I’ve been so excited to share Hartman’s work! We had a great interview together, discussing creative careers, earliest memories, finished worlds, external and internal sources and hope!

My favourite response from Hartman, and a real depth into her practice, was in her describing why she became an artist. She began by saying:


“Short answer: it was inevitable... but it took a few years to realise.
Long answer? I always wanted to be an artist because my dad was an artist, and I equated making art with being witty and cool like him.
When I was little my dad took me to lunch with an artist friend of his from college. He asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Emma?” and I beamed with pride and said “An artist” and felt like I was a part of the cool club. I mean, it obviously is the cool club isn’t it?”

Hartman’s work primarily focuses on contemporary religious themes, the supernatural and re-imagining the spiritual, oscillating between small, personal, intimate works and monumental, weighty larger more ostentatious works.




    Emma, what made you decide to follow a creative career choice? Was it ever in question? Or was it inevitable?


    Short answer: it was inevitable... but it took a few years to realize.

    Long answer? I always wanted to be an artist because my dad was an artist, and I equated making art with being witty and cool like him.


    When I was little my dad took me to lunch with an artist friend of his from college. He asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Emma?” and I beamed with pride and said “An artist” and felt like I was a part of the cool club. I mean, it obviously is the cool club isn’t it?


    It didn’t seem like a viable career choice however once I applied for college. I majored in Creative Writing my first year because it felt marketable and I had written a couple of (terrible, horrible) books in high school. But writing classes were soul crushing even though I was passing. Between classes I would step into our campus’s art building just to soak up the vibes.


    Eventually I realized my real love was storytelling, and that desire could be fulfilled with the visual arts just as easily (or in my case, much more easily) than with writing. I switched my major to Studio Art my second year of undergrad, and ended up taking my very first painting class that same year. It was like a whole new world opened up to me. I felt like a kid again telling my dad’s friend that I was — yes finally! — an artist.


    What was your earliest memory surrounding art?


    I think my earliest memories of art are from my dad taking me and my brother to the Greenville County Museum of Art on weekends. The museum was a free, which, for a lower income family like ours, made it an ideal Saturday morning activity. But to me it was magical. Dad made art come alive. He’d tell me about the artists in a way that made me think he actually knew them personally, and we’d often make up our own games in the galleries.Because of that experience I’ve always thought of paintings as exciting rather than pretentious or inaccessible.


    Tell us about your process? How does each work come to fruition? Do you plan? Or are your paintings fluid in creation?


    It’s different for every painting.

    Some paintings are a laborious, knock-out-drag-out brawl that I wrestle with until one of us wins. But most of my pieces arrive like a flash in my head, and I’ll try to finish a draft as fast as I can to capture the gist of the image.

    After that point I’ll work through 3 or 4 paintings in various states of finish and try to negotiate a hook, or element of interest, that keeps the paintings from feeling repetitive or comfortable.



    How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?


    HAH. When I can’t stand looking at it anymore.

    There’s usually a point where whatever I add to a painting starts to take away from the overall quality of the piece. Sometimes I catch it before I hit that point, and sometimes I don’t.


    Scale seems like such an important part of your work. Tell me about why you paint at the scale you create?


    Generally when I decide on scale for my work I follow these two rules:

    1. Small works are intimate and personal. They keep other people out and speak to one person at a time.

    2. Large works are weighty and monumental. BIG paintings universally communicate “Listen to me!”

    But sometimes it’s good to translate the quiet, intimate moments into large works and broadcast it to the world, and shrink overwhelming ideas into pocked-sized panels.




    What are your ideal conditions to paint? What is your studio like? And what are your artist essentials to work?


    Does coffee count as an essential? Because strong, black coffee is a must.

    I like to keep my studio tidy between work sessions so it’s ready and expectant for the next creative session. While I’m working on small studies or painting just to explore, I’ll put on some music to ease my mind, but if I’m working on spiritually paintings I’ll either listen to Scripture or work in complete silence. It allows me time to focus and turn my work into a physical prayer, or question, or meditation, or tantrum.


