For this week’s interview of one of our campus artists, I was welcomed into a rather large Parsons double by a smiling Chloe Feldman Emison ’12 and her startlingly orderly belongings; absent was the expected college student clutter, or even the stereotypical disorder of an artist’s abode. Instead, to my great pleasure, I found a fantastic flower-patterned armchair and a reference to a much-loved British television show, Jeeves and Wooster, in the form of a cow-shaped milk creamer: all-in-all, not very much to betray the occupant’s passion.
Chloe is a draughtswoman; more specifically, her works of art are drawings, usually in pencil or pen and ink, although she admits to occasionally employing watercolor. “For a while already, I’ve drawn body parts that aren’t exactly always on display,” she confessed, “but now it’s in all my work.” Indeed, her latest series consists of impeccably and precisely executed skulls and corpse heads attached to animated bodies which are, as she put it, “performing mundane tasks, trying to live ordinary lives.” The dark humor underlying these pieces is hard to miss; I must admit it’s hard not to laugh at a skull-topped body struggling to blow his nose. Nevertheless, this work does have some “serious undertones,” giving a physical manifestation of “the line between life and death, which is often hard to distinguish,” Feldman Emison said. “I never know where things are going before I start; I just like to think about anatomical things, and the body being taken to extremes, decaying.”
Feldman Emison has certainly had time to find and develop her niche. Home-schooled in her native New Hampshire, she started drawing when her mother, an art historian, was trying to find ways to keep her calm during museum visits. “When I was 12, I got much better at it, and decided that I liked it a lot,” she remembered. By the time she hit 14 she had already had her work featured in galleries, after the “five dollar postcards” she created received some attention. At 16, she started having her first solo shows around New England. At home she was always supported by her parents in her budding endeavors. “They have both always been encouraging, and my dad is very helpful because he has a scanner,” Feldman Emison said.
In light of her talent, it is suprizing that Feldman Emison ended up in Williamstown for her undergraduate work, but she had good reasons. “After being home-schooled, I really wanted a formal education, so I decided against art school,” she explained. Since her arrival, she’s partaken in some of the usual steps of studio art majors: taking drawing, printmaking, painting and the like, which have contributed somewhat to her artistic production. “I’ve met some really wonderful professors,” she said, “but I still prefer simply to work on my own and get feedback, rather than follow regular assignments.”
However, it quickly became apparent in our interview that her time in the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford last year has affected her more than anything else. She spoke particularly highly about her tutorials with esteemed artist and anatomist Sarah Simblet. “We developed a strong, close, one-on one relationship, and we happened to have quite complimentary styles. We’ve continued to stay in touch,” Feldman Emison said. In England, she found that Oxford’s Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art catered to her taste quite well, as it is “the only place in the world where you can still draw from cadavers.” In addition, her visits to the university’s Pitt Rivers Museum, with its collection of shrunken heads and headhunter trophies, have been a particularly valuable source of inspiration.
The overall attitude towards studying art in England was different, too. “I was treated like an artist already, with perhaps some improvements to be made, instead of just an artist in the making,” Feldman Emison said. Her darkly humorous themes also seemed to go over better across the pond. “In the U.S., there is more reluctance to laugh at cadavers,” she said.
For her time after the College, Feldman Emison is already contemplating graduate school in the United Kingdom, or an occupation that would let her continue in production, such as illustration or set design. “Really, I would like to be able to make enough money to survive in some way,” she said.
Admittedly, she seems to have more than just a head start: Throughout her college years her work has continued to be exposed in galleries and sold. “I’ve definitely missed a lot of openings,” she admits, “but I always send things out, and through word of mouth I get other opportunities and new offers thanks to my previous shows.” Being in college has slowed down her production, too – at home, she confessed to spending hours on end sitting and drawing. “Here, with the pressure of assignments and deadlines, it’s not as comforting,” she said. A number of her fantastic pieces will be on show at the Spencer art studio until the end of this week.