Sophia Emmett Essay by Robin Rice
Australian Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, Sophia Emmett started out in the field of ceramics, following the profession of her ceramist parents. She studied ceramics for two years at the University of Northern Rivers in New South Wales, but, “I was interested but I wasn’t entirely amazed by it,” she says dryly.
A few years later, while traveling in Western Australia, she serendipitously contacted the “friend of a friend” who happened to have a glass studio and became so enchanted with glass that “I worked there for a year and a half.” Emmett then completed an apprenticeship under Nick Mount at The Jam Factory in Adelaide. Travel and work in the US were followed by more study in Australia.
Recently, Emmett and a colleague Elaine Miles started a unique business, SEEM Designs, (The name is composed of the pair’s initials) which makes and rents glass objects as decorative elements for corporate and other functions. They’ve received a lot of favorable notice “and its great fun too,” she says; however, Emmett regards her individual work as the primary. At CGCA she is exploring surfaces and spatial relationships in distinct bodies of work: one essentially abstract and the other narrative with illustrational elements.
The walls of Emmett’s workspace at CGCA are festooned with sheets of fire on decals (intended for ceramics). Many depict elaborate, ornately labeled still-lifes of foodstuffs: “La Quiche” flanked by a pitcher and a bowl of eggs; wedges of “Quiche Bretonne” and so on. Duct tape holds decals of pizza and nearby vignettes of wine and cheese. On the shelves below lie unfinished pieces of glass, stacks of clear cane, bars of color, and real fruit: an orange and a round, rosy grapefruit.
Although she also has decals of human anatomy, violets, and cats, the gastronomic theme is strong. Pheasants, ducks and fishing lures reflect the ambiguities intrinsic to Emmett’s narrative drawings on glass. Pieces of decals are collaged into a sgraffito image–an enamel surface scraped away over white. Emmett reheats and inserts the small illustrated medallions, which she calls “shards,” into blown glass vessels which have been shaped to frame them. Often both sides of the “shard” are illustrated in near monochrome while the surrounding vessel, an elongated oval or round-cornered rectangle, is bright red, aqua, orange or black, sandblasted to a satin finish.
On one side of a “shard,” an attenuated rudimentary human figure brandishes a stake impaling the decal head of duck in one hand and a club in the other. The duck head, with every feather illustrated, acquires a level of reality not matched by the sketchy hunter who celebrates its death. On the obverse of the tiny oval, the scrawny human grasps a pair of decal wings which seem to be taking flight. The wings perhaps represent the elemental nature of the bird which can’t be captured. “Birds are amazing– to be able to fly and have wings! It’s incredible– that strange contrast that they can be quite free; yet we can kill them,” Emmett remarks.
Like a double miniature on ivory, the drawing is fixed in a vessel. The shard deliberately does not fill the hole entirely but allows sight and light to move around it, emphasizing the two-dimensional image within a voluptuous three-dimensional structure. The contrast of forms and duality of images suggests both narrative and dialogue.
“A lot of the drawings are about the environmental compromises that we make,” Emmett explains, “how much we sacrifice for our lives without realizing what we are actually sacrificing or what’s involved in sustaining the very generous lives that we have.”
Other narrative works are simply about the “small things or rituals in your life that are quite precious to you,” she adds. And, “Snakes are good luck,” Emmett insists, explaining a favorite motif. “For me, there’s not any sexual reference whatsoever!” One piece has a clear “window” containing two snakes looking through.
Her interest in the ambiguities of “the container and the contained” is evident not only in her narrative work but in a group of untitled transparent vessels which have been filled with short, irregular lengths of cane–either clear or black. They seem particularly emphatic in the presentation of glass at its most elemental. The many surfaces and reflections of the clear cane vessels result in an ambiguous conflation of interior and exterior, while the black cane has the linear effect of cross-hatching, building up density at the thickest parts of the vessel.
These works, which have square window-like openings, are calculated to be displayed in clusters. Other pieces are grouped by contrasting silhouettes. “A lot of work [in the field] is made for other glass blowers,” notes Emmett, adding that a display of skill is not enough for her. “I’m interested in the end result more than the process. Start funky and loose and then struggle to get good!” she advises. Although she has not concluded her current body of work, she feels that she is successfully integrating personal images with “something broader, through form and layering and using windows to lead the focus to particular areas.”