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Ella Emhoff

Ella Emhoff Debuts a Suite of Knit Paintings

The multidisciplinary artist Ella Emhoff debuts a first show of knit paintings in New York.

Two months ago in New York, Ella Emhoff opened her first exhibition of knitted artworks. Known to many as Vice President Kamala Harris’s stepdaughter, the Parsons-trained multidisciplinary artist and creator pulled back the curtain on her creative life in a formal way. Emhoff shows her artistic pursuits on social media yet had never shown or sold any in person.

That changed this spring at Gotham—an elevated concept store, art exhibition and gathering space, and legalized marijuana shop—when she revealed just under a dozen never-before-seen pieces. Emhoff’s knit artworks depict everyday and treasured items, from a Puppets & Puppets handbag and a locket to Gucci hairclips and a yellow rose. Two self-portraits were also on view, alongside one portrait of a friend, the knitter Bailey Goldberg. 

Ella Emhoff Ella Emhoff and Bailey Goldberg, photo by Nikolassi Saafi.

While walking Whitewall through the exhibition, Emhoff shared details behind her textile-based practice and how her thoughts on community, sustainability, and anxiety impact her work.

Ella Emhoff’s Knit Paintings

WHITEWALL: Tell us about the space that you’re showing your work in, Gotham. Why here for your first show?

ELLA EMHOFF: They do such an amazing job at garnering a community that isn’t just . . . weed. When you think of a dispensary, you have so many preconceptions of what it is. But I see tonight, a lot of people come here and say, “Wow, this space is amazing.” It’s more of a space to hang out.

WW: More of a community gathering space?

EE: Exactly. 

Ella Emhoff Courtesy of Ella Emhoff and Gotham.

WW: How does the works included in this show visualize what you do well in the practice of knitting? 

EE: These are all of the works that I’ve done in figuring out this medium. I didn’t create this, I’ve seen people do this before, but we all do it differently. A lot of these pieces are just experimenting how to play with color, how to play with value. How I manipulate the original graph, how that changes. How it’s depicted in knit. 

WW: How do you feel you interpret things differently, like color? Or working in knit in general?

EE: I take a lot of creative liberty with shadow placements. It’s obviously still the recognizable object, but I enhance the contrast. I think I can bring that out. Like the Puppets & Puppets Cookie bag or the Gucci clips—these were some of the first ones. I’m getting more confident from the first piece I did to the last one, the flower. 

“I enhance the contrast,”

–Ella Emhoff

Ella Emhoff’s First Artwork

Ella Emhoff Courtesy of Ella Emhoff and Gotham.

WW: What was the first one? 

EE: The Cookie bag. I look at it now and I think, “I could have done more here or here.” And even with my first portrait and the most recent one, the hoodie one, I feel like I’ve gained a sense of control. The more that I do, the more I’m able to play around. It feels like the beginning of more works like this.

WW: Soft Hands, your creative company, is now three years old. When you launched it around the time of the pandemic, what were you hoping having an umbrella company could give your work?

EE: I only use it now as my creative company, but it’s always been what I’ve done my knitwear through. It’s always been my creative company. But now that I’ve started Knit Club and I’m more of a multihyphenate creative—even though I hate saying that—it’s now something that I use as my creative studio to have as an umbrella. I also love the name.

Ella Emhoff Courtesy of Ella Emhoff and Gotham.

WW: Does having an umbrella company allow you to pursue various creative projects at once? I’m assuming you’re in talks with fashion, art, or even hospitality brands for collaborations.

EE: Yes, it allows for more opportunities for collaborations. That’s what I like because I feel like my work isn’t just this. I do knitwork, I do digital work. I have a really strong aesthetic and creative identity that works with a lot of different mediums. So that’s why I keep it all under one umbrella. If I wanted to work with a home goods thing, or a tech brand for some reason, that would work. 

I just focus strongly on the vision that is there, and I’m really strong on my creative voice. And then it flows where it goes. I can make it work with almost anything. There are no limits to the brand. People or things that I’d want to do, which is fun. And scary. Because it’s limitless opportunities. I feel incredibly grateful that I’m able to do this and explore these things.

Ella Emhoff Courtesy of Ella Emhoff and Gotham.

WW: Speaking of impact, you create from a lot of deadstock materials. How are you thinking about the impact, materially, when you’re creating? 

EE: I would say about 50 percent of the time, I’m working with donated yarn. I accept donations from all of these hobby knitters, from brands, from anyone. I’ll post a call-to-action on my Instagram and pay for shipping, and just ask to send whatever yarn they have. I love it because I know the feeling of holding onto the yarn and feeling like you want to throw it away, but thinking, “No, it’s so wasteful.” But then you will have people throw it away—and I want to be the one that says, “No, I’ll figure out what to do with it! It’s my job to figure out what to do with it! Please let me take it.” I feel sharing like that, on a small scale, is how I’m trying to do it. I also work with a lot of repurposed and found frames. People will leave wooden frames in the recycling area of my apartment, and I’ll say, “Yep, I’ll take that!” 

Ella Emhoff Courtesy of Ella Emhoff and Gotham.

WW: The idea of people knitting inside their apartments, inside this fast-paced world, is such a romantic, nostalgic idea. How important is it for you to slow down in a fast-paced world and just create something with your hands? 

EE: It’s very important. I mostly started knitting because I have anxiety. I do it as a way to cope with that. Also, I suffer from chronic pain. There’s only so much my body can do before I have to slow down or else I can really injure myself. I like it, because I don’t even have a choice, but to take time with each stitch, it’s very intentional. Everything I’m experiencing, all the life events, I’m just going through all of it there. I knit about myself, and my things, and things that I like—all self. It’s all interconnected.

WW: What are you working on this summer?

EE: More knit paintings. I’m working on a series of portraits. The second self-portrait is a teaser. There’s going to be bigger ones, different people, cool friends.  

Ella Emhoff Courtesy of Ella Emhoff and Gotham.

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