Artist Interview: Emma Jane Vale


Emma Jane Vale is a multimedia artist, a friend, and a Pitbull mom living and working in the Denver area.



Interview by Hannah Warner


The week before this interview, Emma Jane Vale returned a painting to my house. The painting, left by a former roommate of mine, was salvaged from their trash pile to become Emma's next canvas. It was delivered back to the house turquoise, dripping red, with small pockets of the original image still present.

Emma Jane Vale is a trans, pansexual multimedia artist who transforms emotion through color, composition, and shape (the perfect remedy to any defunct painting in a home – should you have those too).

I met Emma last spring, when she was working mainly in collage. Over the past year she has taken on many new mediums, from acrylic and spray paint, to ink and watercolor. Emma is unafraid to try new things. My roommates and I have had the privilege to house two of Vale's abstract paintings.

When she came over the other afternoon, we chatted in front of her larger piece, located in my living room. It’s a large, abstract painting that fits perfectly squared against our white paneled wall.

The day of the interview was a Saturday afternoon in November, I was sitting at our large tiled table next to the painting, drinking coffee and watching for Emma out the front window. It was sunny out, and Emma walked up the front steps in a bohemian, tie-dye jumpsuit.

She entered the house with her standard bubbly demeanor, ready to help quell the dog madness that always ensues with a new guest (the dogs, Jackson and Morty, need about 5 minutes of barking to acclimate to any new guest - they are very expressive). Once Emma and I were able to calm the dogs, we sat down at the table with some tea and began to chat.


Hannah

I think part of the reason why this one [referring to Emma’s large abstract painting] in our living room is so gorgeous is [because] you can see little peeks of things behind it.


Emma Jane Vale

I did this over a year – I spray painted and I did a whole bunch of stuff. Underneath it, you can see this kind of [Emma points to a lower layer of collage, dusted with a spectrum of pink and sea green spray paint, underneath the acrylic paint] see that right? And it just sat and sat in my place for a long time. And one day I started painting. I think it took, I don't know, the main part of the painting probably took me a week or so.

Hannah

And it's like a mixture of media, right?

Emma Jane Vale

Spray paint is in there, acrylic paint, but I use the palette knife mostly. And then this stuff here is [...] a kind of an acrylic marker, that I used for that.

Hannah

Yeah

Emma Jane Vale

A lot of spray paint, and there was kind of smaller acrylic markers I used too. I really enjoyed doing this painting with palette knives because of the scraping.

Hannah

Do you remember what your inspiration was while you were painting this?

Emma Jane Vale

I don't always have an inspiration when I start, I just start, and then it keeps going. And sometimes I get inspired by the materials I have in front of me. I think probably, this was the paint that I had, that I thought the colors would go well together.

I was having...some problems with some of my meds they were putting me on. I was getting...a lot of nausea like, feeling tense; and I think some of that came out. I was having a lot of weird dreams too and that's why I titled it, I actually titled it, Fear of Falling.

For me, when I'm painting and doing these things, I'm also learning. I get curious about stuff and then I start using new materials, because I never took a class or anything.

Hannah

I was going to ask how you started doing art.

Emma Jane Vale

I actually started it [painting] four years ago. I started therapy because I was pretty depressed, and I felt very repressed. And I started going to therapy mostly to deal with [...] coming out with my sexuality and my gender too, which took me a long time in therapy to even bring it up – I was in therapy for a year before I really started dealing with that. But, at the same time, because I was in therapy and had a really wonderful therapist, I was learning how to express myself and be more honest.

My whole life I've loved abstract art – since I was little; but I always felt like, I'm not an artist, I can't do that.” Because, you know, I'd have these classes, as a little kid, and you're terrible, or you couldn't draw something well, so you just figure [...], you're a bad artist. And then I was doing therapy, and I just decided, “What the hell!” I just started painting. I started doing collage too. I've done a lot of collage, mixed media pieces.

And some people and my friends kind of responded to it and enjoyed it, and I started selling a few paintings. That's kind of a fun hobby, you know, a way to express yourself and to connect with other people.

Hannah

I think that's really cool. There does tend to be a kind of a divide between who can and cannot produce art, especially in our society. I think some of the best art comes from people who are wanting to express themselves.

Do you have a specific place in your house where you do art?

Emma Jane Vale

These I did in the living room. I did mostly paintings on the kitchen table. I would just throw on a tarp, finally I just stopped doing that. I don't care. It's a really old table [Emma laughs]. It's got paint on it.

And then this stuff, the watercolor and everything I do on the bed. I just lie in bed on my stomach and draw.



Hannah

I love that.

Emma Jane Vale

Yeah, it's quite enjoyable. Really relaxing.

[Emma scrolls through her saved art on Instagram, contemplative, looking for more of the main artists that inspire her]

...definitely stuff I find on Instagram. Or...famous artists like George Condo. I love his art, the way he draws and colors things in; and he's a painter, drawer...

Hannah

Is he another abstract artist?

