As tough as this year has been, it’s also helped bring a lot into perspective when it comes to how we relate to one another. Priorities have shifted and people are more focused on taking care of each other, whether on a grand scale or just in their daily lives.
While many artists have pivoted this year, raising money for health, homelessness relief, and COVID-related struggles, New York-based painter Emerald Rose Whipple has been interested in the philanthropic elements of the art world for a while, and she’s recently dedicated several efforts to children in need through her work.
In November, Whipple launched two prints to benefit Orange Babies, a South African organization dedicated to helping pregnant women with HIV and babies born with the harrowing virus. Later that month, she also collaborated with UNICEF USA, launching a print to support their mission to provide aid to children around the world who’ve been negatively affected by COVID-19. 100% of her proceeds will be going to each organization.
“Advocacy for child rights has always been important to me,” Whipple said. “Children rarely have a say in their circumstances, and their voices are rarely heard. As someone who was adopted at a young age, my philanthropic focus is on adopted and abandoned children, as well as children in vulnerable and emergency situations. I feel very fortunate to work with both Orange Babies and UNICEF, and to shine a light on the beautiful work they are doing.”
Other than helping children in need, Whipple’s motivation for these pieces was accessible collaboration. Her series of paintings, titled “The Voice of a Generation” and featured in Dazed a few years ago, was based on photographs of her friends. For the UNICEF and Orange Babies projects, Whipple wanted to create a body of work that friends or young collectors could participate in.
Taylor Engle: Why did you decide to collaborate with the Orange Babies Foundation?
Emerald Whipple: I was introduced to Orange Babies last Fall through my agent who felt the partnership would be a good fit considering the work they do. We held the EXHALE event last November, a fundraising exhibition for Orange Babies in collaboration with the World of McIntosh. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the work that Orange Babies is doing and also to bring attention to an activation that was supposed to happen in Zambia Summer 2020. With restrictions from the pandemic, a lot of Orange Babies projects and partnerships have been postponed or canceled. The Exhale print arose out of the desire to provide continued support during this time.
TE: That’s amazing. What drew you to collaborate with UNICEF?
EW: I have always admired the work that UNICEF does to advocate for the rights of all children. As an agency of the United Nations, and working in over 190 countries and territories, UNICEF is uniquely poised to attend to the needs of vulnerable children around the world. I have been wanting to work with them for some time.
TE: What has it been like working as an artist/creator in 2020 during a pandemic?
EW: There is an added level of uncertainty. I feel that we are all hyper-aware of our mortality and that of our loved ones.
I find value in creative expression and bringing beauty into the world. But the more I learned about the impact the pandemic has had on people, particularly those in marginalized communities, the more I felt the need to do something that benefits people on a larger scale then simply creating paintings. My work is very labor-intensive and a painting can take several months to produce. During this period, I’ve felt the pressure of time, and I wanted to do something that had an immediate impact. I have a new body of work I have been developing which I put on hold to oversee the creation and production of the collaborations with Orange Babies & UNICEF.
Aside from completing several commissions, I spent most of this year doing administrative work and learning about the effects of the pandemic on marginalized countries, particularly the impact of children and refugee children on the move.
TE: What inspires you?
EW: Nature, philosophy, impermanence, time, friends, art, and photography.
TE: What is your favorite art medium to work with and why?
EW: I love the immediacy of photography and the ability to capture a moment in an instant, as well as the archival nature of it. The sentiment to capture and hold a memory. At the time I started painting, images felt almost disposable, especially through the lens of social media. I have always loved painting as a process of creation, working with oil paint and bringing an image into form. I felt that the paintings give weight to the photographs I love and moments I cherish.
TE: How would you describe your work as a whole?
EW: My work as a whole deals with perception, both visual and psychological.
The paintings are meant to be experienced in person. The pointillism viewed up close becomes this very abstracted field of color. Yet the further back the viewer is from the work, the clearer the picture. My work is about widening our gaze to see the big picture, similarly widening our gaze to see outside of ourselves.
The work is heavily rooted in philosophy. The paintings act as a reminder to look deeply at the world, to not take things at first glance. For me, they are about Interbeing, the interconnected nature of all life. When we look at a flower, or a painting of a flower, to see all the components of it, the sun, the earth, the rain, without them the flower could not exist. It’s really about slowing down and taking in life for the gift that it is. Despite what is on the surface, especially with the portraits, which can be viewed as almost superficial, the subjects act as an allegory or symbol for certain philanthropic truths.
TE: You grew up in California, but are now based in New York. How did your upbringing influence your work, vs. your current life in the City?
My work is heavily influenced by both, the subject matter is a blending of both worlds, almost like balancing both sides of myself. I was born in California, but actually spent most of my childhood in Hawaii. It is the perfect place to grow up, embraced by nature and the spiritual culture of the Islands. I meditate before painting, to try to capture the energy and feeling of being there, the ease and reverence for life. I try to cultivate that feeling and express it throughout my work.
I live and work in New York, which I love, but there is definitely a longing for the West. I miss California, but Hawaii is the last place my mom lived. I feel a sense of home and sanctuary in Hawaii. The subject matter of my landscapes are deeply influenced by the West Coast, like a love letter to those places. But I do love living in New York. There is this undeniable energy to the City, constant forward motion. New York embraces everyone for all their differences. It feels like this place of allowance. There is so much diversity here and so many people from different walks of life. It’s a place of coexistence and harmony.
The figurative works are paintings of my friends here in the City. They have a carefree downtown energy to them and are highly influenced by my time working in the Fashion Industry.
TE: What is next for you as a creator?
EW: It’s hard to know what is to come, especially with the nature of the pandemic. I had several exhibitions and projects in Europe this year which were postponed. So, I’m definitely looking forward to those when traveling and exhibiting becomes a possibility again.
I’m also working on a new collection of paintings, at a much slower pace. I’m working on staying present during the process rather than moving towards the final image. The result is allowing for a more expressive style than I’m used to.
Editor’s note: If art for a good cause gets you going I urge you to read our feature on the multi-media artist Akshita Gandhi who donates a part of her artwork sales proceeds to support underprivileged groups in Mumbai. Oh, and did I mention that she was named one of Art Basel’s Top Artists in 2019?