A rainbow of paint drips cover the floor like confetti. Music blasts from a small radio in the corner while light pours in from a tall, narrow window behind it.
Dressed in a weathered apron, hair tied back, Emma Barr mixes a brilliant shade of fuchsia.
“Sometimes, if I haven’t been working in it for a while, I kind of forget how to make the paint because it’s chemistry,” she says, as she swirls the colour in a tin tray.
Barr uses the ancient and uncommon medium of cera colla. The chemistry she refers to includes a unique mix of cottage cheese, ammonia, beeswax, water and acrylic.
Working with the cold wax paint can be different every time and that inconsistent challenge led Barr to keep with the medium.
“I just didn’t figure it out right away. IF I figure something out right away. Like acrylic, you can figure out pretty fast; oil you can figure out pretty fast … but, this, you have to make your own paint,” Barr explains.
“I learnt how to make it and do a few layering things and got on to this technique that I use, which is actually carving into the paint and I just thought there’s so much to learn from it.”
Barr continues to discover cera colla in her latest show, Into the Woods. But the show isn’t exactly for Yukon eyes – the young artist netted a solo exhibition in Toronto at Laurier Gallery.
About two years ago, Barr was working at Yukon Artists @ Work when a couple bought two of her early abstract cera colla works.
“They said, ‘You should really come to Toronto. Your stuff would do awesome. It wouldn’t be a matter of selling, it would be a matter of supply and demand,'” she says.
“And that was based on these really abstract works, so now I’m going to Toronto with totally different work.”
Into the Woods juxtaposes Barr’s application techniques. Some pieces demonstrate a textured abstract discipline, while others show her attention to detail with strong lines and crisp colours.
The common thread: Yukon’s nature in vivid hues.
“I just took off to the woods and I kept walking and recording images, taking my camera out, just photographing whatever interested me. And I went out to my parents’ house and watched the feeding birds. That’s kind of when it clicked,” Barr says.
“These birds, I don’t know why, but they’re interesting shapes and their mannerisms and their aggressiveness was really interesting to me.”
In the artwork, those feeding birds are silhouetted in a blanket of snow, or peering out amongst a barrage of branches.
A swan is etched into the wax layers of one piece with a more abstract treatment, while another work depicts a chickadee cast out of revealed colour layers.
Barr says the show didn’t take on the heavy abstract she’d originally intended, it will be her way of bringing a piece of the Yukon to the big city.
“It’s going to speak for itself. It’s going to be art. It’s going to be on the wall. It’s going to be enjoyed by people. I can’t please everyone, but it’s still scary going to Toronto and committing so much.
“Financially it’s quite a risk and if you do well, great, you’ll pay for it. And if you don’t, you’ll go into even more debt. Just tag it on to the student loan, you know,” she says with a laugh.
Emma Barr’s Into the Woods opens at Laurier Gallery on June 21.