Catching Up with Emma Moore, Graphic Designer for Kasmin Gallery
The artist and designer reflects on her Arkansas childhood and the formative educational experiences of her youth.
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As summer vacation came to an end, Children's Museum of the Arts and Kasmin came together to host SUMMER SCHOOL: Where Does Arts Education Happen?, a public forum on the state of arts education in New York City.
The gathering became a space for families, non-profit professionals, teaching artists, and gallerists to come together and share generative conversations on the ever-expanding arts education landscape in NYC. The conversation even continued outside after the event, where an ice cream truck served up childhood staples.
Kasmin's Graphic Designer Emma Moore produced an interactive workbook that became the hallmark of the evening. Inspired by Bruno Munari and childhood school assignments of yore, the workbook encouraged artists of all ages to reflect on where, and how, arts education fits into our lives. Download it in its entirety here
Below, CMA chatted with Emma about her Arkansas childhood, the formative educational experiences that led to her becoming an artist, and the publications that sit on her bookshelf.
Snapshot of Emma's Arkansas upbringing
Where are you from and what is the arts community like there?
I'm from Little Rock, Arkansas — it's my quirky fact. Arkansas and its art community has changed a lot, especially in the Northwest region with the Walton Family and the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art. The Arkansas Arts Center is in Little Rock, and there's definitely a solid community of artists there as well.
Art is often one of the first things to go, but in my experience it was always available. There was always a camp or a program, either at the library or at the Arkansas Arts Center. My parents knew that I liked art, and I remember always having something to do, a class to take or a program to be in. I had really supportive parents, which made a huge difference.
I went to a public elementary school, then a private Christian school for middle school. By high school, my parents knew that I wanted to do art, so they sent me to Little Rock Central High School. It was the first desegregated public school in the south, so it’s also a cultural landmark. There’s an overall lack of arts funding and programming for public schools in the state of Arkansas, but Little Rock Central gets a lot of support because it is also part of a national park. There is a ton of preserved history there, which is cool to see.
Do you feel that going to that high school is what put you on the path to where you are now?
Totally. It has an incredible art program where we also got to compete. We always did well, and I’m a competitive person, so that was really fun. My brother played sports, so I was always trying to find ways to prove myself.
I had a lot of great art teachers, but my favorites – Rex Deloney and Jason McCann – were major influences. They encouraged me to go to the SCAD summer program before my junior year, and helped me get into the Arkansas Governor’s School, a summer program for Arkansas high school students going into their senior year. Both of those programs gave me my first taste of what life could be like in college and expanded my knowledge and experience of art.
I wouldn't have gotten those opportunities if it weren’t for those teachers. I thought I really wanted to go to SCAD, but one of my teachers encouraged me to go to Pratt, and I got in. I wouldn’t have come to New York City for college if it weren’t for that encouragement. And I had parents that were like, "Go do it. Do it well, but go do it."
Do your parents have an arts background?
No, not at all. I would say that they're creative, though. My grandfather was an agricultural engineer, and he was always inventing and drawing things. My dad is a doctor, but he definitely has that creative impulse. My mom likes to think she isn't creative, but I secretly think she is. She’s a wonderful cook, and taught me a love of cooking that she was taught by her mother. I also have two really special step-parents, Marc and Casey, who have in many ways been even more encouraging and supportive than my biological parents, though admittedly are not artists either.
Is there a moment or experience from your childhood that set you down the artistic path that you’re on now?
There are certain habits I had as a kid that I think are still with me. I had this red clipboard that I took with me everywhere (it was called Red Board). I always had my drawing stuff. I drew a lot as a kid, and all through high school, which has since been replaced with crocheting and making lots of lists.
My mom likes to tell me that when I was little, she would put me in a cardboard box, give me markers, and I would just sit in there and draw. I used to love cutting up Play-Doh, and my brother and I would do these shaving cream paintings with my mom. She was a speech pathologist who worked with kids, so she definitely had the patience for all of that.
There was also a time when I was in the Parrish Art Museum in Long Island, just before my senior year of high school, and I saw a painting that made me cry. I don’t remember who it was by, but it was a small oil painting of waves and a red sun. It was nothing much really, but it was the first time I ever responded to art in that way. I ended up writing my college entrance essay about that moment, so I like to think that it definitely put me on the path in one way or another.
Do you have siblings? Are you the only artist in the family?
I have an older brother and six younger siblings. My youngest brother is super into Halloween and he makes these insane haunted houses every year (check him out @JMHaunts on Youtube). He can paint anything, draw anything, make anything. He’s way better than me at a much younger age. It's really cool to see.
