Artist of the Week Emmie Wolf ’22 on Math, Ballet, and Painting

“There is a lot of art in math and there is a lot of math in art,” said painter and dancer Emmie Wolf ’22 as we sat in her senior studio. The space was brimming with her paintings, and although they were mostly oil paintings focused on figure, textile, and fashion, she’s worked with numerous mediums, including fabric collage, pastel sketches, and sewing. A studio art and math double major, Emmie has a wonderful relational sense of the interconnection of her art, math, and dance. 

“Even though my art is mostly static in figure, it’s very movement-based. I paint very freely. Both art and dance are a release for me and a way to express myself … those are the places I could really be myself. Randall Exon always tells me when I’m about to go into a big painting, ‘Just dance it! Dance on the canvas!’ and that’s usually what happens.” 

To further find the capacity to dance on the canvas, Emmie listens to audiobooks while she paints, giving her mind something to focus on so she can more freely feel the movement of painting. In the past weeks, she’s listened to and read The Girl with the Golden Scissors, The Personal Librarian, and Rules of Civility. Her art and dance have always intersected and informed each other.

A Los Angeles native, she started dancing in baby ballet at age three. As she grew older in a big city, dance became a safe, familiar space and community. Her background is in modern dance and jazz, but today she mostly dances modern and ballet with a contemporary ballet focus. At Swarthmore, she was encouraged by Lecturer and Associate in Performance Chandra Moss-Thorne to do more ballet. Emmie described the college’s dance community as special, with a wide range of experienced and supportive dancers. 

Emmie especially values the mentor and mentee system between dancers, which she has had the chance to experience on both sides as a first year and senior. Currently, she is preparing to perform two pieces, one as the lead in a piece about the evolution of ballet, choreographed by Moss-Thorne. At Swarthmore, her dancing became less competitive and more process-based, also with more concert opportunities. During the height of the pandemic, she took a semester off to do an internship and danced professionally in Los Angeles. 

Emmie is deeply inspired by the College’s artistic community. She interned for Swarthmore alums and designers Joseph Altuzarra and Gabriela Hearst. Altuzarra and visual artist Njideka Crosby are significant inspirations to Wolf’s work: Altuzarra’s designs and creative visions influence her paintings, and Crosby’s career spurred her to apply to Swarthmore.

“I came to Swarthmore because when I was a freshman in high school I went to an opening of Njideka Crosby and met her and her work is a big inspiration for me: both the multimedia aspects and the figurative aspects. Also her size is really big, so Logan Grider always encouraged me to work big, which is why I built that five point panel that’s there,” Emmie said as she gestured to an enormous canvas resting against the wall, a Makerspace creation waiting to be painted.

She is currently taking two credits of art: Randall Exon’s figure composition class and her senior art thesis credit. 

However, she is still following her other passions and is enrolled in differential equations and a directed reading on the MC Escher drawings in hyperbolic geometry, Ballet 3, Modern 3, and Ballet Repertory. Last fall, she took courses in Math 102 and Number Theory. Both are proof-based classes, and adjusting the proofs involves a subtlety and creative synthesis that one could also view as art. 

“What I love about algebra and art is that algebra is all about structures and transforming groups across different structures and I think art is very similar … A lot of art is really the struggle to get 3D things onto a 2D plane, and that has a lot of math to it,” Emmie added, recalling the late Connie Hungerford’s modernism seminar. 

“Swarthmore is a really great place for the arts; even though it’s maybe seen for academics or other aspects, I was drawn to Swarthmore because of its art alumni. Since coming here, I’ve been inspired by some really amazing art and dance faculty that have just pushed me to limits that I couldn’t have imagined … I think that art has always been an amazing community whether it was growing up in a big city or studying at a small college.”

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