Art People: Chloe Feldman Emison | pen-and-ink artist

Friday, September 12, 2014
Some people look at mountains and see faces. Chloe Feldman Emison looks at faces and sees mountains.

The “Man Mountains” series in her pen-and-ink exhibition “Cranial Topographies,” on view through Aug. 28 at the ECA+ Gallery in Easthampton, suggests Mount Rushmore. It features fancifully formed heads of men who have been around the block a time or two. Deeply and artfully furrowed brows, jowls and enormous noses give them a family resemblance but each is clearly possessed of his own point of view. One stares out at the viewer with a “What’re you looking at?” attitude.

The 24-year-old New Hampshire artist didn’t set out to draw man-made mountains. “Most of the time when I draw, I just start and see what happens,” she said. “I usually start with a face. It’s what interests me most in the world.”

She said the process of drawing feels a lot like dancing. “For the line to be beautiful, the way you move your hand needs to be beautiful,” she said. “When I’m engrossed in the drawing it feels as much like a physical process as a mental process.”

Emison studied ballet in high school and at Williams College in Williamstown until she was sidelined by a shoulder problem. Homeschooled by her parents, her career path was set early. “My mom is an art historian, Emison said. “She brought me to a museum, gave me a sketch pad ... and here we are.”

“Here,” is earning awards and buzz as an emerging artist, exhibiting her watercolors, animation and pen-and-ink drawings, collaborating with a ballet company in Chicago on a stage design and doing illustrations for art magazines and a forthcoming book.

One strong influence on her art was a junior year at Oxford University in England, where she studied anatomical drawing at The Ruskin School, in a class that used cadavers. “What struck me working with cadavers was how beautiful our internal organs are,” Emison said.

The ECA+ show includes a reanimated-corpses series, in which, for example, a couple of corpse tourists take in the sights in their floppy hats and gaudy sunglasses. “I’m exploring what’s beautiful about what we find horrifying,” Emison said. “Our standard for (personal) beauty is that everything should be smooth and dull. But in art and in nature, the more lines, the more interest, the better.” It’s like the difference between a golf course and a natural landscape, she says. “The things that make a landscape interesting are the same things that make a face interesting.”

One piece shows a man grasping a mask where his head might be expected to be, atop a neck stretched to the breaking point. “I was thinking about strong men in the circus, and how we sometimes try very hard at things that aren’t doing us much good,” Emison said. “So here’s this guy trying to pull his head off.”

Because she works intuitively, Emison says, she is as surprised as anyone by her finished pieces. “My work doesn’t have one meaning. Meaning is something that comes to me later, almost as though I’m also a viewer.”

— Bonnie Wells

“Cranial Topographies” is on view through Aug. 28 at the ECA+ Gallery, 
43 Main St. in Easthampton. Hours 
are Mondays through Thursdays, noon to 6 p.m.