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Emma Gibbons

The north Devon pop artist on Barbie, collaboration and coastal living
Emma Gibbons artist
Emma Gibbons photographed by Guy Harrop for Food Lifestyle

Emma Gibbons is the glittering queen of pop art whose work has been snapped up by a host of celebs including Barbie‘s Margot Robbie. Rosanna Rothery quizzed the artist on her life in the South West

For pop artist Emma Gibbons, all that glitters seems to be turning into gold. The mixed media artist is fast becoming a name in the contemporary art world for her shimmering artworks made from pill capsules, glitter and precious materials. Her bling‑tastic pieces adorn the homes of celebs such as Zoe Ball, Danny Dyer and Dawn French.

Emma’s artwork became seriously cool in 2023 thanks to her solo show BARBIECORE at ME London. The exhibition was featured in the likes of Harper’s BAZAAR and Hello! and followed the sale, in 2022, of Bad Barbie (a vintage profile of Barbie complete with swooshy ponytail) to Hollywood actress Margot Robbie.

Emma Gibbons artist

At her studio in Barnstaple, north Devon, Emma’s exuberance is expressed in trademark fruity‑coloured lollies and Chanel perfume bottles plenished with glimmering capsules. She also makes gleaming resin cakes and framed feelgood slogans. The work, on the surface, strikes you as riotously colourful and cheeky, yet beneath the glossy exterior it opens a more serious dialogue about consumerism, addiction and excess.

Emma’s creative journey began with an art degree at London College of Printing and an MA at Camberwell College of Art which prepared her for various roles within the art world, including a seven‑year stint with Damien Hirst. It was while working for Hirst that she developed her current fascination with pill capsules which she says serve as miniature vehicles for colour and texture and have a fascinating 3D quality that vibrates with modernity. She combines them with resin, glitter and precious jewels to become a medium for her creations.

Emma Gibbons' artwork photographed by Guy Harrop
Emma Gibbons’ artwork photographed by Guy Harrop

You come from a Cornish family with links to pirates – how has that affected your work?

I have always been obsessed with pirates, treasure and finding things, and that magpie tendency for miniature shiny things is reflected in my work. As a child I’d dig around in the garden hoping to find precious gems and jewels. Even when I studied painting, I would bury crystals within the pictures.

More recently I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic which talks about the jewels buried within you and how creativity allows you to excavate them. That’s a really beautiful concept.

How did it feel having Margot Robbie buy your artwork?

Seeing my art resonating with people for many different reasons is really fantastic. Having celebrity clients is the icing on the cake and it was absolutely marvellous that Margot Robbie bought my Bad Barbie.

Emma Gibbons artist

What was it like working for Damien Hirst at his studio in Ilfracombe?

Very inspiring. Sometimes you’d take a moment and catch yourself, and think, Wow, this has come out of one person’s imagination. Back then I didn’t think I wanted to be a full‑time artist. I was happy working behind the scenes but then my daughter came along and I needed something that would fit with my new lifestyle. My art became my side hustle and then it developed into a full‑time career.

What does spring hold in store for you?

I’ll be making more lollies. I always feel rejuvenated with the first whiff of spring. Work changes with the seasons and in spring people buy the more saccharine pieces; in winter they tend to buy the darker pieces.

Emma Gibbons' lollipops artwork
Emma Gibbons’ artwork photographed by Guy Harrop

What is the secret to artistic success?

It’s about playing to your strengths. During my years working in galleries and selling work I realised what people want. They’re on the lookout for something extra that’s not run‑of‑the‑mill, something that pushes the boundaries. Unless you have that quality, your work will just sit there on the gallery wall. People may enjoy looking at it but getting them to buy it is a whole different kettle of fish.

I went to prestigious art colleges but I never felt I was the best at drawing and painting. It was only during my foundation degree that I realised it’s possible to make things by assembling random materials.

What does your perfect weekend look like?

It would have to be at Watergate Bay Hotel, a place where luxury meets the wilderness. You’re in this atmospheric location where you can go for windy walks but you’re also just a stone’s throw from a spa, pool, great food and the comfiest beds imaginable. It’s fantastic to leave work behind and be somewhere windswept and rugged, yet enjoy the kind of service you’d get in London.

Watergate Bay
Watergate Bay Hotel

Where do you like to shop?

I do like going to London, but here in the South West, Exeter with its little markets and galleries is fabulous. There’s always a lovely atmosphere on Cathedral Green.

What’s next?

When I first made the transition to being a full‑time artist I would’ve been over the moon at my current level of success. However, when you arrive at what you thought would be the pinnacle of your dreams, you set your sights on the next thing.

As a creative person you always want to manifest new ideas. I think the world is ready for artwork that challenges and isn’t conventional; artists like Damien Hirst have laid that path.

Pop artists respond to the culture around them – whether that’s a Barbie movie or Covid – so it’s about keeping your ear to the ground and responding to the next big thing.

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Supported by
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Indy Cafe Cookbook Volume 2
South West 660
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