By VITTORIA BENZINE, December 2020
This year was supposed to welcome a fresh new decade. Rather than an era of love and light, humanity received an unprecedented pandemic, civil unrest, and environmental malaise. This is not an exception to the hope for a fresh start, it’s actually just the beginning, exposing all the dismantling and reorganizing ahead. Among all the rest, 2020 has overtly fostered an increased, complimentary focus on art as homebound citizens turned to creativity for soul sustenance, release, and activity.
American artist Emerald Rose Whipple took this year as an opportunity to own her path, intertwining her art career with her passion for positive change at long last. To this end, Whipple launched two new print initiatives to benefit charities in the past month, releasing three works in total to benefit Orange Babies and UNICEF through separate partnerships. 100% of the proceeds will benefit the children served by these organizations. Each print is available for purchase on her website.
“An adopted infant herself, visual artist Emerald Rose Whipple’s focus is aiding the most innocent amongst us – orphaned and abandoned children,” reads the projects’ press release. Whipple and I met briefly in her SoHo studio, where she told me that she grew up in California and harbored early intentions to become a doctor. “My goal number one was to do Doctors Without Borders and help underprivileged children,” she said. Whipple changed course shortly after she began studying pre-med at the university level. The emotional demands of the medical profession proved too taxing, rife with triggers unique to Whipple’s personal history. “Art was always my coping mechanism, so that felt like the move to make,” she clarified.
Since making that pivot, Whipple’s work has graced the international stage with solo shows at VOLTA NY and Galerie Jan Dhaese alongside publications in Dazed & Confused Magazine, i-D Magazine, Women’s Wear Daily, and more. These accolades are well-deserved — Whipple creates paintings that miraculously manage to read revolutionary. She paints still lives and candid portraits in an ephemeral pointillism barely shy of photorealism. The resulting TV static sensation resembles fuzzy vintage film in most places — only around the outlines does Whipple’s true technique reveal itself.
Whipple applies this practice to paintings “of wayward and pensive adolescents that document the coming-of-age transition between the innocence of childhood and the self-discovery of adulthood.” As a result, her work “simultaneously explores the origins of youth and the light within the soul.” There’s a subtle tension tugging between her highly classical painting technique and the rudimentary iPhone shots she’s depicting. This approach “not only introduces a state of trance, but also invites the viewer to explore physical perception. The wider our gaze becomes, the clearer the picture. Whipple reminds us to widen our gaze of compassion from being concerned primarily with the self towards all beings of the world.”
Since she first learned of Orange Babies, a charity tackling the HIV/AIDs epidemic in African nations by offering a holistic array of resources, Whipple has worked with the organization on several activations. For this latest endeavor, Whipple collaborated with Orange Babies to select two images from her diptych titled ‘Venus, Aether Sunset,’ for a special run of 150 limited edition digital prints on mirror finish paper. Verifiably mesmerizing in the flesh, these prints are available for $250 unsigned and $500 unsigned, each. The purchase of one $250 unsigned print allows Orange Babies to provide ten children with daily nutrition for one month.
‘Venus, Aether Sunset’ subverts the artist’s signature subject matter, skipping portraits of teen angst for atmospheric landscapes — seawater ripples and illuminated clouds. “I think these two represent hope and the cause,” Whipple said. “The color itself lends itself to Orange Babies.” The original diptych is owned by one of Whipple’s private collectors, who permitted their reproduction “to support mothers and children who are at the most risk from the global COVID-19 pandemic,” the press release continues.
This print initiative replaces their originally planned partnership to build a soccer field in Zambia to promote their cause and draw funding for Orange Babies’ mission. “When we found out that COVID wasn't going to shift by summer, we had this dialogue about what Orange Babies needed this year,” Whipple recalled. “Because so many projects were postponed and funding was kind of being halted… they really need to just feed people. Supply chains are at a halt all over, especially in marginalized countries.”
Whipple’s commitment to marrying her art career with positive change elucidates more about her character than the simple trait of charity. In becoming adopted as an infant, she unwittingly evaded a childcare ‘system’ in limbo, missing pieces, at the mercy of each moment in America’s shifting identity. An April 1996 article from Johns Hopkins Magazine explains the fraught history of American orphanages, which don’t really exist anymore. In 2014, HuffPost published a Quora question answered by Paul deHolczer, who explained, “Foster care is supplanting orphanages simply because foster care is more economical and not because foster care is inherently better for children.”
“As many of us live with indifference towards the suffering of the world, Emerald Rose Whipple asks viewers of her work to remember our wealth of opportunities during childhood and to support those who start life with the odds severely stacked against them,” the press release continues. “Nurturing and caring for children of the world are the foundations of human progress.”
Even American bureaucracy, with its alleged advancement, fails to fully care for the well-being of its youngest, most innocent constituents. The Johns Hopkins piece quotes political science professor Matthew Crenson on the matter of American orphanages. “Here, we tend to discard institutions rapidly,” Crenson said. “It's a very cavalier way to treat the labor of generations. We're a society that doesn't have much use for government, so we don't pay much attention to it. We have to keep learning the same lessons about public institutions, what works and what doesn't work, over and over again… It's like having a class that just doesn't pay attention.”
Maybe our shared society fails to adequately learn from our own curriculum because it’s so genuinely overwhelming to contend with the suffering coating this Earth like a stubborn fog. Whipple cited that at the height of the pandemic, 10,000 children were perishing from hunger each day due to disrupted supply chains, as she learned in a webinar with UNICEF. “That is just such an incredible number to take in and to hold and be with,” she remarked. “It puts our lives in perspective, especially mine — I'm very grateful to have running water and heat and food and my basic needs met.”
Rather than letting the figures intimidate her, Whipple focuses her efforts where they can make a difference, in approachable increments. In addition to her two new charitable endeavors, she’s also committed to donating 20% of all sales on her original works to a rotating roster of charities she admires. “It seems like there's so much happening, but I feel like if everyone just did a little bit or what they were really capable of doing, it would help so much,” she said. Her approach accepts reality as it is — flawed, but malleable, ripe for reassembling. “Maybe it’s the yoga in me,” she laughed gently. “I’m just being with what is even though I wish it was different, finding a place where I can create a ripple of change and bring some beauty and light into the world.” WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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