Emma Gibbons - Interview (Muddy Stilettos)

Emma’s work will be on display at Fleek Gallery 14th – 30th September.

I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder. I love miniature things – dolls houses, Barbie shoes, Polly Pockets (remember those?!) and of course the baby bottles of booze you get on planes. Even plane meals actually! The way they’re all compartmentalized. As a kid that was genuinely my favorite part of the holiday. Yeah, weird.

The bottle thing has been a part of my practice for a very very long time. I’ve been working with bottle miniatures for about 15 years. Initially when I was trying to make a living as a jobbing illustrator in London I used them as an innovate way of getting potential employers to look at my CV. I was doing a lot of Victoriana graphic illustration at the time – all London streets, top hats and madams with big skirts and bigger bosoms. I’d been to a few lectures all about how hard it was to even get a look in - to get people to notice you before they even bothered opening your portfolio. So I used to hand-draw Victorian newspaper articles advertising my illustration services and send them to the heads of illustration agencies rolled up in an empty Captain Morgan miniature rum bottles. Like a message in a bottle that has mysteriously found its way to the right person. It was a pretty good idea. It landed me a few nice jobs (including one for the Sherlock Holmes Museum), and I got to drink a lot of mini-rums in the process!

I’ve known my whole life that I come from a long and prosperous bloodline of both sailors, pirates & smugglers. My family are Cornish and we all grew up competent sailors, with that ‘affinity for the sea’ thing possessed by proper old-school sea folk. Boats have been a part of our family history for centuries and well, while some of the more charitable members of the family joined the Navy, many of them clearly decided there were more prospects in pirating and smuggling. I have ancestors that built the Titanic in Belfast and more that died on her on her voyage from Southampton. We do boast some high-caliber villains among our precarious lineage however, including the aforementioned Captain Morgan and the not-so-charming Judge Jefferies (The Hanging Judge). So for me, the bottles are a throwback to my heritage and ancestry, as well as representing something special, unique and bizarrely destined for some unknown but essential recipient.

My first bottle works contained notes. They were tiny confessions, or secrets, hidden within the private world of the ‘message in a bottle’ with no real recipient – just a message. I made them for several years, and sold them throughout galleries in Cornwall and Devon. They did well, but as with all things creative, eventually I found that they had become a process for me rather than a passion. I was - a bit bored. It took me many, many months to come up with the concept I now employ but I really wanted them to invoke some sort of emotional response in the buyer. I wanted the works to speak to them personally. I wanted each viewer to find a combination of colours that appealed to them, or a bottle (or two) of which they were particularly drawn to. There’s beauty in order and I wanted to create beautiful, ordered things that didn’t need to contain notes – because they contained colours that each viewer could be moved or excited by. It also took me months and a lot of paint explosions to find the right type and mix of paint and ink, and the correct methods for decanting into tiny bottles with ludicrously small necks!

When they started to come together I was thrilled. They actually looked better than I had ever imagined, which is kind of every artists’ dream! They continue to convey a unique preciousness, which is accentuated by the high-quality bespoke framing and pure white backgrounds. And the fact that people buy them and then get in touch to tell me about their own connections with the work is beyond rewarding. It’s more than I could ask for really. I’m very blessed in that regard.  


I’ve worked in the art business for a very long time. My entire working life in fact. So I’ve been really fortunate to spend a lot of time around great artworks and learn what works for me – what I’m really passionate about and what my triggers are. My five years with Damien Hirst was undoubtedly the most influential for my own personal practice. Love him or hate him, he creates works that are undeniably reactionary - designed to make people think. My hope is to tap into that emotion and elicit pleasure, passion, excitement, nostalgia. He also taught me that art is art. If you say it’s art – then it is. I’ve always respected that.

Emma’s work will be on display at Fleek Gallery 14th – 30th September.

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