Walking into Andrea Emmerich’s Bushwick studio is in some ways like entering a different dimension. Somehow, as you walk up the industrial warehouse steps and down the winding halls of what was once a doll factory, her unit presents almost an idyllic soviet-era apartment of yesteryear with giant factory windows and the weight of age to match. Maybe that’s why — judging from her Instagram feed — I thought she lived in Eastern Europe before we met in 2019. But no, she’s just a stone’s throw from the Jefferson Ave L-stop. Although, once in the confines of her space there’s no telling — and quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter.
Since the start of 2020, Emmerich has been crafting painting after painting seemingly nonstop — sharing detached elements that flow together seamlessly, presenting a linear progression in real-time. It’s a playfully bizarre storyboard that just makes sense.
Her work is bright and colorful, fluid yet grounded. It’s fun. Much of the imagery Emmerich explores feels almost digitally stitched together, like a peculiar collage of iconic posters that appear in some sort of vibrant fever dream. Her work generally explores one or two central elements presented in striking yet easily-digestible compositions. Stacks of paintings fill her room — stacks of cats and babies and flowers and Marilyn Monroes in distant winter dreamscapes. Hearts, stars, dissected elements of self portraits — laying her pieces out physically feels like a “live your best life” moodboard. In many ways, the energy of her work feels like midwestern-grandma-meets-Russian-influencer in perfect harmony.
But many of these characteristics describe Emmerich herself, too. She’s easy-going and eccentric, vibrant in every way and always operating as though otherworldly insights are informing her direction. She tells me red — fire engine, specifically — is her favorite color, and often you can find her in monochromatic turtleneck-leggings ensembles she lovingly refers to as her “uniforms.” If there’s a “live your best life” person, it’s Emmerich. So, many of Emmerich’s paintings feel like an exploration of herself but others feel like a vision she was tasked with presenting tangibly to the world.
Your body of work explores so many different concepts and themes and compositions. And in some ways it’s all over the place, but there’s always this very clear line of connection. It all just fits together. How do you view your artmaking process?
I’ve been thinking a lot about artists who have such a specific style, it’s almost like their paintings become like colorways. I think that’s the word for shoes and stuff where it’s like you have this certain style shoe, and then you do it in like 18 different color patterns. And I’ve been thinking about art like that. I want to get to a point where I have that, but at the same time, I think maybe my style is just all over the place.
I need to see my pieces next to each other a lot. It might just be more about the relationship between one painting next to another painting instead of having two elements in the same piece. Instead of having Bambi and a Freemasons logo in the same painting, for example, it’s like I need to have space to see them separately informing each other. But I do see myself narrowing in, starting with certain patterns, like with the hearts with the stars, with flat pixelated stuff. I’m starting to kind of form a certain window of language that I have to work through. But I still always want to be really open to all the different means to an end.
I would say in general there’s two different types of paintings to me or ways of making art. One comes to you fully formed. That would be one of my paintings where maybe I see it right when I wake up and it’s just a fully formed vision in my head. To me, those are like ready-made paintings — they just kind of show up either by chance in your mind’s eye, or you see the painting in real life, or say you see something online. So I’ll source a lot of things online or from my life looking around, and you suddenly look at something and go, “Oh, that’s a painting.” Like, that’s a ready-made painting in my opinion. But the other type of painting or the other type of art making, is when you build the idea, you conceptualize, you explore, you’re actively putting that energy into exploring and digging out the painting. So that would be like, exploring your interests, going into a certain rabbit hole, or sourcing different things and comparing and reading and doing all these things. So I do actively do that sort of thing. But I will say I almost can’t take credit for certain paintings. Like Cat Eyes Purple Heart, I woke up and it was blaring in my face. Like, it was just a vision, you know?
And that vision-like element certainly comes through. When you approach a piece where you’re actively exploring a concept, where do you usually draw inspiration from?
A lot of times I’m looking at movie kind of pop culture, friendly styles of painting that I normally wouldn’t be interested in. Like, street artists or outsider artists, or influencer art — Kardashian art, celebrity art, or even just studying the Russian influencers and the colors they gravitate to and the stuff they gravitate to. I’ve always had an underlying interest in celebrity and luxury items, like massage chairs or Marylin Monroe and just certain pop culture things.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that thread of pop culture exploration showing up more and more in your work. What role does that imagery play — is it commentary? Appreciation?
I feel like the pop culture stuff, that’s where I live in this time period. I used to try to not reference anything and be like, “Oh, I’m so disaffected by the world around me, and I don’t want to acknowledge the world around me.” But now I’ve had a shift in the past couple of months and since the start of 2020 where I’m like, “No, we are living in this time period and it is important.” We are exposed to what we’re exposed to. And it does have an effect.
I’m not making fun of celebrity culture. I’m not making fun of politicians. I’m not making fun of dictators, or leaders, or any of these old movie stars or whoever. They’re all very important. And we are important for noticing them and being exposed to them constantly. And what that means for myself or society, I don’t know. But I’m here to just be a mirror to it almost.
I feel like this one’s always hard, but how would you describe your work?
