Like a Kid in a Candy Store
By Brie McCauley
October 12, 2017
When I walk into Emily Shickel’s studio, the first thing that catches my eye is a piece of cloth hanging on the wall, embroidered with the words “don’t grow up it is a trap.” Shickel has accumulated an array of materials in the space; including pieces of quilts that she made, collections of buttons, rolls of patterned tape, containers of sprinkles, and pictures of grandmas in sewing circles. She also has collages on the walls which give an insight into how she may think about composition. One of these is a small collage made out of patterned scrapbook paper arranged in a quilt-like pattern. It made me laugh because the paper she used has images of bacon on it. She also has paintings of cakes and confections, and elderly women almost morphing into pattern. There is a playfulness that is clearly important to her.
Shickel’s marks are quick, brushy, and light-handed. She uses a tinted palette of yellows, blues, and pinks. I asked her about her favorite color, and after remarking that that was “the worst question ever,” she told me it was pale pink and mustard (even using food to describe color). To make a painting she starts with a quick gesture drawing on paper, and then forces herself to put it to the canvas. She prefers to work quickly because she says it doesn’t allow time for analysis. This reminds me of the way a kid would make work--making each mark freely and without much regard formaking the right moves.
Merriam-Webster defines nostalgia as “an excessively sentimental yearning for some past period.” The phrase “excessively sentimental” seems to make sense next to Shickel’s work. Her practice is full of references to a past time, one that seems sweet and innocent. It's fitting that part of her process involves collecting. She collects and holds onto the things that inform her work, like buttons and fabric. Shickel said that she likes to search for fabrics whenever she visits a new city. Perhaps, like a souvenir, these fabrics she finds are a way to remember the places she’s been. Much like collecting is a way to remember, her paintings are a way for her to go back and experience the world from the mind of a child.
Shickel’s paintings continuously remind me of the phrase “like a kid in a candy store.” She seems to put candy and cakes on a pedestal through the magical way she represents them in her work. What she likes about candy is its over exuberance, and the excitement or even high that it can evoke. It's no surprise that she works at the Chocolatier in Bloomington. Speaking about this work she said making candy is a repetitive process, and that this repetition also carries over into her studio practice. Quilting, collaging, and even the way she draws stripes and polka dots are all very repetitive processes. Repetition can also be seen in the way she collects materials like patterned tape and fabrics.
I tend to think of repetition as comforting--a way to slow down your body and your thoughts (which makes sense if you imagine that Shickel is constantly trying to come down from a sugar high). It seems that Shickel wrestles with a push and pull between hyperactivity and quiet concentration. She makes paper collages, draws with highlighters, and sews quilts out of rainbow sprinkle fabric. Her world is a world of play and childlike imagination. She is unapologetic--painting what she enjoys about life. I keep going back to the idea of pleasure as I experience this space. Not only is it gratifying to experience the work, but it comes across as pure and genuine because of the obvious enjoyment she gets from making the work. Shickel, unlike many artists, gives herself permission to paint exactly the things that bring her joy, reminding us of one of the most pleasurable things about the human experience: indulgence.
Images courtesy of the artist.