Emma Jane Vale

He's [George Condo] is a really successful artist...and his stuff sells for millions...some of his stuff is pretty brilliant.


Upon further inspection, I found that George Condo is known for recontextualizing old master painters into contemporary American culture. Much of Condo’s work ends up looking like classic portraits, but fragmented, frequently taking on an almost cubist style – as if Picasso got into Disney and Pixar. The height of his career was during the 1980’s alongside other contemporary painters like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.

Hannah

Oh, beautiful!

Emma Jane Vale

Like this guy. I just discovered him kind of like, this morning. I was lying in bed. I just think he's [...], yeah, [really] fantastic. And this girl I think these, look how cool her artist is - do you mind if I showed you?


There’s something about the saved folder on Instagram that is inherently exciting. Something that might in another time have been clippings in an artist’s journal, are now a secret catalogue of inspiration inside their phone. Emma motions me closer so that I can peer into the folder while she scrolls for some of her favorites. I feel like a voyeur, the good kind of voyeur, the kind that’s been invited in.



Emma Jane Vale

[...] this guy, I just discovered him [...] fantastic. And this girl [Emma opens an Instagram post to a watercolor figure in floral]...look how cool her art is.


Emma Jane Vale

This guy [...] from Brazil [...] I just think he's really fantastic. He's doing these larger pieces.




Emma Jane Vale

I love Mark Rothko.

Mark Rorthko’s ”No. 1 (Royal Red & Blue)”

The influence of these artists, however present in Emma’s work, takes a backseat to the presence of Emma’s perspective. I have often wondered how Emma’s identity has shaped her art. She began her work when she began therapy. Art and self-discovery are often tied together, and I was curious if this was her experience in relation to her gender and her transition. I asked Emma if she would be comfortable discussing her transition, to which she responded that she would.


Hannah

Do you think your transition influenced your art?

Emma Jane Vale

I don't think I would have done painting or creativity unless I transitioned [...] I was so insecure about who I was. And so afraid of what that meant, that I was holding a lot of my life back. [...] before I transitioned I had a customer service job at a tech place, [...] not me at all. [...] I wasn't doing really anything creative at all.

I feel like a lot of, part of, transitioning too is also about just being more expressive about who you are. So, I think art plays into that. I don't think [...] themes of being trans shows up in this stuff.


[Emma is quiet for a moment and then opens up her phone.]


There's a lot of it in this one I painted:



Emma shows me a color blocked abstract painting. Burgundy, black, deep green, a shadow emanating from the center of the painting into the other colors. The painting has an ominous feel, there are white outlines of what may be a room inside the black, but it is too faint to see.

Emma Jane Vale

This one represented me--some of the more difficult parts [...] my life, the way I saw it. I called this one Half My Life [...] I tried to paint this, [...] the idea of being in a dungeon and things are getting better. And I was pretty bitter that I transitioned relatively late, cuz, when I was growing up it wasn't really an option.

When I first started doing art (I think this is one of the first creative things I did) was this weird collage and I took a digital photo of it. And I showed it to my therapist and she's like, “Oh, there's a woman coming through.”



Hannah

Oh yeah, it does look like that.


Emma Jane Vale

I did the collage and then I kind of did this with the camera to make it, [...] kind of weird looking; and put a bunch of glue over it [...] to give that effect. I cut her out [...] you know, this is not a painting, this is a collage.

[...] I did do collages for a while. I was doing collages and spray-painting lines over it, which was kind of a fun thing I enjoy doing. I don't want to quit that either.


Emma Jane Vale

Yeah. Trans stuff. I don't know how much that comes through, I think some of my struggles with my mental health [...], that's been a bigger part of my painting.

What I like about art is I can express these things that I can't express. Like, “How do I express I'm dealing with this depression that keeps coming and keeps going and keeps coming?” I'm so frustrated – I don't think people see how much I'm hurting. They don't (you know these things)… I don't know how to write really, so I can do this. And I think that's part of it too, because people can see that I’m hurting.

Hannah

Yeah, it's difficult to name what you're feeling, because I don't think emotions really ascribe to a very like, linear, “This is what I'm feeling. This is what it is,” kind of a thing.

Emma Jane Vale

I feel like doing therapy, coming out as trans, doing this work on my life, and just being a little bit more introspective and stuff – there is [...], layers and stuff, and things peeking behind, and different energies, and that's what makes human beings so complicated and beautiful I think.




If you'd like to support Emma and her work, consider sending a donation to her Venmo @EmmaV303 or Cashapp $EmmaV303




about the author: Hannah Warner


Hannah Lee Warner(she/her/hers) is a writer, audio editor, and

podcast producer living in Denver. Personal style, comedy, art, and music are the touchstones of this queer, white woman’s life. Hannah holds a BA in both English - with an Emphasis in Creative Writing - and Women and Gender Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder.To find out more about Hannah, you can follow her on Instagram @theres_ham or on Twitter @trotally.



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