Gentle moments with Emily Unsworth White

Posted by Kim Soep on

Emily Unsworth White 'Belly of Stars' watercolour and goache on paper 25cm x 21cm

Kim: How would you describe your work?

Emily: I see my artworks as tranquil time-outs which hum with a slow current- a refuge from the daily stresses and stressors of modern life. They are emotional awakenings, calling us to come back to ourselves and our roots. I feel like sometimes there isn't room for this type of awareness and vulnerability in our fast, aggressive world and so my art offers a space to contemplate, to heal, to sooth and soften.

A lot of my work is narrative based, combining stories I’ve heard or read, with my own life experiences, dreams and encounters. In a way, my practice is a form of storytelling: a means of channelling ideas and themes that are personal to me.

   Shot of Emily Unsworth White looking through her woven shrine window   Rags

Kim: What are you working on right now?

Emily: I have been working on a project that explores religious shrines. Religions may differ in their practices and their iconography, but they are all upheld by the telling and retelling of stories- a concept that I find really interesting. I have long admired the imagery, design and symmetry associated with religious art and architecture, and so I’ve been incorporating these same characteristics into my work. My textile works encompass the same colours, shapes, patterns found in the religious design I speak of, to form shrines that will honour beings that are important to me. Each woven shrine has windows cut out of them, where my 'divine' characters will sit, painted on handmade porcelain tiles. When these works are finished, they will be displayed in tight-fitting, deep, wooden frames that I hope will appear much like the religious relics that inspire me. Like Taoism, my 'shrines' worship animals as well as the elements. Even small creatures (pigeons and mice) that are often viewed as lesser beings, are venerated in my work. Through these works I hope to connect people with everyday ‘saints’ and bring an awareness of the Eden we live in. Through the soft fraying colours of found and ragged materials, these textiles are intended to be beautiful. But also fun in pattern and playful imagery. These works are greatly inspired by puppetry and stage. As each shrine is a window to an age-old tale, the stage is a platform for sharing ideas and stories. We humans are enchanted by tales and all the better when it is represented visually.

Two 'shrine' textiles 25x30cm


Kim: Who and what are your main sources of inspiration?

Emily: I am greatly inspired by colours and patterns that I have encountered during my travels. I spend a lot of time in Morocco. The warm, earthy tones found in the landscape and architecture, together with the abounding ceramic art and textiles, are a lasting source of inspiration. The Moroccan sun has beckoned me away from the winter blues of England every year for the past five years. My creativity is fuelled by the sun and all that comes with it. I spend more time outdoors and really enjoy making connections with new and old friends. There is something about the high of being with people, having fun, dancing, laughing, caring for each other and the intimacy of it all, that I find really energising. I believe this is when I make my best work. Ultimately, being present and doing things I enjoy has the greatest effect on my practice. When I am in a positive headspace, I am open to inspiration and my creativity can flow.

Emily Unsworth White's 'Hide' watercolour and gouache on paper, 42x52cm

Kim: If money was no object and you could have any artwork on your wall, what would it be and why?

Emily: I am particularly drawn to Pierre Bonnard’s bathroom paintings; ‘Girl Coming Out of the Bath’, ‘Nude by the Bathtub’ and ‘Nude in the Bath’. Bonnard’s soft brushstrokes tenderly portray the vulnerability in these moments. Even in his later work, the women in his paintings are depicted as almost saintly beings, lovingly swathed in his painterly strokes. Bonnards’ use of colour is incredible and I really admire how he's able to capture the nuances of light and mood.

Matisse is also in the running. Although, I find it harder picking one particular painting. Perhaps, ‘Woman in a Hat’, or one of his red paintings- ‘The Red Studio’. Matisse is a master of bold colour and capturing the everyday, and his work gives me a fierce desire to paint.

Kim: How are you finding life in lockdown? Have you learnt anything new about yourself or your practice?

Emily: I can get easily distracted by life, so when everything stopped, I felt like I was given space and time to focus on my work. I have also learnt some new skills, weaving, playing the guitar and using a sewing machine.  I have connected with myself and the outdoors finding new passions in river swimming and running.  The restrictions on travel and social gatherings have definitely impacted me though. Particularly now in this third lockdown as I’ve been living with loved ones who are shielding. I am really missing good friends, all of whom I haven’t seen in at least 6 months. I can find it difficult to keep up with those who are important to me over the phone, I rely on being able to catch up and check in physically. I have to remind myself that it is out of my control and when it’s over, I will throw myself head-first into living again.

A duck filmed through the eye of a binocular

Kim: What are you up to right now?

Emily: This past month I have been collaborating on a film with my friend, which records wildlife and the natural landscape through binoculars. We have made music to accompany it and are almost finished with the editing. It feels great to learn these new skills and think about where it might lead. We have also been invited to take part in an art project in Bristol that hopes to connect communities with their local wild spaces.

Aside from this, I continue to paint and make my woven shrines with my handmade loom and found fabrics. My great uncle was a weaver and I feel heavily connected to the craft through him. I’ve even purchased a sewing machine.

I'm also taking commissions to paint people's portraits, so please get in touch if you like what I do.


Details about commissioning Emily Unsworth White can be found by clicking here.

Alternatively, click here to view Emily Unsworth White's collection of available art here.



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