The art of Bern Emmerichs is astounding.
‘My paintings are an immediate response to a narrative, often having classical and romantic overtones with a historical influence,’ tells the alumnus of art at Prahran College, and Phillip Institute of Technology. Highly detailed and illustrative, her works are reminiscent of manuscript miniatures chronicling tales of old and painted in the style of Western, Byzantine and Asian traditions.
This likeness doesn’t merely concern style, either, but is also relevant to Bern’s chosen media and subject matter. She paints of early colonial perils and sea-inspired stories and has also illustrated eight incredible books, the latest of which, ‘M is for Mutiny – History by Alphabet’, was released late last year.
In her exhibition, ‘Mainly Macquarie‘ on now in Melbourne, the captivating artist has swapped pages, and even linen and board, for ceramic tiles – her favoured canvas of recent years.
Can you tell us about your latest exhibition, ‘Mainly Macquarie’?
My exhibition at Scott Livesey Galleries is mostly paintings that have been published in a children’s Australian history book, called ‘The Startling Story of Lachlan Macquarie: Founding Father or Failure?’
Therefore, many of the paintings are in direct response to Lachlan’s stories. Other works are early convict perils at sea inspired stories.
The 24 works have been created from 2016 to 2018.
How does this body of work compare to your past exhibitions?
I lived and exhibited in Germany for two years (1998- 2000) and was all the time painting! My early, early work had a strong European romantic feel – I created many, many mosaic, 3D, and architectural pieces. Even home interior restorations and gardens, all usually involving ceramics of one sort or another!
This current exhibition of paintings is a continuation of past work about early stories of Australia’s history since colonisation.
My art appears to be evolving with more fine detail, but then again, sometimes I simply peel back the layers, and take a breather! If that makes sense… I suppose I get on a roll and let the paint and brushes evolve and they take me on a journey!
What do you like most about exhibiting your work? And have there been any challenges in preparing for this show?
Seeing all the paintings in the gallery! Scott and Sophie do an amazing job.
I feel like ‘Bewitched‘ when she wiggles her nose… I deliver the paintings to the gallery and then, when I return, like magic they are all hanging beautifully on the walls!
I will say preparing for this particular exhibition has had its challenges, with a busy house and studio to run, plus two beautiful daughters, and two cheeky Italian Greyhounds!
Can you give us any insight into how you create your art?
All the pieces are painted on ceramic tiles, these are my canvases! It’s ceramic paint with multiple kiln firings, sometimes up to six or seven.
I use stamps, stencils, decals, and anything I can find to ‘push’ paint along!
Much of your work concerns scenes and socio-political issues of colonial Australia. How do you feel about the increasing dialogue to ‘change the date’, and the ongoing call for greater recognition of Australia’s First Peoples more widely?
I feel that while the ‘change the date’ movement definitely has its challenges, I believe that this discussion is well overdue and that the call for greater recognition for Australia’s First Peoples is a priority.
There are many stories, swept under the carpet, that need to be told.
What’s next for Bern Emmerichs?
I’m also part of a group show at Geelong Gallery this month and I’m working on a major piece for The National Portrait Gallery at the moment – it’s big in size, format, and detail!
Other than that, I another few projects on the boil! … forever painting, with snippets of travels hopefully in between!
‘Mainly Macquarie‘ by Bern Emmerichs
March 7th to March 29th
Scott Livesey Galleries
909a High Street
Armadale, Melbourne, VIC
‘Reimagine – the world according to children’s books’ Group Exhibition
March 24th to May 27th
55 Little Malop Street