My art agenda: Emma Stibbon RA

Published 22 September 2017

With a solo show at London’s Alan Cristea Gallery this month, the printmaker shares the projects, exhibitions and places currently on her radar.

    • Emma Stibbon drawing in Graveneset, Svalbard in Norway

      Emma Stibbon drawing in Graveneset, Svalbard in Norway

      My current art practice

      I am preparing for an exhibition at Alan Cristea Gallery in London, where I am showing new works on paper relating to the volcanic landscape of Big Island, Hawaii. In 2016 I was artist in residence at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, living on the rim of one of the world’s most active volcanoes. I was able to witness first hand the powerful forces of Kilauea volcano, an active caldera several miles in diameter. Back in my Bristol studio I am now working on a series of large-scale ink drawings based on my observations of the molten landscape, incorporating volcanic ash gathered on site into my drawing media. The physical and metaphorical dimension to materials fascinates me, making connections between process and place. I am also using woodcut to make an image of looking through the lush rainforest to the glow of the crater beyond – I am interested in how this dynamic landscape is capable of both destruction and renewal.

    • Käthe Kollwitz, Woman with Dead Child

      Käthe Kollwitz, Woman with Dead Child, 1903.

      © The Trustees of the British Museum.

      The shows I plan to visit

      I am intrigued to see Monochrome: Paintings in Black and White at the National Gallery in London (30 Oct–18 Feb 2018), which charts their beginnings in the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and into the 21st century. I work primarily in monochrome or a fairly limited palette and it will be interesting to see an analysis of why, historically, artists have chosen to work in black and white. The show includes the beautiful 1437 brush-on-chalk-ground drawing of St Barbara by Jan van Eyck. The complexity of this delicate drawing suggests it may have been intended as a complete work in itself, unusual for that time.

      I am also looking forward to seeing the Käthe Kollwitz exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. Living in Germany during the 1890s and 1900s, through a period of such social and political upheaval, Kollwitz depicts the suffering of humanity with enormous compassion. Her graphic skill as a draughtswoman is extraordinary. The image Woman with Dead Child (1903, above) is raw with emotion; the mother almost devours her dead child with grief. I admire Kollwitz’s strength as an artist but also as a remarkable woman who stood up for social justice.

    • Clifton Observatory, Bristol

      Clifton Observatory, Bristol

      Courtesy of Clifton Observatory, Bristol

      My favourite hidden gem

      One of my favourite places in Bristol is the Clifton Observatory, which houses a camera obscura. In 1829 William West, a Bristol-based artist, installed a convex lens and sloping mirror into the building’s tower to project panoramic views of the surrounding area. It’s a magical, almost supernatural experience to huddle in the small dark tower and watch the image project onto the concave plaster surface before you. It’s hard to comprehend that what you are viewing is real time and not a recorded movie – there is a purity to that. It is also quite voyeuristic, as the passersby below have no idea they are being observed.

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