by Cat Acree
When you make your gallery debut at the age of ten, the first thing anyone will say is how young you are. Esmé Dailey, sweet-voiced and thoughtful, has one major takeaway: “Next time I’m going to bring a stool, so [people] won’t keep bending down,” she says.
Dailey’s first show, Feeler, was featured in Julia Martin Gallery’s 444 pop-up space. Originally from Murfreesboro, the homeschooled Nashvillian has been making art since before she was two, and the pop-up showcased works that go back to age six, which Dailey doesn’t remember making. A number of pieces were made in a three-day period immediately after Martin asked Dailey if she’d like to do the show.
“I’m inspired by everything I see every day. I consume it, and then I bring it out in this way. It’s something for me to go into that’s magical.
“I was working sometimes 12 hours a day,” says Dailey about preparing for the show. Martin pipes up: “She cranked them out!”
Dailey’s artworks, rendered in pen and ink and splashes of watercolor, seem like illustrations for fairy tales of her own imagining. “I’m very bold with my lines,” Dailey says, “so I think about how each line comes together to be something people like and are happy about.” Nearly all her works feature a prominent female figure caught up in the fantastical goings-on, like curling up in a tree with a wolf in Wolf Girl.
“I really like connections between fantasy animals and smart little girls, or even ones who are not too smart,” says Dailey, who often finds herself rescuing injured birds. “One time, I was having trouble with math . . . and I ran outside barefoot, and there was a little squirrel on the fence. And I said, ‘I love your tail.’ And it hugged its tail, and I thought it blushed.”
As with all lovers of fantasy, there is an element of word building in Dailey’s work. The family members in At Home are individuals with depth and heartache. Their motivations are laid bare, and a tiny poem has been scrawled into a book open on a desk: “You are you and we / I am me I am special.”
Quantum Flamingo depicts several pink flamingos standing in varying levels of opacity. Dailey explains, “Quantum flamingo is one flamingo.” She then grabs a picture of an underwater whale and brings it to the bottom of Quantum Flamingo, and they are like two pieces of a puzzle, an unintentional connection she realized only while hanging the show.
Does being a young person make Dailey stronger or more vulnerable? “I’m stronger,” she answers, “because I don’t have to think like grown-ups do, when they’re worrying about, ‘Oh, gosh, what am I going to say?’ And they use all these artistic words and they have to think about money. . . . And I have support by that little man over there.” She points to her father, Casey. She also credits support from her Nana and pen pal Perrin, a friend of her father’s and a science illustrator.
“I’m inspired by everything I see every day,” Dailey says. “I consume it, and then I bring it out in this way. It’s something for me to go into that’s magical.”
For more information, visit www.juliamartingallery.com.