    Does your creative energy come from internal or external sources?


    A little of both. The impetus to create my current body of work was internal. After my first encounter with depression in 2018 I had to paint, I was compelled to paint. It was a strong spiritual force that kept me painting for hours through the night.


    However, now that I’m in a healthier place I’ve found the freedom to paint without being tethered to drastic emotional moods, so I gain a lot of inspiration from my network of artist friends and art history. I used to work in a museum that housed over 400 religious paintings and hundreds more sculptures --I found a tremendous amount of creative energy in those paintings.


    What do you hope your work says?


    I would describe my work as communicating the vast, strange, and terrible reality of the supernatural.

    I'm inspired by the early religious artists tasked with portraying angels and demons for the first time --they had to decide on how to paint the invisible! But over time, those images became hackneyed and lost their power. I want to put myself back in the place of re-imagining the spiritual. Look at all the word images given in ancient writing: angels as wheels of eyes, pillars of fire, spiritual warfare, dragons, and thrones! How did we manage to end up with docile cherubs? I don't have exact words for what my work says, but I hope my work sounds like a klaxon and not an innocuous harp.


    What has been the highlight of your career so far?


    I was a part of YoungSpace’s first online show, Where we once were someone. That was the first time I felt like my work was seen at a professional level. It's all snowballed from there, honestly! (Thanks again, Kate Mothes!)


    Who or what is your greatest inspiration? How does this inspiration come out in your work?


    Scripture, without a doubt. The images described are so otherworldly, I’m always inspired to sketch them out. I'm also a Christian, so I have a burden to make good work for believers that isn't sentimental or cliche.



    If you could own one piece of artwork in the world, as if money or likelihood was no issue, what would it be and why?


    The Isenheim Altarpiece - go big or go home, right? The first time I saw Grunewald’s portrayal of the risen Christ, where He’s surrounded by an orb of light, I knew that art could hold its power and continue to speak for centuries. It spoke to me, at least.


    What does creativity mean to you?


    Problem solving. Movement within constraint.

    You can’t really think outside of the box if a box doesn’t already exist. The key to creativity is recognizing your constraints (some chosen for you, some chosen by you) in order to craft a path around them.


    What is your greatest indulgence in life?


    This question dogged me for a few days because I want to say something profound and cool but honestly it's naps. I love taking naps.


    What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?


    Let social media serve you, don’t serve social media.

    Don’t fall into the trap of making a pretty instagram feed if you haven’t done the work of experimenting first. Nothing will kill your desire to create more than being bound to THE FEED. But if you’ve got balance in your life and you can use instagram wisely, it’s a great place to take risks, reach out, and build community. I’m always surprised by how many world class artists take the time to talk to me about art. It’s a joy! But like, remember to log-off every once in a while and take a nap.


    What are you working on at the moment?


    A altarpiece! With swinging doors and everything. It’s about 5 feet across when the doors are opened. It’s the most intimidating project I’ve taken on so far.


    What is your ultimate dream project?


    To make work for a place of worship that would genuinely want artwork donated.


    What can She Curates do now/ what can we work on together to help you?


    Honestly, just being a part of this community of women artists has been a gift in and of itself! I love the idea of staying connected in the future!


    Favourite historical female artist?


    Vigée Le Brun. Her studio was raided in the 1770s because she was illegally painting portraits, but Le Brun was such a good painter they let her off the hook and made her a member of the Academy! I painted a lot of master copies of her work when I was learning portraiture. She was a master of color.


    Favourite current practicing female artist?


    This is a moving target! Hilary White (@hilarywhiteart) and Rae Klein (@rae_klein) are some of my current favorites. And Irene Barberis's color changing Apocalypse tapestry changed. my. life.


    Who should She Curates interview next?

    Rae Klein! @rae_klein