top of page

The Art of Letting Go: An Interview with Artist Emma Gaines

Written by Greysen Strumpler

Head Student Ambassador, 2023-24

I sincerely believe that artists of any type – painters, sculptors, writers, musicians, etc. – can understand the idea of expressing one’s inner self, one’s thoughts and emotions, in their work. Whether it manifests through a brushstroke, a string of words, or a chord, our experiences influence our work, and our feelings are a catalyst for what we create.

During a recent interview with Emma Gaines, I was able to delve into not only the idea of taking one’s vulnerable experiences and important moments from life and channeling them into a creation, but a new perspective on this that I had yet to realize: taking those creations, those vulnerable works of art, and letting go of them.

Emma Gaines is a Bachelor of Fine Arts student at Columbus State University, beginning her junior year in the fall semester. Her work spans many different types of mediums, but the ones she tends to gravitate towards most are oil painting, woodwork, and metalwork. In her spare time, she participates in other creative endeavors, such as playing the piano and acting. She believes that all of the ways that she expresses herself through the different arts intertwine and influence each other.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Emma Gaines holding her Saccharine collection.

Q: Tell me about your background. How does that impact what you create?

A: I was born and raised in Columbus. I didn’t realize until I started art school that we have a lot of art here. It’s nice to realize that. You learn to appreciate it like other things that you take for granted as a kid.

I thought about this today. To me, I think of the southeast as horizontal and the north as vertical and mountainy, and the west as ‘triangley’. I think my art is more vibrant and colorful, and maybe a little more ‘round’ because I live here. You look at the river, at all the grass out there, and it’s green and round and tufted, and it’s nice in a sculptural kind of way.

Q: To continue with your background, tell me about when you realized you were an artist.

A: So this is my ‘artist origin story.’ I was at a visitation, and I was like six or seven. My mom had given us felt boards to play with in church because it's quiet and it doesn’t make any sound, and you can just arrange little felt shapes. I was sitting there making things, and this guy came up and said, ‘You want to be an artist when you grow up?’ ‘I don’t know! It’s too soon for that! I’m just putting felt shapes on a felt board!’

Then it came through other people in my life that helped facilitate making art that helped me exercise my muscle of creativity. A family friend, Karolee Hughes, who is also an artist, has been impactful in my journey to becoming an artist. She would invite me to her house to paint together. She’s always been there to encourage me and provide me with new ideas. I took art lessons at the Sarah West Gallery for 2 years, and it was super fun and helped me develop a process.

Career-wise, I've been an artist for 4 years, but then just my whole life I’ve had the desire to make something and see something come to life.

Q: Tell me more about the work you’ve created and the evolution of your art.

A: The easiest thing to make growing up was a painting because you can get some cheap paint and paper and that’s it. It’s easy. And then I got into collage, and then back to painting. It was mostly 2D, because it’s easiest to come by.

In art school, it forces you to do everything. I took a sculpture class and a ceramic class and found that I liked it. My sketches tend to have an emphasis on form. I like hands-on building, and I can see the process more than in a painting.

Attention is a Modern Commodity. 2023. Acrylic on canvas. 9x12”

Q: Can you tell me more about the overarching theme of your work?

A: That’s something I've been trying to figure out. Over the past 2 years, it’s been internal – ‘How do I explore ideas? What do I think about? How do I capture and record that?’ A lot of my art is moments in my life that were impactful or catalysts for change. It’s mostly recording my mental process and moments in my life.

Q: I’ve seen a few of your pieces recently that really interested me. Tell me more about your piece My TV from the “Beyond Go Figure” exhibition at the Bo Bartlett Center.

A: I was in the professional practice class doodling, and I drew an abstract, organic-shaped, green TV. I made 6 variations of that. I made tiny models out of clay and painted them. It’s kind of like a made-up world where TVs are weird shapes and they exist in that world as stars of the show. I even made a little video for them, and I made a whole set like a promo for a tv. And then, I had to make a project out of wood. It was collage-like. It worked well to make a conglomerate-like piece that is My TV.

My TV. 2022. Wood, steel, patching plaster, acrylic paint. 36x26x45”

Q: Another of your pieces that stood out to me was Saccharine. Can you tell me about the thought process behind it?

A: I was dating this guy for a year. It was great. Then he moved to California and broke things off, and it's been quite the ride. So as a parting gift to him, I made little objects that were a testament to how I felt about him and special moments. Many of those were influenced by surroundings, like the magnolia leaf that screams southeast, or sometimes we went canoeing, so I put some water motifs in a piece.

I like that it’s really small because it feels more intimate to me. You can pick it up, look at it, move it around, or take it with you.

Q: And you gave it away as a gift?

A: I felt like I would be holding on to it. It’s personal, but it's a production of my feelings.

I was experiencing all these emotions of going through a breakup, so you can’t just sit and wallow. I wanted to be productive. Instead of sitting and crying, I would sit and cry and make art. That was good, so through my emotions, I was being productive. Making art helps me become more emotionally mature.

Abject Permanence. 2023. Watercolor and pen on paper. 7x10”

Q: Tell me more about this idea of not holding onto your art.

A: A big part of life and art is not taking yourself too seriously. You want to feel deeply and create work that is sincere, but you also want to maintain the idea that “nothing is too precious” and create with a sense of play, because that play is essential for exploration and inspiration.

Any art I make is s part of me because I make it, but in a different way it is a part of me because, moved by emotion, I pour myself into the art in an intentional, emotionally comprehensive way. It’s a little deeper now. And that makes it more valuable to me. Saccharine was a gift as well as a body of work, so it had to be given away.

Profoundly vulnerable and unique, it is obvious that Emma’s voice as an artist is able to connect to universal feelings from situations that we all go through even as she expresses intensely personal moments from her own life. Her work begins and ends not for an audience, but as an extension of herself, unafraid to be authentic.

Connect with Emma:


Instagram: @emmagaines_art


bottom of page