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Interview - Emma Davies

Creative People

11th November, 2011
Lucy Feagins
Friday 11th November 2011

Emma Davies in her Melbourne studio - photo by Lucy Feagins.

Emma's sculptural vessels sit on her studio workbench - photo Lucy Feagins.

Details from Emma's studio...

I visited artist / crafter / designer / maker  Emma Davies last week in her studio on the Southside (like, wayyyy southside right near the beach in Hampton - gorgeous!).  Now you MUST know Emma's work - her stunning sculptures and vessels made from polypropylene mesh have had their fair share of well-deserved press over the years, and she's been involved in numerous high profile exhibitions and residencies both internationally and locally.  BUT during my visit, I learnt a few things about Emma you may not know!

Firstly - she's sporty!  Super sporty.  Like - 'owns her own WINDSURFING board (!?)' sporty.  Amazing.  I was extremely impressed by this fact.  She also owns about 12 wetsuits and goes windsurfing even in winter.  And she talks about this as if it's like some totally everyday activity, like going to the gym, or going for a jog.  In my book windsurfing definitely qualifies as an extreme sport.  Anyway. I digress.

Emma is also a very hands on Mum to two busy kids - Lola (10) and Miles (8).   How Emma juggles the kids' schedules with her own art practice, exhibitions, retail orders and annual international / regional residencies AND WINDSURFING is beyond me!  I guess sporty people get up real early? :)

Emma has an incredibly flexible, fluid approach to her art making.  She's not at all precious about her work - she seems to effortlessly merge commercial projects and major large scale commissions with non-commercial projects, exhibitions and cross cultural residencies - and she even runs childrens art classes too!   Her 'Bower Bird' art classes are a unique series of after school and holiday program workshops for creative kids! In these classes the kids work with a wide range of found materials on a variety of creative projects - making puppets, woven baskets, paper mache and bricolage, collage and more!  The workshops have been immensely popular - if you're in the Bayside area there are still spots available for the Christmas school holidays!  (Contact details on Emma's website!)

Massive thanks to Emma for hosting me at her Hampton studio last weekend, and for letting me run riot with my camera!  I'm please to announce also that we'll be stocking some of Emma's exquisite work at The Design Files Open House...!  Alongside her large scale collectable works, Emma also makes much smaller, simpler but equally beautiful mesh vessels, available at an accessable pricepoint through selected retailers... including TDF Open House!  Awesome.

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now with your art practise?

Fortunately I come from creative stock, meeting a master printmaker in Italy in 1991 led me to where I am now. He taught me printmaking and gave me complete access to his studio where the notion of working with my hands crystalised. Although I never pursued printmaking, I returned to Melbourne, found a studio and started creating objects with resin/fibreglass then followed onto polypropylene, which is the medium I use in my art practice today.

You have been involved with a number of programs with aboriginal craftspeople in Arnhem Land and the Torres Straight Islands - how did these opportunities come about, and how have these experiences shaped your own work?

With these particular opportunities, one project always seems to lead to another.... so when an opportunity is presented to me I am always open minded. Opportunities arise from being open and  involved - each exposes me to new experiences and opens new doors forcing me to explore unchartered waters. Whenever I have been on a trip, on my return I find I create a body of work that reflects that journey.

A few new creations by Emma, inspired by a recent trip to the Torres Straight Islands

In addition to making and exhibiting your own work, you also run unique Bower Bird art classes for kids! Can you tell us a little about these classes – what inspired you to start these and what do you enjoy most about working with kids?

The classes are all about exploring materials, looking at ways we can re-use, recycle and re-think.  The classes have been very refreshing for me, kids are great at exploring, and are able to create work without inhibition.

The workshop classes run two afternoons a week and I have a school holiday program too which I love, as the kids and I get to make all sorts of fun stuff all day long!

Emma's Hampton studio, where her kids art classes are held

Crafty goodness at Emma's Hampton studio, where her kids art classes are held

What does a typical day involve for you?

Kids to school, in a rush usually - although I manage a moment of peace walking the dog to the beach.  I am fortunate to have two studio spaces very close together - one for my own practise, and one for the kids workshops.  So my days are spent happily travelling between the studios - making, searching, scavenging.  Not so much researching, as I'm guilty of leaving things to the last minute - most of my work is created through the actual making so that's when the research is done.

On workshop days kids arrive afterschool where we make stuff for a couple of hours, then onto all the usual chores followed by a well deserved red or two.

Materials and details at Emma's studio

Can you list for us your top 5 creative resources across any media?

5 could be tricky, as most of my creative inspiration comes from life experiences...

Collaborations, inspiration and surroundings (big resource).  I'm not big on TV, computers and I don't subscribe to magazines.  I do visit galleries and am fortunate to have a stack of creative people and family around me who I would have to say are a big part of my creative resource.

Which other designers / creative people do you admire?

Tricky one, I have admiration for anyone persuing their creativity across any media - as fullfilling as it is, it has its challenges.

What would be your dream creative project?

Collaboration with other cultures, I love it. Nothing better than a residency in an exotic destination.

What are you looking forward to?

To continue making and creating for as long as I am able, and seeing what my kids will be doing in the future as I constantly encourage them to fullfill their own desires.

Emma's work desk at her main studio - heat gun at the ready!

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

My neighbourhood, Bayside - I love it because I have the water at my doorstep, I use it everyday.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Dinner at Mileto's, cafe/resturant in windsor, they always make me feel at home. A family of italians who feed you well with yum homecooked food.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Mucking around with my two kids in the bay or in my studio. Saturday is great in the studio, with the radio on, I seem to have a different work pace on Saturdays.

Emma's Hampton studio, where her kids art classes take place

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Bullshit bay windsurfing on high tide, but I can't tell you where that is!

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email