Emma Hack’s artistic evolution 

The name Emma Hack has become synonymous with transformative artistry in Adelaide. For nearly two decades, she has stood as one of the city's most prominent artists, celebrated for her groundbreaking body paint installations. 

INTERVIEW: Olivia Williams

Emma Hack’s portfolio spans from expansive murals to high-profile collaborations with international musicians, catapulting her beyond conventional artistic boundaries and into the global spotlight. In our conversation with Emma, we find out more about her artistic evolution, exploring the nuanced processes that breathe life into her masterpieces.

Your unique body paint installation and photography have garnered international attention. How did you first discover or develop your distinctive approach to art using body paint?

I started bodypainting in 1991 and had seen the work of artist and model Verushka in the early 2000’s, created in the late 60’s where she had painted herself into rustic walls and nature. I loved the concept and had been trying to find a medium in which to create my own way of using this camouflage technique. In 2005 I walked into a homeware store and was enamoured by the beautiful wallpapers of Florence Broadhurst and knew instantly that this was the way I wanted to try and create! The first one was Japanese Floral and took 19 hrs to create!

Wotan with Orchids

The Wallpaper series went on to gain significant acclaim. Can you share the inspiration behind this series and the challenges or rewards of this intricate process?

It’s a very difficult way of working, the camera has to be set up and my muse in position pretty much the whole time during painting. I work by painting all the connection points along the sides of the body, then filling in the design working back and forth between camera and muse. The perspective up close doesn’t match at all and the contours of the body make warping of the image possible, it takes generally 15 hours to complete and photograph.

Luckily I had the blessing of Signature Prints to create with the Broadhurst designs, the then-owners of her amazing collection, David and Helen Lennie were so supportive of my art!

Your collaboration with Gotye on the music video for Somebody That I Used to Know became iconic. How did this collaboration come about, and how has it influenced your artistic journey?

In 2011 I received a call from Natasha Pincus, the Producer/Director of the clip, she had found me online when searching to blend Wally into a background. I had had an idea of stop motion body art for quite some time, I have actually created something using this technique for Adelaide band, The Audreys. When I looked up Wally’s work, I knew the song ‘Your Hearts a Mess’ created years prior and immediately was onboard with the project.

The shoot day took 23 hours and to say it was difficult is an understatement but well worth the days efforts as it’s an iconic piece of artwork etched into history, of which I’m proud. 

At the time I had signed with a couple of international galleries so we streamlined solo shows to coincide with the global success of Somebody and press were very supportive which was amazing timing.

The Madame Hanoi portrait, currently the largest body art mural globally, is a remarkable achievement. Talk to us about this project, the inspiration, and how you approached the creation of such a large-scale piece?

Nic Watt and the team at Skycity approached me for this project, it honestly is one of my most beautiful projects and hasn’t dated. I teamed up with the Signature Prints team to print the work onto wallpaper; it was an absolute pleasure to work with Nic as his vision and food is exemplary. I hand pressed Japanese paper as the background to the work and painted in my then studio and gallery in North Adelaide, it was a fun shoot to work on.

I also was asked to curate the art hanging on the wall and planned a trip to Hanoi to purchase and explore the gorgeous artefacts. Make sure you take the time to check out the whole art collection, not just the mural, I’m very proud of that work.

Gotye – Somebody That I Used to Know artwork

You’ve worked on significant commissions, such as the Motor Accident Commission in South Australia. How do these projects contribute to the narrative you aim to convey through your art?

They mostly give me an opportunity to try amazing ideas that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise, this one was no small feat and expensive to create. Based on Dali’s ’skull’ body sculpture where multiple bodies formed a sculpture. The team at Clemenger BBDO did everything to make this possible and the campaign was splashed across news channels worldwide for its degree of difficulty and concept, you can view the making of it on YouTube, just search ‘body crash’.

Having galleries represent you worldwide, including in London, New York, and Hong Kong, how does the global art scene influence your work, and what unique perspectives do you gain from these diverse audiences?

The Asian market has greatly steered my work and design, I just love other cultures and design is featured strongly in my works. I have been lucky enough to be represented by a range of galleries worldwide and in 2018 started representing myself and travelling the overseas art fairs selling my works. I also had been working doing live events overseas ten years previously, 

I love learning more about other cultures and how they do business, it’s definitely an eye opener!

Standing at 8m high, this mural and our Madame Hanoi, overlooks the breakfast and coffee counter on Nic Watt’s restaurant Madame Hanoi, at the entrance on North Tce.

Could you share your perspective on the art scene in Adelaide and how the local environment has influenced your artistic journey?

As with all Australia, the art scene here is tight knit and I have found it really difficult to establish my artform here initially due to my work being quite out of the box. Due to this, I created the ‘Emma Hack Art Prize’ from 2014-2018 to assist SA artists in getting their work seen, no matter what medium they used, it was a great success.

I do find my collectors here (old and new) incredibly supportive of my artwork and journey and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

As a successful artist with a remarkable career, how do you approach the concept of “life in your golden years,” and what aspects of your artistic journey continue to bring you joy and fulfilment?

I’m actually sitting as a mid-career artist which has to be the most difficult stage as an artist. It’s a limbo-land less discussed between being fresh and new and old and wise. 

I’m working hard towards an amazing next collection that hopefully will push through the cobwebs of this transition, moving forwards.

As a 50+ artist I’m enjoying the time to stop and appreciate what I have achieved and what I can continue to do throughout my career, I don’t think I’ll ever stop creating!

Hero image credit: Darren Clements



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