As a final year degree student at EIT Hawke”s Bay, Emma Aitchison-Windeler “excavated memory” in her art much as an archaeologist sifts through strata on a prehistoric dig.
But where a student of ancient history strips back layers to expose artefacts and human remains, Emma built up images that reveal concerns common to the human condition.
Crouching on her knees to encompass her chosen medium – a 10m roll of cartridge paper – she layered paint to create sketchy black and white images evoking notions of fossilisation, ancient cultural practices and mythology.
Emma graduates this month as the top overall student in her Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design class. Encouraged by her artistic development during her time at EIT, she”s now committed to pursuing a future in art.
With plans for converting the garage at her Marewa home into a studio, she is considering how she might adapt her ideas to a more enduring medium.
Emma”s personal history will continue to be part of this artistic voyaging. A preschooler when her family emigrated to New Zealand, she explores English roots in images that suggest aerial maps, megalithic structures and ancient burial sites.
More directly autobiographic events are evoked in works that might, for example, summon up childhood fears of night”s distorted shadows.
Going into her third year at EIT, Emma was encouraged to move from tile-sized canvases and experiment with a larger format medium. Doing that proved liberating, triggering further changes in her approach to her art. Abandoning colour, her work became darker and more dense.
She doesn”t regard this work or its themes as bleak, instead referencing it to life cycles. As she points out, we take form in blackness and have embraced it within our ancient mythologies and associated rituals.
“We also embody the fertile blackness of the life-giving soil to which we return in death.”
It was as a mature student that Emma indulged her long-held yearning for artistic self-discovery. On turning 47, she quit her day job to do EIT”s three-month introductory course. She then staircased to the diploma programme, and went on to study for her degree.
She regards her time at EIT as “the best decision I ever made”.
Where previously she had lacked confidence in expressing herself through art, at EIT she found a whole community of people like-minded people, passionate about the visual arts. With study came the realisation that she could be more than a hobbyist artist.
“I want to continue the experimentation I”ve been doing with the degree. I feel there”s still mileage in what I”ve been working on. It”s about unfinished business, my personal journey, and if the works do sell then that”s an additional bonus.”