Crossing borders 019: Emmalene Blake (ESTR)

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It is with a great sense of nostalgia that I announce this Crossing Borders column to be the last of the series. Why stop at such an odd number (19)? That’s not something I have the answer for. I can speculate however.

Back in 2009 when I was on my 19th year on this planet, things happened that were quite defining for me. Then fast track to the beginning of this column, I wanted to get into creative writing, was looking for an open door and someone to give me a chance. This was just a little over a year and a half ago. Fresh Paint Gallery seemed like the best platform to immerse myself in the street art/graffiti culture and reaching out to international artists and showcase their work through an Q&A interview was the way I chose to go. Then a year into the series, it was once again the start of something new. Moving to Ireland. Which I did all alone, with a backpack and my ipad. It just  feels like I need to start something new and showcasing a talented Dublin artist was the only way to end the series – after all, I AM IN DUBLIN.

I wish to thank all the amazing artists who took the time to chat with me, skype or meet; the experience has been truly insightful and sure, unforgettable. Without any further, I am pleased to introduce you Emmalene Blake, or ESTR, who was kind enough to take some of her time to chat with me about street art in Dublin, her personal work and upcoming projects!

[Fresh Paint Gallery]: I’ve only been in Ireland for the past six months, yet I’ve repeatedly been told how “Dublin is a small place, and you always end up running into someone you know”. I can only imagine how tight and supportive of its artists the street art community is. But you tell me! How are you getting on these days?

[ESTR]: Well firstly, I hope you’re enjoying your time here! Yeah, Dublin is definitely a small place and as you can imagine, this has made the art scene a tight-knit community, which I think can be great! Being surrounded by so much culture and creative minds is a breeding ground for more creativity and art. But yeah, I’m doing pretty great these days. I’ve been working on some cool projects and have more great stuff coming up; can’t complain! Back at the start of the year, I joined Minaw Collective, an all female Ireland-based street art collective, so getting to work on projects and at jams with those guys has been great too. Also, I recently moved into a new studio. I love it; it’s amazing.

[FP]: You have worked with companies like Penneys, RTE and The Maldron Hotels. How has been your experience of going from working as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer to getting involved in the street art scene?

[ESTR]: Well actually, street art has been a part of my life for a long time. Even while I was working as a freelancer, I still did street art. My first real street artwork was back in college in 2009, when I made stencils of Brian Cowen’s face on a mickey mouse figure -which may or may not have found its home on various walls around the city! So although recognition for my street art came later, I’ve been embracing the lifestyle for quite a while now. Regarding the shift, I don’t think I will ever move entirely from one thing to another. I am definitely the kind of person who likes to work on a lot of different things, so I can’t really say what I will or won’t be doing in a year or two!

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[FP]: In your personal experience, what do you feel are the main difficulties, but also the greatest parts of being an artist living and working in Ireland?
[ESTR]: I think this relates to what I said earlier; Ireland -and especially Dublin- is so full of culture and art. There are so many artists and creative minds that with that kind of buzz, it’s difficult not to be creative. I mean, it’s such a great platform to work from. That, I think really is great. You’re always going to be able to be inspired because I think creativity and art are really nurtured in our society. I do believe it’s a double-edged sword though, because with the amount of talent around, I think a lot of people get lost in the sea of it all. I think a lot of talented young artists never reach their potential because they feel they don’t measure up to it all. Or maybe they just give up because they don’t get a break. There are so many really great artists out there who end up working in jobs that have nothing to do with art. I think that’s hard, to work away at something when you feel you are not getting recognition and maybe aren’t getting the support you need from friends and family. I think although the mainstream community is very supportive of the arts, on a personal and individual scale, some people may not feel that support.

[FP]: I was reading about the Irish Rail’s stance on street art/graffiti/tagging and wasn’t all that surprised when I saw they had a zero tolerance policy on tagging and said they would press charges if they caught the responsible acts. On the other hand, some big mural projects get approval from City Councils. Now, the difference between these two examples is huge, but once again in your experience, where do feel Irish authorities draw the line between helping out and prosecuting? Have you ever ran into trouble for painting?

[ESTR]: I think that although I may not agree with Irish Rail’s stance, it’s the position of nearly every railway everywhere. Graffiti is not legal in most places and if caught, your fate is the same regardless of where you are. Charges will be pressed. I think it’s understandable to some extent; nobody wants to see “Denise loves Mick” or a massive cock on the side of a bus or train, but I think there is a huge difference in art and vandalizing. Ideally, I hope that we eventually move towards having bigger liberties for art. And I have to say that the big mural projects you’ve mentioned are definitely a step in that direction! Thankfully, I’ve never run into any serious trouble for painting, but that’s just because I’m a model citizen who DEFINITELY has never broken the law. 😉

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[FP:] What do you consider being three top three most important values in your life/career?

[ESTR]: Top three, it would have to be my family and friends, staying true to myself and self-confidence. That last one might sound a bit cheesy, but to be honest, being an artist is not an easy job. I think it’s important you always make sure you are in a good place, that you are taking care of yourself, reminding yourself that you are good enough and that you have something worthwhile to contribute. I think a lot of artists tend to be their own worst enemy at times. I am definitely guilty of this.

By staying true, I mean that at the end of the day, I want to be able stand proudly behind every piece of work I have made. I never want to do something just because it’s a commission. I want to be able to be passionate about my work. And I would never take a commission if it I didn’t agree with what or who it represented. I recently turned down a commission due to this.

Lastly, my friends and my family mean the world to me, I can’t praise them enough for everything they do for me. I am lucky to have the people I have surrounded myself with. My best friend Jess, although she lives in Eindhoven, is always there to give me a hand or her opinion whenever I get on to her. She’s a super talented artist, so I know I can trust her opinion on anything workwise!

[FP]: Do you see any sorts of a common thread in Irish street art? Themes, values, colors, political or social ideas?

[ESTR]: Of course, I mean art, in general, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is always influenced by the culture and people you are surrounded by. I think this is especially true when we talk about street art. A lot of street artists tend to want to make a comment on something, or get a reaction from a simple glance. Bring some humor to someone’s day, or get them question something. I think that with that being said, a lot of us here in Ireland care about similar issues, and we definitely have the same sense of humor. So yeah, I do think you get similar themes throughout art. I guess that’s also what makes it so interesting. Seeing each person’s response to the same experience.

[FP]: If you had the opportunity to append your art to any existing structure in the world, which would you choose and why?
[ESTR]: The Great Wall of China, ’cause sure wouldn’t it be great for my artwork to be seen from space!

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[FP]: In which projects are you getting involved in next?

[ESTR]: There’s going to be a video of a free art project I’m currently working on, encouraging the introduction of same-sex marriage to countries who have yet to legalize it. First up – closest to home, Northern Ireland. I went up a couple of weeks ago to do it so that video will be going live soon. Then Waterford Walls is happening. That’s going to be huge. So many amazing artists are painting at it, so I’m looking forward to that.

© All photos courtesy of Emmalene Blake (ESTR).

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Emmalene Blake (ESTR) is an Irish artist with great ambition. Currently completing a MA in Professional Design Practice, she studied at the Dublin Institute of Technology where she graduated with an Honour’s BA in Fine Art in 2012. Introduced to many different mediums during her college years, it opened up for her a world of opportunity and experimentation. It wasn’t until she graduated that she found  herself immersed in the street art community. ESTR runs regular art workshops for youth groups, children’s groups and groups for young people with disabilities and though the majority of these are spray painting workshops, she  also runs other style of workshops.