Auburn artist is creating thought-provoking, slightly unnerving paintings that evoke strong emotiion

In a quiet house, nestled within the city of Auburn, artist Emily Rivard prepares for her next oil painting. Whimsy collides with surrealism on her canvas, creating art that is thought provoking and a little unnerving.

Rivard's art has been featured at Studio 23, Bay City Players, and on social media.(Photo Credit: Sarah Sexton)Born and raised in Auburn, Rivard’s family ties run deep. She cannot imagine living anywhere else.

“I’m emotionally tied to the history of my ancestry,” says Rivard. “They all lived here when these roads were still dirt.”

Rivard’s inclination toward art was obvious at an early age.

“As soon as I could draw, I was drawing the weirdest cartoons,” recalls Rivard. “My parents were a little put off by some of the sketches I would do.”

During the Bay City Players exhibit, Rivard's art filled the walls. (Photo Credit: Amy Gibas)Leaning in to her darker side with the best intentions, Rivard has turned her outlet into a passion. Rivard has adopted a painter’s name of “Emiliah,” with which she signs her art work and goes by on Instagram, emiliahs.paintings.

Rivard's art is whimsical and sometimes unnserving. (Photo Credit: Sarah Sexton)Rivard graduated from Bay City Western High School, where she sold her first piece of artwork. She painted a yellow hibiscus flower for class and her teacher was so impressed he hung it in the school office. One of the office staff enjoyed the painting so much, she offered to purchase it from Rivard.

After selling her first painting, life became hectic for the young artist. A close friend of Rivard’s was involved in a horse-riding accident that left her comatose for almost one year. Soon after her friend’s accident, Rivard’s father suffered a stroke and fell into a coma for six months.

“We were living in and out of hospitals, art was on the back burner,” remembers Rivard.

During 'Little Shop of Horrors,' the Bay City Players featured Emily Rivard's art in the lobby. (Photo Credit: Amy Gibas)Once life slowed down, Rivard began attending Delta College in pursuit of becoming a personal trainer. She never lost sight of her artistic passion, picking up extra art classes whenever time and money would allow.

At Studio 23, Rivard's art hangs in the 'Off the Wall' gallery, meaning it is for sale. in (Photo Credit: Sarah Sexton)It was not until Rivard married her husband, Andrew, that she began viewing her art as something tangible. Her husband recognized her artwork was exceptional and encouraged her to dive into her creativity wholeheartedly. With little training, Rivard began creating.

“I watched one YouTube video on how to oil paint and then I bought all the stuff and just started painting,” says Rivard.

Rivard was painting all day, every day, but minimally sharing her paintings on social media. Still unsure of what she could do with her mildly macabre and surreal artwork creations, she only shared them with her friends and family. Until one day, a friendly Facebook follower messaged her about an opportunity to gain exposure at a local art festival, Art in The Park in Freeland. Rivard was eager and nervous to attend her first festival as an art vendor. She was pleasantly surprised when she sold nearly everything.

After the positive response she received at the art festival, Rivard’s husband encouraged her to reach out to Studio 23/The Arts Center in Downtown Bay City. He drove her to the studio and while parked outside, Rivard began to second guess herself.

Observers describe Rivard's work as unnerving and often emotional. (Photo Credit: Sarah Sexton)“I remember sitting in my car, in the street, and I couldn’t go in, I didn’t want to, I was so scared.”

She overcame her trepidation, though, and stepped inside.

Amy Gibas, Curator of Exhibits and Memberships at Studio 23, remembers the day Rivard came to the studio.

“She came into the gallery and showed some of her artwork and obviously I loved it.”

Rivard entered the studio doors just shy of two years ago and has been a member ever since.

She began by hanging her work in the Member Gallery, also known as the “off-the-wall” gallery. Anything purchased in the Member Gallery may be taken off-the-wall that day and brought home. Gibas quickly became enamored with Rivard’s work.

Rivard's work during a solo show at the Bay City Players (Photo Credit: Amy Gibas)“A lot of her work is whimsical and surreal,” says Gibas, “some of the pieces are bordering on unnerving. There are a few pieces that people have told me it actually makes them uncomfortable, and there are others that are drawn to the subtle surrealist quality, where it is almost dreamlike.”

Gibas often matches artists with local events that may help gain exposure for the artist. This past May, Gibas connected Rivard with the Bay City Players’ production of “The Little Shop of Horrors,” where Rivard was able to hold a solo show.

Rivard studied personal training at Delta College, but took as many art classes as she could. (Photo Credit: Sarah Sexton)Gibas is excited to see Rivard flourish as an artist and continue to be involved with Studio 23 and local events.

“She was actually one of the first artists I got a chance to work with and bring into the gallery,” recalls Gibas. “I was immediately drawn to her work and did not hesitate to take in several of her pieces.”

Rivard’s artwork is unique and mystifying, often causing the onlooker to churn with emotion. That’s an effect she is proud to create.

“I want something where, when you walk in the room, you have to walk up to it and look at it and think — ‘What, why? Why is this happening?’ ”

Rivard’s artwork can be found at Studio 23, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.

Rivard hopes to soon display and sell her art in her own restaurant, projected to open by the end of this year. Rivard and her husband are working to open Risers Breakfast Café and Bakery in Auburn, where customers can enjoy her artwork and even purchase some for home, if the feeling overwhelms them.  
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