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Sirens: an interview with artist Rosie Emerson

Hackney based artist Rosie Emerson explains more about her techniques and inspiration in this exclusive interview. Catch her Sirens exhibition soon at the Hang Up Gallery.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Rosie Emerson Capella edition 1 of 5 by Rosie Emerson, Cyanotype, 42 x 61 cm

Capella edition 1 of 5, Cyanotype, 42 x 61 cm

Rosie Emerson explores the ancient form of Cyanotype printing in her new Sirens’ show at the Hang Up Gallery, with a series of 18 works ranging in size from 12cm up to 6ft. Here she explains more about the extraordinary techniques employed in her beautiful artworks and what she looks for in the models she works with. She also shares some sage advice for all aspiring artists.

Portrait of Rosie Emerson

How do you chance upon the many techniques that you employ in your art pieces?
Oooh, interesting question, I guess initially that was from my fine art education at Kingston University, back in 2004. We were encouraged to try new media, and so I worked with screen-printing, etching and film there. Even then I was mixing up different media; creating solvent transfer prints on canvas and then embroidering over the top and painting onto screen-prints. I’m still mixing things up now, and am always interested in both creating new techniques and discovering old ones.

Recently I have been screen-printing using natural materials, like ash, sawdust and charcoal powder. I wanted to create prints which were imperfect and softer, and I looked into the technology used in flocking and adapted it. Charcoal is one of the most exciting and volatile of materials to use, I like not knowing how a print is going to turn out. My dad is also a cabinetmaker so he has been saving me different types of saw dust from his workshop.

Rosie Emerson Rhoda edition 1 of 2

Rhoda edition 1 of 2.

What has been your favorite discovery so far, and why is it so fun to play with?
At the moment it is an old process called Cyanotype printing. I only started using it to create work this year, and this work is forming my Solo show ‘Sirens’ which opens next week at Hang Up Gallery in Stoke Newington, London. It’s a brilliantly playful process; I’m combining real size negatives with objects – everything from shells to branches to salt – to create two tone, one off or small editions of prints. The process responds to UV light, so I even made some using the sun.

Rosie Emerson Selene


What do you look for in a model for your artwork?
My work to date has involved solitary figures, they are mostly friends or friends of friends, although I have worked with some wonderful professional models such as Daisy Lowe and Amber Le Bon to name drop a few. It is not so important for me if they are known figures or not, It’s about an interesting face – I am always drawn to strong looking women, although recently I have made softer, more introspective pieces. I have just started taking my own pictures rather than working collaboratively with photographers, which means directing models is something I am improving at. I’ve worked with some great photographers namely Becky Palmer and Mark Bayley and I can now say ‘press you lips together’, rather than can you ‘shut your mouth’ for example. It is very important for me that things are unrushed and everyone is enjoying the shoot, that’s when the unexpected and the creative are allowed to happen.

Rosie Emerson Marlene Dietrich #6

Marlene Dietrich #6.

You also dabble in film, what can the viewer expect from this experience?
Yes, alongside my Cyanotypes in the ‘Sirens’ show I am showing a short Super 8 film. It’s not too far removed from the photographic works upstairs, but film is a fantastic and I think provocative medium, which in the case of ‘White Knight’ raises ideas about looking at people looking at art, so the relationship between the audience and model is subtly flipped, and the viewer becomes the subject.

siren #2 by Rosie Emerson, Cyanotype, 74 cm dimensions round

Siren #2, Cyanotype, 74 cm x 74cm.

How did a degree in fine art set you up for the real world?
Hmm, it didn’t really, we had a great lecture from an outside guest, who offered up some pearls of wisdom, namely about your most useful network being your peers sitting next to you. The course was mostly practical and conceptually led. We had a tiny module called professional practice.

Isis by Rosie Emerson, Cyanotype, 112cm x 76 cm

Isis, Cyanotype, 112cm x 76 cm.

You have exhibited in numerous places around the world, what has been the most memorable occasion or event and why?
Yes, one of the first international projects I did was in Tel Aviv and it was really exciting to see pictures of my work up there. Sadly I am stuck in the studio in London for many of the international shows and art fairs that I do, but I am planning a trip to the West coast of America later this year. I’d love to show some work there, and perhaps make some more work whilst I’m there too.

Rosie Emerson Shrine # 1

Shrine #1.

What advice would you give an up and coming artist when it comes to finding your feet in the ‘real world’?
I say, go for it, then if you’re finding it hard, think long and hard about whether this is something you want to do… really want to do, and if you can’t imagine doing anything else, think about it a bit harder. Think about whether you have the self motivation and are happy to live life with a insecure income, whether you are prepared to put yourself out there to potentially fail and then have to pick yourself up again. And then, if you still really want to be an artist, find a way to make it work. Very few artists live solely off their income as an artist, so think about something else you can do alongside making art. Get a studio, be strict with yourself about making work, apply for everything and anything that takes your fancy, and don’t worry about the rejections. Organize things yourself and don’t wait for things to happen. I quote artist Byron Pritchard, when he says ‘the world doesn’t owe you a job’.

Sirens opens soon at the Hang Up Gallery – read my full listing here. See more work by Rosie Emerson here.


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