Emily Wolfe (b.1972) has lived and worked in London since 1998 – a place that due to its size, climate, and geography, dictates that the population spend its days in high-density living and built spaces are the constant backdrop to life. “I like being indoors, and the climate here is conducive to it. I loved [London] from the moment I got here, and I think it’s a magnificent city.” (Emily Wolfe, quoted in Sam Eichblatt, “Strange Wilderness,” Home New Zealand, 2013).
Emily is a graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts, the University of Auckland, and in 1998 she received the Ryoichi Sasakawa Scholarship to study for a Masters in Fine Arts at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Arts at University College London. Following the completion of her formal education in 2000, Wolfe has regularly exhibited in both hemispheres, travelling between the United Kingdom and New Zealand and thus alternating between these two ways of life – one inherently familiar; the other adopted and now equally habitual. “Yes, I miss New Zealand. I ache for the smell of living things, the open vistas, my parents’ backyard in Freeman’s Bay. I think that’s why I’ve taken to painting on such large canvases – it’s the only time I get to stretch out my arms in a wide space. On the flip side, I’ve fallen in love with the chaos of city life, its monochrome greyness, the gritty air and the way it makes life, and my painting, so much more intense.” (Emily Wolfe, quoted in “Cry Wolfe,” Next, May 2000)
An earlier series of paintings by Wolfe depicted delicate and intricate remnants of lace, the essence of which are similar to the gossamer curtains that feature in much of Wolfe’s later body of work. In these images the viewer peers out of windows obscured by a thin veil of lace curtain that obscures the vista, acting as an intermediary between the internal and external environments. Murky glimpses of the outside world make it difficult for the viewer not to wonder what lies beyond.
These delicately veiled windows are often situated in rooms decorated with tatty and peeling wallpaper embossed with faint images of flowers and leaves. Art writer, Malcolm Burgess, described these rooms as being “steeped in a wistful air of the kind that lingers after a wake in the house of the recently departed.” (Malcolm Burgess, “Where the Wild Things Aren’t: The Interior World of Emily Wolfe,” Art New Zealand, no. 129 (Summer, 2008/09)) Emily explains that she has “always been interested in painting things that are somehow worn, decayed, redundant, or just things that are overlooked and seem to have a potential for subject. They’re scenes of something that’s about to happen, or has happened, but they’re not part of the narrative.” (Emily Wolfe, quoted in Sam Eichblatt, “Strange Wilderness,” Home New Zealand, 2013)
There is a disconcerting quietness to Wolfe’s works – an uncertainty and mystery that implies there is more to them than meets the eye. Through painting such beautiful, yet innately unsettling works, Wolfe addresses the “subtle interplay between privacy and exhibitionism as well as realism and the fantastic.” (Onetwenty Gallery, Emily Wolfe: Through a Glass Darkly, exhibition catalogue (Ghent: Onetwenty Gallery)