We had the good fortune of connecting with Emma Balder and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Emma, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk taking is an essential component of my work and life. Whenever I begin exploring and stepping outside my comfort zone, that’s when the magic happens. Things start to get interesting. Risk involves acknowledging and confronting our fears. When I hear someone say “don’t be scared”, I cringe, because fear is part of being human, and we absolutely should feel it. Stepping into new realms is certainly scary, but at the end of the day it always leaves me feeling empowered. I think the most substantial growth occurs when encountering that fear and newness alone. When I can mull something over in my mind without the influence of others, and overcome all the internal voices that are telling me something is too risky or it would be easier not to, that’s when I find myself developing personal strength. Now, that’s not to say my risks are wildly unreasonable and unsafe. A risk can be as small as jumping into a glacial lake or sending an email to someone you may never get a response from. But even a little bit of unreasonableness can push us past a threshold, and ultimately into a breakthrough. Risk breeds new growth and new being.
Let’s talk shop. Tell us about your art. How did you get to where you are professionally? What are some of the lessons learned and challenges you’ve encountered along the way?
My work lies at the intersection of painting and textiles. In my studio practice, I focus on processes which alter our traditional understandings of the material. These processes involve: Fiber Painting where I use fibers as a medium that functions like paint, and Pinglets (sculptural paintings) where I treat abstract paintings like fabric. The work deals with themes present in our natural environment like transformation, regeneration, patience, communication, protection, and connection.
This is only the beginning of my story and my career. I’ve worked very hard over the last 4-5 years, full-time, to make my practice sustainable to find some success, while living a modest life. That may seem like a long time to some, but it’s not. Being an artist is a lifelong commitment, and you’re married to the work. I’m in it for the long haul. There’s no quick route to success or to what I’m trying to express. The work continues beyond each accomplishment and failure. It may be cliché, but it really is all about the journey, taking it all in one little glimmer at a time. It’s never easy. If it was easy, it probably wouldn’t be worth it, and it wouldn’t be sincere.
Throughout my life, I will always be making art. I’m constantly working, even on the days where it may look different from a typical work day. When I’m in nature, going for a bike ride, or gardening – I’m studying the environment, the changes, the marks. I’m in the field: writing, sketching, thinking, taking notes and reflecting. Every part of life informs my studio practice, and I think that’s what’s so special about being an artist. All of life, is art.
There are always lessons to be learned. Partially thanks to 2020 and also the timeline of my career, I’ve been learning to be more intentional with the projects I take on so I can spend more time making the work. I’m someone who likes to put my all into each and every project. I’m very detail oriented and I hate doing a half-baked job. My fiancé, Jack, and I joke all the time about my mantra being “process over product”. I like to take care in the process to deliver wholesome results. That said, I’m being more considerate with the opportunities I take, so that I have enough mental, physical and emotional capacity to be fully present with each one.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Right off the bat, we’d bike to the Menil and the Rothko Chapel (the best spot for a meditation), and have a picnic in the park. I’d make sure to stock up on cookies from Fluff Bake Bar. Someone in Asheville actually told us about Rebecca Masson, and her treats are to die for. Other than going out for the occasional sweet treat, I’m a bit of a home-body and rarely eat out. That being said, we would most likely cook at home with vegetables from our small garden, thanks to Buchanan’s Plants. In all honesty, I struggle in large cities, so the rest of the week we would likely head outside of Houston. My best friends love the outdoors as much as I do, so if they were visiting for that long, we’d spend our time driving and exploring. I recently planned a 5-day backpacking trip through Big Bend but it was cancelled due to the recent forest fires. We would probably spend the week driving west and doing that, or go up to Sam Houston National Forest for some light camping. But before departing, we’d stroll down to Mercantile Montrose to get our fix of coffee, booch, and their delightful monkey bread for the drive.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve credit and recognition in your story. Is there someone you’d like to dedicate your Shoutout to? Who deserves some credit and recognition in your story?
There are so many to give credit to, but I’ll keep it to two. First, my love, Jack Karn, peacebuilder extraordinaire and the one that always keeps me laughing, reflecting, and learning. Second, my former, late professor at SCAD, Morgan Santander, who crossed over about a year ago. He taught me the beauty and freedom of abstract painting, and how the process translates to how we live our lives. He instilled in me the importance of letting go, painting over each layer of a work as if the previous one didn’t exist. Morgan was a joyous person, a warm soul, and an incredible artist. The last time I saw him, I visited him at his home in North Carolina. We were on a hike and it started pouring. He just burst out laughing. It was moments like these, when most people might panic, run, or get upset, that his spirit would shine. Never a dull moment with Morgan. He was the epitome of a free spirit and a dedicated artist.
Photos courtesy of Emma Balder, Paul J. Miller Photography, and Jay Marroquin.