From early paintings of porcelain figurines and lace-curtained windows to dilapidated shop exteriors and forgotten decorations, Emily Wolfe’s works are suffused with a lonely domesticity. Her canvases cast a soft gaze on the minutiae of quiet lives and the small intimacies they reveal. It is unclear if the empty spaces in Wolfe’s works were vacated five minutes or forty years earlier, they are accumulations of stillness where even light and shadow hang suspended.
Rather than a single instance, Wolfe’s paintings seem to encompass a multitude of small moments in one image; the soft, faded tones she uses are the accretions of minutes and hours and years. Time’s progressions colour not only the objects Wolfe paints but the memories they store. Her paintings suggest the loss embedded in unnoticed corners of the everyday and elicit thoughts about our own forgotten moments.
Whether glimpsed through a lace curtain, or suggested by slanting light on a wall, the outside world is less important than who is looking out: it is the interior world Wolfe wants to explore. Her depictions of tired shopfronts are focussed on what might be behind the doors and blinds rather than the larger streetscape. In these paintings, Wolfe uses a tightly controlled composition to remove any external context: the facades are of nowhere and anywhere. Her paintings imply modest lives lived within modest parameters and she approaches these with quiet empathy rather than disdain.
Emily Wolfe graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, and followed this up with her Master’s degree from the prestigious Slade School of Fine Arts at University College London after receiving the Ryoichi Sasakawa Scholarship. Now based primarily in London, Wolfe continues to exhibit regularly in New Zealand. Her works are held by the University of Auckland and in the Gissings and Saatchi collections in London.