Emma Kohlmann born in the Bronx, lives and works in Western Massachusetts. Kohlmann mostly works in watercolor and drawing. She attended Hampshire College where she primarily focused on drawing, philosophy and aesthetics. She has self-published numerous of her own zines, in addition to facilitating and collaborating with several artists in her community. She has recently exhibited in Miami, Toronto and Berlin.
What is your process like for creating your ink drawings? Do you use any type of reference or are they strictly imagined bodies?
When I put the brush to the page I rarely have a preliminary sketch to guide me. I need to be confident in my stride. It feels like a meditation. The ink and water guide me. It feels instinctual. I can tell whether or not a piece will work by how long I spend on it. When I start to articulate certain aspects of the drawing, I find myself imagining the source of light, the heaviness of the tone, the weight of the body on the page. I add color and sumi ink to carve out details. There is a repetitive aspect of my work, I work in volume because I have to work fast. The bodies I work from are both imagined and found imagery. I draw inspiration from my collection of books and found porn. I am obsessed with certain images. I retrace the same images in my head even if they are not in front of me.
What strikes me about your work is how the bodies you illustrate are very loosely painted, but describe poses and anatomy very specifically. How are you able to distill the human body to such simple, yet effective, representations?
Describing the anatomy is what I find the most challenging in making my work. I like to have blurred visions, and the coming in and out of focus. My own eyes can’t decipher what exactly is happening. I feel that my drafting skills aren't the strongest, but I can visualize certain aspects of the body, by sheer luck they come through. I have a fear of uniformity in my work. I try to merely hint at things. I move quickly and use intention with every stroke. I don't like having to define things for the viewer. Sometimes I feel like I give too much. Its important to me that the anatomy I use isn't falling into the same idealized corporeal narrative. I try to make something different, I want to make an alternative world or universe where gender isn't as defined or exists. Its about movement, (a)sexuality, and the separation of self.
Androgyny seems to play an important role in your work. Your figures come across as largely genderless. When you do depict a penis or breasts it feels like a very deliberate choice. What role does gender play in your narratives?
I draw inspiration from certain aspects of art history and early nude photography. I study the Adonis, the Venus, the primordial goddess. I try to dissect these forms, I translate it the way I see it. The nude and its creation throughout art history feels redundant to me. It feels tragic. I am interested in confusing or transgressing this image. I think historically spectatorship is defined by what is considered beautiful. There is a repeating theme of extreme measures to achieve what is beauty. Pain is beauty. I like playing with that idea. The way I approach working with gender is by complicating and obstructing it. I use androgyny to disrupt this historical narrative. I try to create multiple genders or simultaneously having none at all. I am often inspired by Helene Cixous especially in her book The Third Body. She speaks to the rejoining and conjoining, absences and separations to oneself. I see this rejoining and conjoining through my own creation of the body. I often keep that in mind when I draw, because it's about being multifaceted. It's about being limitless.
Because of the vagueness and ghostly nature of your work, in the ink wash drawings specifically, poses that are specifically explicit feel almost asexual. What do you hope to convey with the tension between the two?
When I work from porn my work feels overtly sexual, but I often think it doesn't come across. I like the way figures interact with each other, it feels carnal. I like pushing the image, to the point where you can't tell who or what it is. It's about the movement and the focus changes in the piece. I think the tension you are talking about relates to the ambiguous nature of body. I want to allude to sexuality, to gender, without forcing it into the viewers face.
Text also plays heavily into your work. Is there a greater storytelling or autobiographical aspect to your body of work as a whole?
I feel like I have many different modes of making. Text seems to play more of a role in my zines. I am inspired by poetry. I find that I write from multiple parts of myself. I wouldn't call it autobiographical but the darkness that I have inside comes from a kind of personal truth. I find more symbolism in reading then I do in my writing. I often pair drawings with quotes that I feel relate to. I feel like sometimes other people say it better.