After working at Marlow & Sons for a few years, Emily Klass was on Reynard’s opening staff and became the first artist to be a part of the Wythe Hotel’s permanent collection. She has exhibited her sculptures and paintings in Joshua Tree, the Venice Biennale, and is currently exhibiting her paintings at Donna in Williamsburg.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your creative endeavors? I grew up in Utah and have been on the East Coast for 16 years, in New York for eight. My art has become a meditation and a way of blending two parts of my personality—of being really happy in the outdoors in the mountains and also really happy in the city. I think initially when I moved to New York, it was a hard transition to being around so many people, but having that outlet and having it reflect this idea of growth of being a singular part in a larger piece has tied the two physicalities together for me.
Right now my work is really in a transitional period, but it has been a lot of repetition of geometric shapes, squares forming larger circles with references to constellations. Now it has gone into a lot more color and fluidity, referencing mountains and landscapes.
You have a studio in Williamsburg? It’s one room by myself just painting, which has been great. I used to work in Greenpoint—in my apartment I had an extra room. And I think that move into a studio has been reflected in my work. At home I was doing these smaller pieces that were very contained and very precise and now I’m able to be messy and work on multiple pieces at one time, so everything has gotten bigger, which is fun.
What about working with other creative people and your coworkers? How do you find them? So helpful. I think as I’ve moved from working with wood and 3D objects to painting, there’s been a learning curve. It’s great just being able to talk to people about what things do physically and how to use them, to have critiques on work and a discussion about what I’m doing, or going to performances of friends and see how they’re using space and gesture in a similar theme but different outlet.
In terms of managing these different worlds, have you found that it’s been challenging or maybe empowering, or are you just trying to balance those things in your life? I guess every success is empowering, so that’s what fuels it and even the validation of sharing with coworkers and friends helps it move along. It’s definitely hard. I see the people who have made it when they’re young and there’s a part of me that’s jealous of that, and then there’s a part of me that’s not because I feel like it is a journey and everything provides information.
I’ve had periods of more or less free time and now I look at those periods when I had free time and am so incredibly jealous of it, but I wasn’t ready to be pushing myself in the ways that I am now. It’s hard to have enough hours in the days, but it is what it is and I think that being in a place that challenges you is gonna make you work hard for it or it’s not really the thing that you’re passionate about it, which is neither good, bad, or indifferent. But I am in a way grateful for the restraints because I always want to do more and so I work hard to make that happen.
Did you start out working 40 hours a week here? No, I’ve always worked part time so that I could make art, but in the last year I feel like it’s been more of a focus on okay, I’ve gotten this far without pushing myself. What can I do if I try? And that is the benefit of having a service job—you’re not working 40 hours a week so you theoretically have that energy to spend in your studio. Having art supplement my income is great and helps me believe that I can continue to do that.
I guess there’s a little bit of a double edged sword in that there are so many talented people I’ve worked with that go and find their passion and there are some that are new to New York or to having all sorts of alcohol at their disposal. I’ve seen both paths of people—some just kind of hang out and don’t really use the free time in a productive way in my opinion, and some people really push themselves.
There are so many people in this world who make it as a healthy, happy artist. It doesn’t have to be this trope of the starving, depressed, addicted artist. So it’s nice to also see those people come into the restaurant and see it’s possible. It’s hard but it’s possible. It’s just a matter of regimens and seeing where priorities lie, making time to work and see friends and go to openings and get your studio work done too.