Emma Elizabeth Tillman is an American artist who seems to have lived an enviable life; falling in love, travelling the world, living the sort of creative existence most of us can only dream about.
But as with most fairy stories, there’s a darker side at play, too, as revealed on closer inspection of her collages of photographs, diary fragments and text.
The writer Anaïs Nin wrote that "We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection," and it seems Tillman’s art is created according to a similar doctrine. Her debut solo show, entitled Disco Ball Soul is a testament to this, formed of more than 90 small collage works created over a decade from photographs and journal entries, as well as 14 large-scale photographs.
The pieces form a sort of emotional documentation of her life from 2007 until now, and begin in the Arizona desert, where the artist’s then-boyfriend was living in a "crumbling adobe house," before then couple moved on to rural France to a similarly rudimentary spot, with no running water or electricity. Again, in our age that idolises the idea of simpler existences – where people pay to "digitally detox" – it seems like a dream.
As her works hint, the reality was often less dream and more nightmarish; though with some brilliant “tell the grandkids” type anecdotes: Tillman recalls pilfering beetroot and potatoes from fields, and scavenging for firewood on the beach. Other works were created on a road trip the pair took to Spain, and during the artist’s solo travels to Iceland.
According to Gallery 46, which is hosting the show, the diaries and photographs that Tillman since built her art with were used to "mark the passing of time and make sense of her thoughts. By living each day twice, first through its experience and then by photographing and writing it down, Tillman sought to create her own world – one that varied from the one outside her mind."
The glittering title of the show is a reference to the artist’s use of her work as a sort of mask; the images she makes can tell any story she likes that may or not be true to her experiences.
In 2011 Tillman met her now-husband – folk-peddling beard-wearer Josh (aka Father John Misty). Their time together is documented just as fiercely as before; with the artist showing their LA life, mushroom trips in the Joshua Tree desert and holidays to Norway and Mexico. At this point, we begin to wonder if she’s just showing off.
Disco Ball Soul runs from 11 - 30 August 2017 at Gallery 46, 46 Ashfield Street, London E1 2AJ.