An Interview by Mariah Lamont-Lennox & Sweetpea

Mariah and Sweetpea sat down for a chat with Toronto-born artist Emma Mikelberg, whose artwork transports viewers to a colourful alternate reality of her own creation. Mikelberg attended McGill University where she majored in Sociology and minored in Art History and Communications. She describes her favourite art history classes as those which paid particular attention to feminist art histories, and explored the viewpoints of female artists, often overlooked and undervalued. Mikelberg says her study of art history has provided her with a useful base to ground her art, as well as a different lens through which to view the world. Images of women from magazines, popular culture, media, and from Mikelberg’s personal life are central to her practice. She draws inspiration from modern and contemporary art movements, and uses mixed media to make her spectacular and surreal collages and digital artworks.

SP: What do you most love about the work you have created?

EM: That it's always different and always changing!

'Artscape' Sticker, 2.5 x 3.5", $7

MLL: Was art a big part of your childhood? 

EM: As a kid, I was really into arts and crafts and would jump at the opportunity to take part in those activities whether it was at home, at school, or at camp in the summers. Growing up I never thought much about a future in art, I truly just did it all the time because it was something I enjoyed, and it made me happy (which is still true!)

MLL: What and who are some of your biggest artistic influences? 

EM: I would say I have a lot of different artistic influences. Some of my favourite artists include Cindy Sherman, Frida Kahlo, John Revill and Ricardo Cavolo. I take different inspiration from each, whether it’s their eye-catching use of colour, interesting twist on their subjects, or bold decision to create something unique. I think my style has been inspired by bits and pieces of many different movements as well, but most notably Fauvism, Pop Art and Street Art. I also consume a lot of art through Instagram which I find to be a really helpful resource for discovering cool new artists. Some of my current favourites who have definitely provided artistic inspiration are Tishk Barzanji (@tishkbarzanji, surrealist dreamscapes), Caitlyn Grabenstein (@cult.class, collages), and Josephine Rais (@josephinerais, illustrator/strategic designer). Aside from drawing influence from other artists, I also find inspiration in my day to day life. I find album covers and vintage posters particularly interesting, as well as the natural and built environment around me (especially if I’m discovering a new place for the first time!)

'Aussieland', Limited-edition giclee print, digital collage, 2020, $60+

MLL: Do you have formal artistic training?

EM: I don’t have any formal artistic training. Growing up I took some extracurricular art classes in my neighbourhood for fun and I always chose art as my elective option in high school. I’ve never participated in any formal art program, although I just recently got into graphic design school in Toronto that I’ll be starting in September 2021! I used to be afraid to go into an art or design program because I thought it would be limiting, but after trying out another path I realized I need to pursue a creative career in order to be happy. Now that I’ve made this decision, I can’t wait for all of the new things I’m going to learn and to see how my style grows and changes!

SP: What makes you fall in love with a work of art?

EM: It's usually an element that keeps drawing me back in, but it's different depending on the work! I also love when pieces have underlying feminist messages, and multiple layers to them so you keep discovering new things the more you look.

'Road Trip', Limited-edition giclee print, digital collage, 2020, $60+

MLL: Where are some of the places you commonly source images for your collages? 

EM: The sources of my collage material are truly all over the place. When I make digital collages, most of the images are snippets from my own photographs that I’ve taken over the years. Sometimes I’ll scroll back to the end of my camera roll and save ones that I’d forgotten about but that I think could be cool in a collage. This is also something I consciously think about when I’m in a new place, is taking photos that I could later adapt in some way to make art. I often modify the colours or textures of the photos digitally before ‘cutting’ them up because I like when there’s some mystery around the final effect. For physical collages I like to dig through thrift stores, Value Village, and second-hand book stores to find materials, because you never know what you’re going to get. I don’t usually have a set idea in mind of what I’m looking for but finding things that are unexpectedly cool is part of the fun. Some of my favourite finds are random album covers, quirky books, magazines, comic books, maps, paint chips and origami paper. Even more fun is mixing these different materials together and sometimes scanning the physical collages to my iPad to make hybrid digital-physical pieces. The options are endless!

MLL: What is the most challenging part of your practice?

EM: One challenging aspect of my artistic practice is motivating myself to produce art when other areas of my life get busy. Since I practice art on the side right now while working full time, I definitely go through periods of time where I am creating less. However, one of my goals this year is to make a conscious effort to prioritize time to do art even when I don’t have that much extra time! 

'Stereo', Limited-edition giclee print, digital collage, 2020, $60+

SP: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

EM: Travelling with friends in a beautiful place, just enjoying living in the moment.

SP: What is your greatest extravagance?

EM: Plants.


Mariah Lamont-Lennox is an artist and writer living in Toronto. She holds a BA in Art History from McGill University. 
Find Emma Mikelberg on Instagram at @ebmstudio