’d expect to have stained glass in a garden outhouse,’ she smiles, and so we think they were probably made by this Mr Pimm too – we assume he probably worked on college buildings but we don’t know. We’d love to know find out more about his work if there’s anyone with an interest in local history who can shed any light on him.’

Emma now uses the upper storey of this building as her studio, painting alongside these extraordinary windows which casting colours into the room adding to the airy atmosphere of her working space and her bright choices of palette. Each of her colourful abstracts catch your eye and hold your gaze. They’ve striking and bold, punchy statement pieces rich with cheer. Both spring-like and joyful, it is as if Emma has pinned to canvas that feeling you have when you can’t help but burst into song on a sunny summer’s day, or the wonderful limitless horizons of childhood when the world is bright and full of adventure.

‘My paintings are purely about the colour’ says Emma. ‘I find the best paintings come from playing with and exploring the use of colour. Putting unexpected colours against each other so there’s a contrast, a discordance even, can have spectacular results because they can bring each other to life.’

Her abstracts –  or a set of three or four smaller ones – are designed to own the space in which they hang, and are perfect to bring a crisp plain wall to life either in a modern environment or adding a element of surprise to an older home. They are the absolute anti-thesis of clutter, bringing with them a flavour of clean-lined Danish design, smart 60s styling or the bright strong organic geometry of flowers. ‘Gerberas and tulips are my favourites,’ says Emma, who particularly loves combining the deep red, oranges and pinks that you’d see in a summer garden, and although this is an unusual combination for a painter, the impression of these colours against a pale wall is like that of an indoor window-box. ‘Only the canvas never needs watering,’ she grins!

Interestingly, the room below Emma’s studio which serves as her inspiration is a striking contrast. It’s walls are packed with neat shelves of memorabilia from her childhood and characters she’s gathered since – from Playmobil characters to a four-foot ET, Buzz Lightyear and a teletubby – and Emma also paints these as charming still lifes.

‘I really love old dolls- the creepier and more kitsch the better and one of my favourite toy paintings is of a German ‘jelly doll’ that used to live at my grandparent’s house and now lives permanently in my studio . I loved painting her so much I bought 3 more ‘sisters’ for her from eBay which are also proudly on display next to the Smurfs and ET!’

‘I was shy but cheeky child, says Emma, an only child, and so I absolutely loved my toys and would lose myself in the imaginary worlds I created with them. I could become absorbed in games with them, and painting is like that for me today. A paintbrush makes me bold and courageous!’

Visit www.artweeks.org to see the other places you can visit from 4th-27th May during Oxforrdshire Artweeks, as hundreds of artists open their studios to the public or host pop-up exhibitions in interesting spaces giving you the chance to pick up something unique to add a touch of style to your home.

Published in OX Homes Spring edition 2019

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