We have always attracted artists who admire flowers to McQueens. Whether it’s teaching students in our school, or working with creatives who study flowers for illustration, art, design or photography, we love meeting those who are passionate about capturing flowers in art, and it’s always a delight to discover more about their work. Emily Frances Barrett is an artist, jewellery designer and regular client at McQueens HQ. We enjoyed meeting her in our store and after a cheeky Instagram snoop that has us dispensing umpteen red hearts and scrolling way back, we were intrigued to find out more about her and her remarkable work.
Emily, can you remember when you first became interested in art?
When my brother was born I was four years old and determined to make him something. So I made him a book in the shape of a car and stabbed myself with the scissors trying to make the holes in the cover to attach the wheels. I’ve always has a strong desire to make things and I guess I was very lucky that my parents encouraged me to be creative from a very young age.
Tell us about your journey
After taking the general art subjects at school, I took art and photography at college and went on to an art foundation course, where I specialised in illustration. I had always been drawn to visual storytelling so illustration felt like a natural direction. I was drawing from life and collaging photographs, using found imagery and stuff torn out from old magazines and books. There are loads of amazing antique shop in Lewes where I grew up, so it was a great place to be a magpie and collect stuff. I would spend hours looking through boxes of junk, collecting old photos, magazines, buttons, beads, trimmings, fabric – anything unusual that caught my eye. Later I did a degree in Illustration at Brighton University, and towards the end of my second year I switched from working in 2D to 3D. I made detailed animation sets, puppets, machines and miniature worlds in the form of dioramas, which I photographed to create an image mainly to keep my tutors happy, as I wasn’t really sure if it was really ‘illustration’ anymore.I graduated from Brighton and found that my multi-disciplinary skills set lead me to to prop making and working for set designers, assisting on photo shoots for advertising and fashion. I freelanced for a few months until I was offered a job in art fabrication and was able to move to London. I worked for Jake and Dinos Chapman for three and a half years, model making and painting tiny 32:1 scale models for their ‘Hell’ dioramas. Working in such detail and at a tiny scale is something that I really loved. Alongside working for the Chapman brothers, I freelanced occasionally, making props and accessories for fashion shoots. Seeing my work worn in a fashion context made sense and I wanted to explore this further so I did an MA in Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins. I experimented with fashion image making but in conclusion, felt that jewellery making was what really appealed to me as it is the accent of ‘style’ where you can really indulge an eye for detail. I have made jewellery since I was really, and I had a total obsession with beads for a few years. I’d come up to London and spend all my money in the bead shop that used to be on Beak street, it was heaven! I dabbled in silversmithing when I was 16, but didn’t pursue it because the materials and tools weren’t very accessible to my teenage budget. Returning to it more recently with an unconventional background and approach is freeing and I have a much greater sense of focus and vision for what I want to create.
How would you describe your work?
My work is often layered and contains oppositions. I love juxtaposing materials and objects to make something you might not expect to see, or to challenge ideas and perceptions of them in an effort to create something that is intriguing to the eye. I describe myself as an artist that makes jewellery, because I work with a range of materials across a multitude of disciplines, but my work has never fitted into any box. But I really embrace that now as to create without boundaries is much more liberating and is the only way I feel I can be truly creative.
My work is often layered and contains oppositions. I love juxtaposing materials and objects to make something you might not expect to see, or to challenge ideas and perceptions of them in an effort to create something that is intriguing to the eye. I describe myself as an artist that makes jewellery, because I work with a range of materials across a multitude of disciplines and my work has never fitted well into any box. I really embrace that now as to create without boundaries liberating and is the only way I feel I can be truly creative.
Window display at concept store 50m London
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Nature and culture – they are an endless source of inspiration. I spent most of my childhood outdoors and had every pet from African land snails to polecats, tortoises and chickens. I’ve always loved wildlife and organic forms, I find so much beauty in nature. Now I live in London I soak up the city in a similar way, the diversity of people and cultures is like a massive soup of different flavours – getting inspired is never a problem!
Flowers are a recurring theme. Why are you so drawn to flowers and why do you think they are so special?
Personally I don’t believe in any sort of a ‘creator’ so to think that no one has designed flowers blows my mind. They are like ready made sculpture, so diverse and perfectly formed and yet as if they’re from another planet. If you re-contextualise flowers as art, they’d be up there with Picasso and all the greats
What are your plans for the future?
I’m currently an artist in residence at Sarabande, The Alexander McQueen Foundation where I am very lucky to have my studio. This year I want to keep exploring new materials and techniques to bring into my jewellery. I’m also going to starting to make some usable objects, as well as getting back to painting and drawing again, as I think it really helps to connect all the areas of my practice. I’ve recently collaborated with some designers, which really helps to get you out of your comfort zone so I’d like to do more collaborative projects this year and not necessarily restricted just to fashion. I think it’s good to be open to all the ways you can create, make and express yourself so I hope that belief leads to some unexpected things in the future too.
The Lissome Cigar Earrings