I think it’s just colorful, and fun. And it’s hot. And it’s poppy. It’s not dark and deep. But it’s not a joke. I feel like personally, it’s this nice in-between of just, “Ah. I can breathe.” It’s just fun. It’s nice, I can escape in it a little bit, and people I think can find escape in it. And honestly just be like, “I like that. I like the color. I like the reference, I enjoy that it looks the way it looks.” It just is what it is — it’s very one-liner. Very direct, just here it is, enjoy it! Hate it! It’s okay, but I just feel like it’s a break and honestly a nice pause on your journey of looking through other artists where things can be very intense and very minimal or maximal. Mine is just right in between. So I feel like right now, I want people to look at it and just have a resting point almost. A nice place to just consider.
Usually there’s just one or two elements in each painting. It’s weird. I want people to think but I want people to not think. I want them to just look, and just absorb and be like, whatever subtleties it creates, that’s fine. The actual painting — it doesn’t have an agenda. You know? It doesn’t have an agenda behind it that’s trying to change the way someone thinks about something or the way they think about me. They’re for you. They’re for the audience, they’re just these sources where you look at it and take it in and be what it may. No agenda.
I love that. So many of your pieces feel like obscure visions almost. How much of your work is an expression of yourself — of Andrea — And how much is you being more a messenger to a vision? How do you conceptualize that space?
With those certain paintings that are ready-made to me, I’m positive that I’m the messenger or something. Not as in I have a message to give to the audience, but — this is gonna sound wild — but something greater than me has a message through me in art to express. And I don’t know what that looks like, or how that’s gonna sound to people. But artists know — they know what I’m talking about where something just comes in. It’s not from you almost, and your job is to just be the servant to whatever the fuck is telling you to paint that thing or to change the color of that thing. But on the other side of it there are some paintings that I’m doing the active exploration of.
Can I bring astrology into this? I’m not an astrology person. But maybe that’s something with my Gemini sun where half of me is able to just pass along this message and then the other side of me is the self-will side that explores things and wants to make paintings that express something of myself. I have some paintings that feel very selfless. And I’m not even included in the conversation between my hand and the canvas; I don’t know what’s happening. And then you have the other side where I do know what’s happening — I’ve explored this idea. I’m feeling a little angsty. I’m feeling vengeful, I’m feeling narcissistic, and I want to make this painting.
Lately, I was exploring my actual skin, hair and eyes, skin, hair, nails, whatever. Doing more self portraits. I don’t know if I’m going to continue doing self portraits. I think they’re too direct or something for me.
I think it was good for me to get back to the human figure because for a while I did not paint a human figure unless it was literally Marilyn Monroe, which I also think that’s more of a poster than an actual portrait. Or Jim Jones — these iconic images that are not portraiture art. To me that’s like I’m literally pasting the Google Image through my painting because it’s just the iconic images, the poster. They’ve become more than just a person. Doing the portraiture with myself, I feel like I think I was just trying to learn what the eyes or the skin or the hair can be as a symbol, and using myself was the easiest way to get a source image. A lot of times, you’re just kind of using yourself as a tool to get across what you need to get across. So I think moving forward, I’m probably not going to paint myself as much. And if I do, it’s just like the element that references human anatomy, maybe. But we’ll see. Because sometimes, self-portraiture just keeps sneaking up on me and I keep doing it.
When I look at your paintings side-by-side they always feel like a linear moodboard of sorts. Is that something that resonates with you?
Yeah, definitely. I think that’s because a lot of them are those ready-made almost photo settings that I manipulate and put together on my shitty iPhone Photoshop app, or, like, the ready-mades that just feel like a snapshot. Like you’re literally flipping through your photo roll. And I think that shows the way we’re seeing so much right now, which is you know, flipping through, scrolling down, clicking, scrolling through things. So I kind of am worried the mind starts to work like that, like, you start to have your inspiration and look at it as like, “Okay, next, next next,” and how it looks together maybe. But I’m hoping that in this new work, where I’m really exploring flatness and flat layers of hearts and stars and, and really just holes, just flat holes, almost like flags, I’m hoping to get away from the photo likeness.
What are you thinking for the future of your work and of art in general?
I think the future holds a lot of flat flag-like paintings for me, and I want to dive really deep into that. I used to cringe thinking about how my art would change, and be so nervous. Like, “Oh god, watch me start water coloring.” But I actually feel like abstraction may be around the corner for me. We need a break. The people, the society, the people on the phones, everyone like there needs to be a break. And I feel like that’s happening in my art. But I really feel there’s a need for less right now.
Part of me thinks I might just be making hearts for a year. Just hearts. I feel a need to declutter everything and let the paintings rest. And I don’t mean not paint, but I mean the paintings will become more restful. Who knows, maybe that’ll be wrong and I’ll be doing crazy portraits. I don’t know. Right now I just have the vision that I’m gonna be really just sitting in my room painting like 50,000 frickin heart paintings. But we all just need a little love. We need to just be like, “Okay, heart.” That’s all I feel like my brain can go to lately. Artists are very, very important right now. I can’t stress that enough. That’s been on my mind so much lately is like — they are so important. And possibly more important than ever in our lifespan right now. I feel like society and I hate the word society. I just feel like the world right now is moving into such generalizations like we need to niche. We need to get in tiny corners and not forget about them and tiny holes and just do it.
For more from Andrea Emmerich, follow her on Instagram.
Photography by Caroline Tompkins. Directed/Produced by Ben Suster.