Iconic Bay of Plenty artist, Emma Prill, opens up her studio and takes a wander through the garden with Talia Waldegrave.
WORDS TALIA WALDEGRAVE
PHOTOS TRACIE HEASMAN / CHRIS PARKER / MAREE WILKINSON
Before I had even met Emma Prill I wanted to be just like her. It’s always been a dream of mine to be an artist, and it was her work I coveted most.
Emma exited Tauranga Girls’ College the same year I entered, yet her presence was felt everywhere. Her art still assumed pride of place in the hall foyer, the principal’s office and every single classroom in D-Block. The faculty was clearly quite chuffed with this check-pinafored graduate.
They weren’t the only ones. Emma’s art has long hung proudly on the Waldegrave walls – my high-school sweetheart, his sister, and his parents are all avid fans.
Not surprisingly, I was excited to be asked to write about her for UNO.
The day we meet, I am reminded how radiant and generous Emma is. She comments on my look and likens it to ‘glamour’. My 10-year-old polyester blouse was an afterthought: an emergency solution to a last-minute wardrobe malfunction. I had only zhooshed a swipe of red lipstick. It is Emma who is effortlessly gorgeous. She’s not tall, but is instantly noticeable from across the crowded cafe. It’s her smile, her charisma and her incredibly warm personality – she is the epitome of joy.
Impeccably well spoken, Emma is UK born, her accent still evident. She describes everything with her hands, and her eyes light up when she talks about her work.
“When I was asked, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ my answer was always, ‘A painter and a traveller’. I pictured myself heading off into the sunset, with a little scarf tied to a stick and all my belongings in it.”
As a Rudolf Steiner student, painting was encouraged from an early age. “It was all about colour, and I learned to write the alphabet in thick crayons long before I was even given a pencil. Art was always my thing. We lived next to a forest, and in spring the ground was carpeted in bluebells. I was always out collecting the wildflowers and exploring.” Emma went on to get a Bachelor of Visual Arts.
“I vividly remember my first trip to New Zealand. I was 13, and it was New Year’s Eve. We were hugely delayed at the airport, because I was considered a biosecurity hazard! I’d made pressed-flower gifts for everyone and, of course, that didn’t go down too well with Customs. But it was the drive through the Karangahake Gorge that I’ll never forget. I was absolutely blown away by the vibrancy and lushness of it all. It seemed so incredibly tropical. Nature was, and still is, where most of my inspiration comes from.”
In bloom: Emma is best known for her Flower Gardens, and they are definitely my personal favourite. Layers of colours and intricately painted patterns enrich the carefully crafted canvas forms. Emma uses every part of the canvas – even the frayed ends of the roll are used for the centre of the flowers.
“It’s all about the balance. That’s why it takes so long. One colour might work in one spot but needs to be contrasted elsewhere to get just the right harmony. For me, it’s a visual jigsaw, and I love the evolution and unpredictability of it. The Flower Gardens are special because, not only are they full of surprises, they are eternally in bloom. I think that’s what people really like about them.”
Like any good artist, she is forever pushing the boundaries and exploring new realms of creativity. Her recent Miles Art and Molly Morpeth Art Awards entry works were a play on two of the most basic materials used by artists: gesso and canvas. The results were captivating – at times magical and crystal-like, then skeletal and eerie. She was a finalist for both awards.
Regardless of medium, all of Emma’s works are utterly unique. But it is her latest venture into sculptography that really defines the meaning of ‘one of a kind’. Initially, the works are much like her Flower Gardens: assembled to look just right. A photographer is on standby to take a shot of the finished work before it’s completely disassembled, making the image on film the original work of art.
Emma inspires others with art parties for adults. “It’s all about creative nourishment – coming together and enjoying art. Most people tend to be a bit apprehensive or flustered when they arrive, so we ease into it slowly with a glass of wine and a moment of quiet. It’s very relaxed and is really a lot of fun.”
Emma has released the first in a series of packs to create an original piece of art at home. These, along with her limited edition prints and commissioned works, make for fantastic Christmas and birthday gifts.
Our interview is longer than most, but then I have been a fan for a long time. I gush about this with Emma and we laugh. She is one of the most humble and inspiring people I know, with the biggest dash of positive, bubbly energy thrown in. Much like her work, her presence is completely uplifting.