Artist Profile: Emma Van Leest

What do you love about your medium?

I’ve often said I love the way that paper cutting is about transforming an everyday material which we all use all the time, into something amazing, precious and beautiful. It’s almost an alchemical quality. Also, I consider myself as working in a female craft tradition – my mother taught me to sew, my grandmother taught me to knit – these are practices which require repetition, patience and skill in addition to imagination and creativity, and they are small scale, practiced in the home, in the quiet moments.

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Describe a piece of artwork that you find superficial or boring.

Mine or someone else’s? Lots of art is superficial, decorative even and not boring. I find a lot of conceptual art boring. I guess I’m a bit of a traditionalist in that I want to be visually engaged, I want to entranced by art, I want there to be skill involved, that I can see. I love it when I can see that the hand is involved – it’s not compulsory but I do prefer it, I think.

When did you first call yourself and artist and why?

I can’t remember – I would try it on for size but I never really believed it for myself. At one point I got a tattoo, which in a way was an act of marking a point in time after which I couldn’t turn back, that now (as this was more than 10 years ago, before everyone started getting tattoos) I was definitely different and had chosen a different path. One moment that had a big impact too was when I did my first commercial solo show, and someone else, a big collector, said it to me that I was now a real artist – then I felt some affirmation! I was a bit insecure back then. I’m much more comfortable with it now. Recently someone joked to me about being paid so I ‘don’t feel like a hobbyist’ and I responded very firmly that I was definitely not a hobbyist!

Emma Van Leest

Describe a piece of artwork and/or an artist that you find consistently inspiring.

I love Vermeer’s work. The way the light hits everyday objects, making them magical, it makes you remember that everyday things are beautiful and transcendent too. In fact, I love the whole story of Vermeer – a normal man with normal, everyday concerns such as paying the bills and running a business, but he quietly produced these incredible works about everyday events and concerns.

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What is your unique purpose for creating work?

I don’t even know anymore, it’s my profession. It’s what I do, I just don’t even think about it. The process started a decade ago and I’m just rolling with it.

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