What would you say your art practice is now?
I am curious if other designers feel this way, because I feel like we are less likely to call ourselves artists. But I went to school for graphic design at Pratt, and I feel like they really encourage designers to think and work as artists. People have really expanded what the word “practice” means so I try to be careful about using that term, but I do approach design with a ‘practice’ in mind. I try to start with an instinct or an initial response to the brief, and then I research, I look at references (shameless plug for Are.na, which I love), I make sketches, and then I go from there. At Kasmin, I’m the in-house graphic designer, so I’m constantly reiterating and refining. A lot of my development as a designer has happened here at the gallery. They have really given me the space to do that, and I love who I get to work with.
I also try to be really physical. My work at the end of my time in school had a lot to do with the body; I was really interested in how graphic design could make visual the things we experience physically day-to-day. My thesis was called Intimate Spaces, which I started in the fall of 2019 and finished in the spring of 2020, so it ended up being fairly… relevant, haha. I was introduced to the Bartenieff Fundamentals and Rudolf Laban through a class and I incorporated a lot of those techniques and theories into my projects.
I embroider and crochet all the time. I am currently trying to untangle one of the most ferocious knots I’ve ever encountered. Ultimately, I try to take it off the computer as much as I can. The workbook is a great example of that. That’s where I feel the most comfortable, making tangible things.
The workbook was so tactile. It wasn’t something you read from cover to cover, you could start at any point and choose your own path within it. It wasn’t linear, and that is actually how a lot of people learn. It’s not always a progression from A to B.
Definitely. I also cook a lot. That’s where my mind feels challenged these days– can I make this thing? What if I do something different? If you’re taught how to be creative, it will inform the way that you do everything.
What are your aspirations?
My dream before I graduated was to work on artist books. And then I did. I got my first project with the artist Sarah Crowner and we made Stripes together. She’s amazing, a very generous and kind person, and does beautiful work. From there I started freelancing (something I thought I’d never do!) and I got to work with the folks at Printed Matter, this legend of a yoga teacher and person Eddie Stern, and this brand Oddobody, one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with. Eventually I made my way back to Kasmin, and my goals now are to grow our recently established imprint, Kasmin Books, and the brand as a whole.
My colleague, manager, and friend Molly Taylor asked me this question a while back that I have thought about and re-asked often: What’s your 180? In other words, you’re doing something now, what is something completely different that you could also see yourself doing? Right now I think that would be something to do with food — maybe go to culinary school? Molly is a little older than me, but our lives have a lot of parallels, and it makes her an incredible mentor and really generous colleague. I hope I can do that for someone else one day.
What advice would you give to young artists?
Be brave. Someone mentioned during SUMMER SCHOOL that you just have to go do it. No one is going to do it for you. It’s cliché, but that really stuck with me.
Having a lot of different jobs is also really important. Work in service. Don't let it be beneath you. Learn how to work with other people. No one gets there on their own…I am here at Kasmin in large part because I went to school with someone who introduced me to my boss. Find a network and use it—especially to hook up your friends!
Being able to articulate a dream or a goal is also really useful. It's worth so much because it gives you a benchmark to push up against. It feels really good to say, "I did that thing. I can do another thing now." You're proving it to other people, but you’re proving it to yourself too.
What do you enjoy most about working in a gallery environment?
Working in a gallery, you’re always working with art and artists. Sometimes it’s big names like Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, Matisse, Warhol…but also a lot of my colleagues are artists, as well as musicians, writers, historians, and curators. It’s exciting to be immersed in that all day. Kasmin is a really special place.
The Tina Barney and Jane Freilicher shows at Kasmin are two of my favorite exhibitions from this year. Freilicher’s work utilized the space so well, and it was really exciting to see Barney’s early work at that scale. The vanessa german show last year was also amazing. She is such a force. Those are the kinds of works, as an artist, that make this job feel spectacular.
What's on your bookshelf?
Dorothy Iannone: A Cookbook
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Candy House by Jennifer Egan
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Reader’s Digest: The Complete Guide to Needlework
Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip
Design as Art and Roses in the Salad by Bruno Munari
The Politics of Design by Ruben Pater
Dimensions of Citizenship
Females by Andrea Long Chu
A Book of Things by Jasper Morrison
Funny Weather by Olivia Laing
Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
... some things I've worked on, including Sarah Crowner: Stripes, Alma Allen: Nunca Solo, Jane Freilicher: Abstractions, Caldera Magazine, plus my boyfriend Logan’s sick collection of Ray Gun magazines, and some very cut up National Geographics.