Emma R. Schwartz

Southern Gothic

<em>still waters run deep</em>, 2021, oil, pastel, charcoal, and graphite on canvas, 22 × 28 inches.
still waters run deep, 2021, oil, pastel, charcoal, and graphite on canvas, 22 × 28 inches.

Emma R. Schwartz isn’t interested in verisimilitude, so she paints gauzy self-portraits and dreamlike landscapes. “The work I’m drawn to is something that fell out of someone’s ear, when it’s truly just seeped out of their internal world,” she says. “So I tend to make artistic decisions very close to my personal associations.”

Her most recent works, part of her first New York solo show, see you in the funny papers, explore ideas of femininity through figural paintings—with a hint of surrealism. “It’s very much rooted in looking at and blurring various levels of consciousness and breaking down the membranes that divide the conscious from the subconscious,” she says. Inspired by the idea of “place as character”—perfected by writers like Eudora Welty, Toni Morrison, and Carson McCullers, and the elements of Southern Gothic in their work—Schwartz builds scenes weighted with symbolism and superstition.

  • dear diary, 2021, oil, pastel, charcoal, and graphite on canvas, 42 × 32 inches.

In one such work, still waters run deep, four red wasps circle a drain. The insects are lifted from Schwartz’s memories of suburban Nashville, where she learned to associate wasps with good luck. The drain, for her, represents a portal for exploring gender and sexuality. As for the wasps’ red hue? “I love pink,” she says. “It’s my favorite color. The physical experience of emotion looks like red and pink and brown. Those colors are sacred to me.”

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Noelani Kirschner is a former assistant editor for the Scholar.


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