The Feeling underneath the Surface

Emi Brener Interview


In this artist interview, conducted at SomoS’ exhibition space, March 2020, Uruguayan painter Emi Brener talks about intimacy and vulnerability; integrating language and visual art; and working towards her work presentation Under the Skin as Artist-in-Residence in Berlin. Find the video interview and transcript below.

Emi, can you tell us about yourself and your work as an artist?

EB: My name is Emi Brenner, I am an oil painter from Uruguay, I’m 23 years old and I’ve been here at SomoS for 3-months now.

How did you first become interested in art?

EB: I used to draw a lot as a kid but I hated painting, I actually hated the adding color part which is kind of ironic when you think about it. Then I stopped drawing and painting and started to read a lot instead. Then when I was 16 or 17 I was in my fifth Grade of High School and I had a teacher who was really into art. I was her student for 6-months and after that, before I even started actually painting I just decided I was going to be a painter.

You are currently undertaking a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Universidad de la República in Uruguay, why did you decide to study fine arts and how has it helped you develop as an artist?

EB: I like painting, but even more than that I just feel like I have to. It makes me feel fulfilled in a way that other things don’t, so when I was 18 and I had to choose what to study it was easy. There is also only one school in my country, so there wasn’t much choice.

It has helped me because it really makes me think about what I want to paint and why, instead of just finding a pretty picture and making a painting out of that. So it made me think more about what I wanted to depict and why and the thought process before I actually put paint to canvas.

What inspires you?

I have found in life there are a lot of moments that I want to capture and keep and when I come across one of these moments, it makes me think that we all have these experiences and we all go through them and they are really fleeting. So that’s what inspires me and I want to keep these moments through my paintings. I am also really interested in people and how they relate to each other. I’ve found that painting people is a kind of challenge that I never get tired of, because it’s a very subtle thing especially when you paint portraits, which I’m not doing a lot of right now but it’s a subtle, minimal thing where even if you paint the same person over and over again it’s never the same. I’m constantly drawn to people and how to paint them to show what they are feeling or what they are not or what they’re showing me, first with paint and then with words.

Your technique of embroidering onto the canvas is quite unique, how did you come up with this method?

EB: I started by doing things digitally by corrupting the code of the images I took and then just writing the words there and putting them into sound and and it led to these really broken down pictures which were really interesting, but people couldn’t tell what the painting was about or what the words were. I was actually embroidering something else just as a hobby and then as I was embroidering a flower or whatever and I realised that I could just put the words there literally on the canvas as if they were under the skin and it just grew from there.

You mentioned by including these embroidered texts in your work, you are visualizing the notion of one’s thoughts being just ‘under the skin’. Can you elaborate on how you source the written element of your work and how they are related to the idea of skin in your paintings?

EB: In order to write on my works, I have to actually hurt and puncture and break the canvas over and over, like hurting the skin in order to let words come out and that is something I didn’t actually plan. I realised that after I did the paintings and after a few people told me that they looked like scars, which I had not realised but I think it is interesting that the words are like scars and that in order to make them you have to hurt the canvas or the painting or the skin.

You largely depict the female body in your paintings, is the female form something you are particularly interested in representing? Is it important to you to portray a wide range of body types and skin colors?

EB: I do realize that when I see a lot of my work that I tend to do a lot of skin, a lot of nudes, a lot of putting the words on the skin but it’s not something that I do consciously I just do what feels right and after I have a few paintings I start to see a pattern.

How has your experience been in Berlin, finding and working with new models?

EB: So I ended up using four different people I didn’t really know as models, two girls and a couple. It was actually a really cool experience, because usually when I take pictures of someone to paint I know them, I know what they could potentially want me to say and I know what the theme of the painting is going to be about. But when I didn’t actually know the person it was a fresh point of view, and I let them do whatever they wanted and it was more of figuring out what we could get from each other. I asked them to send me some writings, which are all over the walls, so with the writings and the pictures there was a different theme to every person’s portrait.

What were your experiences like working with people you didn’t know so well, compared to the past where your subjects were mainly close friends or people you had intimate relationships with? How has this furthered your experience with/understanding of intimacy?

EB: It was really interesting to create this sense of intimacy with someone I didn’t actually know, because when it is your friend it’s much easier as you know them and you like each other probably. Where as with a complete stranger who is willing to get naked and also sharing things that are even more intimate than getting naked with you, so you can showcase them to the world and even if you don’t know whose painting belongs to which person, they are still there on the walls and they’re really displaying themselves and showing a lot of vulnerability.

Has your time in Berlin as an Artist-In-Residence at SomoS revealed anything new about yourself? How has it impacted your work?

EB: It has forced me to get out of my comfort zone and to ask for help, because I didn’t know anyone in Berlin. I had to contact people and ask if they would be willing to model, or if they would be interested to work with me. I got to know a lot of people, people I wouldn’t normally interact with in order to make work. It also allowed me to set my own pace and to work to my own schedule, as well as giving me a lot of ideas for things I want to do in the future, including other topics that I want to explore.

Interview: Paulus Fugers
Editing: Carlos Vivero
Music: Ricardo Ferreira: “Boys & Girls”
07:24 min.