Unravel The Many Materials In The Work Of This Denver Artist


Emma Balder

Artist Emma Balder uses both paint brushes and thread to create compositions that combine various fibers with acrylics, gouache and inks.

The labyrinth charm necklace that hangs around Emma Balder’s neck, a gift from her mother, reflects her approach to life which, like her art, is rooted in patience and contemplation. Her art comprises stuffed, three-dimensional compositions she refers to as large “quilted paintings,” and two-dimensional pieces she dubs “fiber paintings.” All are extraordinarily time-consuming. “It’s slow and delicate work,” she says.

The Boston native and Savannah College of Art and Design graduate officially settled in the Mile High City last year, moving her workspace into a former classroom at the Evans School, a historic building near the Denver Art Museum now housing creative studios. From her new hub, Balder explores the relationship between painting and textiles. “My practice is a dual process,” she explains. “I treat paintings like fabric, and fibers like paint.”

a quilted painting by Emma Balder

Her tactile, abstract works include stuffed “quilted paintings” and “wind drawings."

a quilted painting by Emma Balder

abstract painting by Emma Balder

One of Balder's "wind drawings."

paint brushes

box of thread

spools of thread in Emma Balder's studio

Her “quilted paintings” begin as abstract works—some upwards of 20 feet in scale, done with a mix of acrylics, gouache, graphite and inks—that she then cuts into pieces, rearranges and sews or embroiders back together. The reworked painting is then sewn onto canvas backing, stuffed with fabric remnants, recycled foam and fiberfill, and finally “quilted” with a 6-inch needle that creates depressions similar to tufts. “I think of them as reconstructed landscapes,” muses Balder, who often wraps herself in her quilted paintings as she meditates. “This lets me connect with the work on a different level,” she shares.

Alongside her exploration of sculptural 3D quilted art, Balder is also working on what she calls “wind drawings.” The idea began on a turbulent flight when she let the jostling of the plane move her pencil on a piece of paper. Since, it has grown into an outdoor process in which the wind blows a large sheet of paper against her body as she quickly moves her hand and pencil. She then adds to those “chaotic marks” with graphite, acrylic and fibers. The works, which started during the pandemic, continue to address “thoughts of mortality and unpredictability,” the artist reflects.

As Balder readies pieces for several forthcoming exhibitions including a solo show slated for 2025, her studio is abuzz. “Art makes me think, but music helps me feel,” she says, tea in hand, as electro-hip hop, soul or future funk plays through her headphones. “My work is all very intuitive. It’s about going at my own pace, which the labyrinth symbol reminds me to do.”