Painter Emily Weiner and Providence
Emily Weiner in the studio. Photo by Alex Crawford. Right: Emily Weiner, Providence, 2023, Oil on linen in terracotta frame, 15.50 × 12.50 × 2 in.

Emily Weiner hand-builds frames for each painting, promoting structure from ornamentation to purpose. But Weiner doesn’t simply expand the artwork—she champions modest materials like fabric and pottery.

Historically made by artisans, Weiner puts the same amount of care into making her frames as she does into her oil-on-linen paintings, acknowledging the craftspeople and materials’ unsung histories of their own. Along with it, the artist takes ideas classified by pop culture and applies symbolic forms and archetypal images of folklore, dreams, and theater.

Born in Brooklyn in 1981, Weiner received her BA from Barnard College and MFA in Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts and is now living and working in Nashville, TN.

We chatted with the artist about the works she presented recently at Future Fair in New York City, how she combines motherhood with being an artist, and the role of ornamentation, historically designated “women’s work.”

You’re from Brooklyn. What brought you to Nashville? 

I met my husband in Brooklyn. He had come to New York from Nashville to pursue a more experimental music scene. But about four years later—six months after we had a baby—the third-floor walk-up, no-laundry, hot subway situation broke my New York spirit! I was an Adjunct Professor at several art schools in the city, which I loved, but that income was no longer paying my share of the rent with daycare added. We moved to Nashville for the family support and ease in living. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was so happy to find an art and music community that was collaborative and growing.

Art isn’t a private club. There isn’t one hierarchy or history of art, and images should be shared as a universal language.

What inspires you to create?

I usually get ideas for paintings when I’m not trying to. Like in the shower or driving or reading something that is not meant to be inspirational. Usually, it comes to me as a random image fully formed; that gets me to start a painting. The ideas for subsequent layers or resolutions to a painting come later, at equally unpredictable moments.

What’s a typical day like for you? What did you do today? 

On a typical day, I will walk into my home studio as soon as my son goes off to school. I usually have several paintings in progress so I decide what to work on initially; hopefully, I get some ideas about what to do on the second as I’m painting the first. (Some days I take a break from painting and work outside on my porch, making ceramic frames.) I take a lunch break around 1 p.m. and then get back to work. I work until my 4 p.m. when my alarm goes off telling me to pick up my kid. I look in the mirror to make sure I don’t look too insane and I drive out!

Emily Weiner, White Rabbit and Dove
Emily Weiner Left: White Rabbit, 2022 Oil on linen in porcelain frame 11 × 10 × 1.75 in Right: Dove, 2022 Oil on linen in porcelain frame 8.50 × 6.50 × 1.75 in.

One of your themes is to combine “symbols from the past and present, observed in folklore, theater, dreams, and nature.” In another interview you said that “my connection to them [historical entertainers] is personal. I resonate with being a performer in the different roles I have played so far in my life.” Can you take us from a role you play to transferring it into one of your artworks?

After leaving NYC, I had to kind of start over in terms of career. To make ends meet, I went back to working a nine-to-five day job as the curator of a university art collection in Nashville. When I came home I was primarily the mother to a toddler, and on weekends I would steal some hours to be an artist in my studio.

I started to feel like a magician’s assistant at work, showing up every day in a workwear costume and smiling. I was performing what others wanted me to be in a role, making magic happen, etc., but behind the scenes I had a very different understanding of myself. That’s when the imagery of the white rabbit, the dove, and Pierrot (the sad clown archetype from Commedia dell’arte) started to enter into my paintings.

At the same time the symbolism of f-holes—like those of a string instrument—appeared in my work. I realized, not only does it refer to the mandolin often played by Pierrot, but it also signifies a kind of depersonalization or objectification. Man Ray made this so with his iconic photograph “Le Violon d’Ingres,” which pictures jazz-age entertainer Kiki de Montparnasse with her bare back to the viewers; superimposed f-holes turn her body into that of an instrument.

Society tends to classify ideas and individuals, from pop culture up to the highest levels of education. What I love about the archetypal imagery of folklore, dreams, nature, and theater is that it is a kind of antidote—a common ground for universal communication and understanding.

Emily Weiner, Season, 2023
Emily Weiner Season, 2023 Oil on linen in painted wood frame 29 × 35 × 1.75 in.
Emily Weiner, Exhale
Emily Weiner Exhale, 2023 Oil on linen in terracotta frame 13 × 10.50 × 2 in.
Emily Weiner, Daybreak
Emily Weiner Daybreak, 2023 Oil on linen in terracotta frame 13 × 10.50 × 2 in.

I also read about your focus on the role of ornamentation, historically designated “women’s work.” Can you tell us more about that?

I’m interested in symbolic form in art history as well as material value. When I think about who is responsible for the Western canon, it’s predominantly those with financial or political power—the rulers of empire who erected stone pyramids and temples; the Medicis and the Renaissance benefactors; the Peggy Guggenheims and Philip Johnsons who championed Modern art and architecture. I am enamored by these contributions, but I also love more modest materials, such as fabric and pottery, historically made by artisans and women (now anonymous). These tactile and handmade objects might not be the motivation for most museum pilgrimages, but they have important and unsung histories of their own. In acknowledgment, I began to make ceramic or painted wood frames for each of my canvases with the same amount of care that I put into the oil paintings they surround.

How do you balance the creativity of being an artist with the business demands of an entrepreneur? What are the biggest challenges that come with both? 

Until recently, I have always had day jobs to support myself. Now it takes more oversight (and some guessing) to juggle income and expenses. But one of my biggest challenges is that I procrastinate by working on my computer when I should really be in the studio. I find that the hardest part is the creative work, not the admin, because for painting to be genuinely good I have to be there one hundred percent psychologically, not just logically, which can be a difficult thing to do on demand.   

If you could give your past self one piece of advice, what would it be? 

The version of success recognized by most professions is not necessarily the same version that will make an artist happy or feel validated in a sustainable way. Prioritize the relationship you have with your work, because it is the most rewarding aspect of an art career. Believe in yourself but have a big reserve of humility.

What would you like to tell the world through your art? What feelings do you hope to inspire in the viewer?

That art isn’t a private club. There isn’t one hierarchy or history of art, and images should be shared as a universal language.

Do you think that artists are obligated to be socially and politically engaged?

I don’t think that you can exist as an artist without being socially engaged. By default aren’t we all responding to the society and world in which we live, just from an individual perspective?

Emily Weiner, Rebirth of Empire
Emily Weiner Rebirth of Empire, 2022 Oil on linen in painted wood frame 29 × 35 × 1.75 in.