Emily Besser, Artist

The Story of Herbs

The Story of Herbs



Emily is an artist in every sense of the word. Her stunning and detailed work, and her thoughtful responses are just part of that. We loved having an insight into the beautiful way she approaches her paintings and her life, with reverence and respect. It's a wonderful interview to share, thanks Emily! 

What do you do?

I paint, amongst all the other normal life stuff.

Do you have a maxim you live by?

Hands down, Socrates’ dictum, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.

What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?

The journey I went through after leaving school and going to art school, then becoming a lawyer, then embracing being an artist again. All those decisions I made along the way were milestones for me.

Also, becoming a mother, which is a process that is still happening to me as I raise my kids, has been a transformative force in my life.

Paper Flowers

Paper Flowers

Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?

Just before I make work for an exhibition or start a commission I feel like I’m dancing at the edge of failure before I’ve even begun.

But once I begin, it all starts to makes sense, and if I’m mindful and intuitive, just open-hearted actually, things begin to happen and they feel as though they are meant to go this way.

I have my freak-outs and overwhelm, but if I can just ride them out it really does all work out in the end. Nearly every time.

As I go through this cycle again and again, I just feel more and more in awe of the creative process.

What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?

Listening: I’m obsessed with the Tami Simon ‘Sounds True’ podcast. Obsessed.

Watching: I can’t stop thinking about Jim Jarmusch’s vampire movie ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’. And Tony Gatlif’s film ‘Latcho Drom’. And ‘Kandahar’, a film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It’s fascinating on so many levels. I’m constantly stopping the film to take screenshots of the beautiful clothing of the women. The colours are incredible and it makes me want to paint.

I’ve completely burnt through all the music I love. To the point where I can’t listen to it anymore. I listen to music while I paint, and I listen over and over again to the same album. I can’t listen to light music. It has to have some weight. As I was preparing for my current show I was alternating between the most recent albums by Radiohead and Arcade Fire. That was pretty intense. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve heard them.


What projects do you have in the pipeline?

I have had a busy few months with some group shows and workshops around Sydney, so I'm sort of resting post all that. I've been dabbling in the studio with a view to a show I'm having in Brisbane at Anthea Polson Gallery in May 2018, and then a solo show in Geelong at Boom Gallery later in the year.

At the moment, I've got some work in the Totem Road collaboration with Bettina McILwraith, called Curated X, which runs for 3 months.

And I've recently started working as an artist-educator at the National Centre of Creative Learning at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, which is my dream-job. I'm so excited about what they do there.

What is your dream project?

What’s happening right now is pretty dreamy for me. Walking into my studio most days for a few hours, I feel I’m in a dream and it’s everything I want to be doing. And because it’s such a slow and daily task that requires so much energy, you kind of can’t get ahead of yourself by being too ambitious. It’s a practice that forces mindfulness. The long-view here for me is to keep painting until I’m a very old lady.

What’s something surprising about you that we might not know?

I love rock-climbing and skiing. They are intense sports and I’m so grateful for what they have taught me about my body. I used to ski competitively in high-school and I loved it. And as I’ve gotten older I’m grateful for cross-country skiing, it’s one of the most beautiful ways to be in the snow and to get deeper into the beautiful gum tree forests around Kosciuszko National Park in winter.

If you could choose to hear from any female contemporary at a Make Nice event who would it be and why?

The writer, Jessica Dettman, who brings out the dark comedy embedded in the mundane parts of our lives and selves.

What is the best advice you’ve been given or wish you’d been told sooner?

I resisted it when I was first given it as advice, and I still resist it. ‘Surrender’. It can mean so many things. But I just think it’s a very powerful word to think about, particularly in the context of mothering.

Do you have a supportive female network in your field, was it always this way?

I do mostly like to work on things on my own, but I’ve also met some very supportive and generous female artists with whom I have supportive relationships with.



How can we find out more about your work?

My Instagram page.

Who would you most like to answer these questions next?

The wonderful paper artist Gunjan Aylawadi.



To the Edges

To the Edges