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Emma Larsson lets intuition lead the way

Emma Larsson lets intuition lead the way


The Swedish artist’s abstract paintings embrace strangeness and are guided by instinct. For Emma, her art is about spontaneity and experimentation, and being willing to go where the creative process takes her.

Words by Hannah Valentine

In Emma Larsson’s paintings, delicate watercolour hues give shape to ethereal figures. Coloured inks pool at the edges of brush strokes, while layers of oil and acrylic add more definitive lines and a certainty of shape. The result is somewhat uncanny; abstract images which feel familiar and yet strangely unknowable, perhaps like beasts from the outer reaches of space, magnified microscopic fungi, or a not-quite-discernible dream motif. They are deeply appealing in a way that is hard to articulate.

Emma sees her creative process as intuitive and spontaneous, a process that defies planning and demands a flow of play and experimentation, along with a willingness to be inspired by the unknown. At her Stockholm home, she looks for inspiration in nature; the dark Swedish forests and nature reserves, however, she is also an enthusiastic world traveller, who cites a need for novelty and the unfamiliar in order to find fresh artistic inspiration.

We talk to Emma about her recent trip to Mexico, her upcoming exhibition, and her belief that beauty lies in the awkward and the strange.

You work with watercolours, acrylics, inks and oils. What is it about mixing up these mediums that creates the effects you like?
For me, the paper I use is as important as the paints; its structure, thickness and ability to absorb liquids all matter a lot to me. Every piece has several layers, as I add different paint after each drying session until it feels finished. Each painting takes a couple of days to complete but I always work on a set of multiple paintings simultaneously.

What pleases me most when working with watercolours is the way I feel intuitive and at the same time totally spontaneous. I start with blank paper and go with the flow, never knowing the outcome which always surprises me.

Tell us about this feeling of spontaneity and unknowability that you get while you’re painting.
I would describe my works as intuitive expressions. I rarely have a set idea when I start the process, so the outcome is always a result of experimenting. I would say the inspiration comes from life itself. If you dig deep enough, I think there is a well inside all of us which you can draw inspiration and creativity from.

On your Instagram, you say that you believe that there is “No beauty without strangeness”. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
Beauty is important, but it is subjective. For something to be beautiful, it doesn’t have to be pretty. Personally, I’m not drawn to the “obvious beauty” we’re told to admire in the pages of fancy magazines. There has to be some flaw for me to feel interested; it’s the imperfection or the awkwardness that attracts me.

You say that you need freshness and the unfamiliar to be creative. Is exploring new places important to you?
I guess all artists need that; travel and discovery and new experiences in order to boost not only inspiration, but also wellbeing. I recently spent five months in Mexico; two months of travelling and then three months working. I never had to overthink or analyse my new impressions. They just naturally guided me towards a collection of works with a new expression.

Talking of the things you’ve been working on in Mexico, tell us about your upcoming exhibition with Simard Bildodeau Contemporary gallery in LA, which goes on show in September 2022.
The gallery had asked me some time ago to prepare an exhibition of canvas works, having previously shown my paper works. This was partly my reason for travelling to Mexico; to get some new perspectives and to focus. I stored all the works at a gallery in Mexico waiting for the L.A. team to come and see them.

So far, except for when working towards a group show with a specific theme, no gallery has ever given me directions, allowing the content of the paintings to remain totally up to me. I would describe this series as raw, honest, and playful.

How much difference is there between your day-to-day working life and when you are working towards a show like you were in Mexico?
I feel like my day-to-day work is more delightful and more spontaneous with much less pressure. At the same time, working specifically for a show or a client comes with a sense of challenge, which I think is a great exercise and paves the way for artistic evolution.