An Interview with Emily Persson

Australian artist Emily Persson comes from a long line of artistically talented ladies. Roused by her heritage, and inspired by the European greats of the 19th century and the gorgeous surrounds of her home in Queensland, Persson has recently begun pursing a vibrant catalogue of painterly still lifes, sweet water colours, and serene landscapes of her very own.

Persson takes subjects which have endured for centuries – floras and landscapes – and gives them a stroke of her own refreshing flair. A self-taught artist, Emily’s work is a joy not only because it is beautiful to look at; but also because she is a young artist who is excitedly exploring both herself and her métier with a palpable passion which blooms straight off her canvases.

443Image Courtesy of Emily Persson. All Rights Reserved.

I recently had the chance to chat with Emily about what drives her, how her family has inspired her work, and just how one knows when an artwork is finished:

Outlet Magazine: Your bio mentions that when you were younger, you used to paint on visits to your Grandmother’s house. Do you come from an artistic family?
Emily Persson: Yes, my late great-grandmother and my grandmother and great aunt are all gifted realist painters.

I used to walk around my Grandmother’s house and stare at her captivating work. She would replicate the Old Masters – ladies in huge, old-world dresses dancing the night away. There were moody landscapes and amazingly detailed portraits.

In the school holidays she would get all the paints out and we would paint rocks, T-shirts, canvases, paper, everything! When I was 12, I painted a palette on a shirt and wrote “Emily The Artist”. I wore it for months and months… and I imagined a career as an artist. My absolute favorite as a child was my grandmother’s re-creation of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “Young Girl Reading”. The colours she was able to reproduce! In 2014 I actually saw the original work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and it blew my mind. It made me feel nostalgic and so proud of Nana.

O: You say that you were an A-grade art student in high school. Have you completed any further studies, or are you self-taught?
EP: No, I left school and didn’t continue my passion for art. Coming from a family of painters in the realist style, I didn’t think I was good enough. People were intrigued with what I would do and it didn’t really sink in that I could pursue this more until recently. Now, I am excited about art history! I am obsessed! I would absolutely love to study and improve my skills – that would be a dream come true. So, you could say, I am self taught.

444Image Courtesy of Emily Persson. All Rights Reserved.

O: You’re from Queensland, right? What impact do you find your surroundings have on your creativity?
EP: I love Queensland sunsets! The cloud formations are incredible. Every evening there is a new show, it’s always different and it’s always magical. I grab my camera and spend a half an hour capturing the transformation. Every second it’s different and I really get so caught up in it. How can something so beautiful be so ephemeral?

O: You paint a lot of still lifes and landscapes. In regard to the landscapes; do you have any favourite locations? Or do you try to get around and paint new scenes when you can?
EP: I have only ever painted three plein-air landscapes, the rest are all in my head. I have a really wild imagination and I love capturing my thoughts on canvas. I look at my surroundings every day. I study colours, contrasts and the wild shapes. I love to explore the country and gather beautiful images in my mind. I guess it all comes together as one, big romantic picture.

445Image Courtesy of Emily Persson. All Rights Reserved.

O: In terms of the flora; have you got a favourite floral subject? And have you found any varietals especially challenging to capture?
EP: I am new to floras, inspiration is easy to find with Dutch Golden Age artists like Jacob Van Walscapelle and Willem van Aelst. Like most of my other paintings, my floras are just as wild, – – they aren’t planned. I actually haven’t set up a still life before, I am finding my way. At the moment I am letting my mind wander and whatever happens, happens. The thought of creating more still lifes excites me. I’m working on a number of flora commissions right now.

O: You work over a few different mediums. Do you have a preference? And does the subject ever dictate the medium?
EP: I love oils, I love the smell (the smell of turps reminds me of Nana’s house), the texture, the colours. – I love to try everything. Subjects never dictate the medium, its more the way I feel.

446Image Courtesy of Emily Persson. All Rights Reserved.

O: Do you paint scenes from life or portraits, also? Or have flora and landscapes stolen your heart?
EP: As a child long-weekend family camping trips really inspired me. I loved walking through gum forests, golden grassy hills, by running streams and the long drives through the Aussie bush.

I only started working on floras recently. My grandmother gave me an old suitcase full of clippings. It belonged to my great grandmother, who collected bits and pieces from everywhere. The old calendars, magazines, birthday cards and photos are so inspiring.

I love the wildness of the Australian landscape. I love how unpredictable it can be. I just love being in the garden, in the shade of the trees.

O: You say that you’re influenced by ‘the great 19th century Parisian artists’. By that do you mean French-Parisian artists specifically, or the influx of artists from all over the place who came to Paris during the 19th century? Because I feel like I can see some Manet and Monet in there, for instance, but perhaps also some painterly Van Gogh?
EP: I actually saw a Manet in Washington DC – I even took a photo of it.

I adore Monet – his portraits are so romantic. ‘Woman with a Parasol’ is my absolute fav. The light play is incredible, the subtle sunlight filtering through, kissing her dress. Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ takes my breath away, Monet’s ‘Watermill at Limetz’. I love Van Gogh’s cypresses and irises.

I dream of Paris all the time – though I’ve never been. I think I have created a special version of Paris in my mind: a Parisian style easel, a plein-air location, painting the dreamy summer city landscape or the barren winter trees.

447Image Courtesy of Emily Persson. All Rights Reserved.

O: How do you tell when a work is finished?
EP: I just stop, it’s weird. As of late I have never struggled with the last stroke. When I was in school, my art teacher made me do drastic things to my “finished” paintings. She would say “That looks amazing, now splash some paint on it, spray the hose on it, do something crazy”. At that particular time in my life, I was just happy that I painted something half decent. I was shocked with what she was telling me to do! But now, if something isn’t working or doesn’t scream finished, I repeat her words in my head.

O: Where do you see yourself heading, and what do you hope to explore, over the next five years? And is there anything on the horizon that we should look out for?
EP: Well of course a record auction price like a particular painting once owned by a famous Australian would be good. All jokes aside, sharing my work with a wider audience and painting what I love is the immediate goal. In the next five years painting by the Seine plein-air and not starving in a garret sounds wonderful. Maybe I’ll get an opportunity to live and paint overseas. In terms of style or themes, I hope I can just paint what I find beautiful.

A huge thank-you to Emily for taking the time to chat with us.

You can learn more about Emily Persson and her artwork by visiting her…
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And while you’re at it, you should head on over and peruse Emily’s online shop

Image Courtesy of Emily Persson. All Rights Reserved.