13 May 2023

A still life that changed the course of Jugiong artist's career

| Edwina Mason
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Emma Sheehan

Emma Sheehan’s rise in the art world has been swift indeed. Image: Emma Sheehan.

A small exhibition held in Jugiong during the dark days of COVID-19 lockdowns has opened the doors to a fresh new talent whose works are being snapped up faster than they’re being created.

In 2021, Emma Sheehan was one of several artists who took part in an innovative exhibition – Artist Country Exhibition (ACE) – which provided an opportunity for some of the region’s emerging artists to showcase their work at that confined time in world history.

For Emma, now based in Jugiong, the exposure had an immense and almost immediate upshot in providing a springboard into the lofty world of fine art paving the way for her involvement in a Michael Reid exhibition last year.

If anyone has a nose for artistic talent it’s Reid, a Narrandera-born lad who’s built a prestigious brand that stretches across the globe on his name alone.

So, when Emma was included in Reid’s inaugural New Crop art exhibition last October, a group exhibition that celebrated and promoted the work of six young talented creatives from all around regional Australia she said it was an absolute privilege.

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Reid says he takes the professional development of artists seriously.

“With six galleries and two online art sale platforms, for both the artists and my congregation of galleries – we are deeply committed to bring on new talent,” he said.

For Emma – it affirmed, to a greater degree, the legitimacy of her work which has proven an astonishing, if not surprising, success.

It was COVID-19 that led Emma to the canvas.

“Prior to that I’d actually been working on a ranch in the US for two years, curating art exhibitions and managing all their social events,” she said. “They had about 10 ranches in all and they held weddings, concerts and a huge art exhibition, so with my masters degree in art curating that’s what I had been doing.”

Jugiong artist Emma Sheehan

Jugiong artist Emma Sheehan at Michael Reid’s inaugural New Crop art exhibition last October. Image: Emma Sheehan.

A growing interest in interior design was propelling her towards London, beckoned by a master’s degree in interior design and styling.

“Then COVID hit, and I thought I’d sit that out at my parents’ place in Dubbo,” she said, “but of course the pandemic didn’t end after six months, I couldn’t get to the UK so when the course was offered online via Zoom I decided to do it from home.

“So there I was in Dubbo studying on London time and I picked up painting as a hobby,” Emma said. “I painted and painted and posted the works on Instagram and they were selling. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Further encouragement came from Gig Moses at The Moree Gallery in northern NSW, who was more than happy to hang Emma’s work.

“She was sort of the first person that told me I had the ability to sell my art and that I had, I guess, something going for me because I was so not confident in showing my work publicly at all just because I’m not formally trained,” Emma said.

After selling out at a group show at Sydney’s Maunsell Wickes Gallery in early 2021, Emma was mind blown.

“I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is crazy I’m meant to be studying interiors, this was the path I thought I was on. What’s happening here?’”

Eventually she bent to the will of the paintbrush and decided to devote herself to art full time.

Her still life tablescapes are inspired by the colours, foods, ceramics and tableware her family has surrounded her with throughout her life.

“My family has always been one that loves to cook and my aunt owns a beautiful luxury vintage homewares store in Sydney so the kitchen has always been the central point of the home, and the table a place that brings our family together,” Emma said.

“I like to look at each of my works as a modern portrayal of the ‘kitchen’ or ‘cook’s’ table, a place full of food, people, precious memories, love, drama and full of energy.”

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Red dots swiftly colonise the walls of exhibitions featuring Emma’s compositions, works that end up in homes all over the world, particularly the US and UK.

“I’ve had about 15 commissions go to the US alone,” she said.

She’s notched up 10 group and four solo exhibitions across NSW and Queensland; her most recent was “A Place in the Home” at Maunsell Wickes Gallery in April.

Her collaborative efforts have led to a range of tea towels offered through The Bay Tree in Sydney, a front window display for Mainehouse Interiors in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak and being feature artist at Spiro Store.

Each year hand designed calendars featuring 12 of Emma’s original artworks are sold out.

Right now she’s preparing for the Young Talent Exhibition at the 15-18 June Affordable Art Fair held at Royal Randwick in Sydney.

She says encouragement from mentors such as Gig Moses, Dominic Maunsell and opportunities like those afforded by Michael Reid had strengthened her confidence.

“There was a point where I was just thinking, “If I keep going and keep going at it you know, it might, it might take off or it might not,” she said, “but just everyone has been so complimentary and supportive just saying how happy and bright and everything that makes them feel so I definitely always try and find that. I always try and mix colors and patterns. That will make people sort of feel playful and happy. I think that’s the main aim with every piece that I sort of do.”

People wishing to know more about Emma should visit her website.

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