Selective Focus: Emily Koch

Left: Photograph of Emily Koch. Right: “Self Portrait” 20×28. Oil on wood panel.

Emily Koch is a surrealist painter from Duluth. She studied fine art at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, graduating in 2020 and has worked as a freelance artist since then. She is drawn to all things queer, feminine and counterculture.

How long have you been an artist?

For as long as I can remember, my love for art has been invariable. It’s hard to imagine now, but when I was young I didn’t have access to a TV or a computer! Making art was how I kept myself entertained. I could keep myself occupied for hours drawing in my room: giving me the reputation of being somewhat antisocial within my family. It’s true! Sometimes I’d rather make art than talk to people.

Was a fine arts degree always your intent?

My degree in Fine Art wasn’t always the plan, I started at UWS majoring in Art Education. Deep down I had always wanted to go for the Fine Art degree, but part of me didn’t feel worthy. Like my art wasn’t good enough to warrant the degree. My last year in college I finally allowed myself to trust what I wanted and I switched from Art Education to Fine Art.

A woman painted yellow with honey dripping down her face is surrounded by bees and plants

“Ambrose : the Caretaker.” 35×30. Oil on Wood Panel.

A man with short hair and a mustache looking sad with some flowers

“Bret” 26×40. Oil on Wood Panel.

How would you describe your current style, and how did that style come to be?

I have a deep passion for creating artworks that are human focused. My portraits are injected with narratives that highlight and celebrate the individuals seen within the paintings. I’ve described them as “love letters to my friends.” This type of work is rooted in connection, which is my main goal as an artist: to start conversations and nurture connection.

Primarily working with oil on wood panels, I consider my work to be a modern take on a medium with thousands of years of history. My paintings are unapologetically feminine, queer, and counter culture. Qualities I had associated with shame in the past now take center stage in my art.

Painting of a sad girl resting her head in one hand and holding a burger in the other

“Burger Blues” 40×40. Mixed Media on Wood Panel.

Woman in a prom dress and crown wears a sash that reads "sensitive". The mascara running down her cheeks contrasts with the sparkly streamers behind her

“Queen” 40×40. Mixed Media on Wood Panel.

A man looks saintlike against a red background wearing a white veil

“Bartholomew: the Martyr” 22×30. Oil on Wood Panel.

Why do you feel it is important to highlight shame as an artist?

Shame is so powerful because it is silent. It is silent, yet the only way to remove ourselves from shame is to speak it. What a complicated emotion! Painting has been my outlet for speaking shame. I buried the things that made me feel different, like femininity, queerness, and mental health. It’s now my goal to depict these subjects with honesty and authenticity.

Do you have any particular artists who influence you? Or where do you draw your inspiration from?

I find a lot of inspiration from Midwest surrealist artists, like John Wilde. I also find myself learning and growing with the help of the many talented artists within the Twin Ports. For a small town, our art community is mighty.

A man wearing glasses with many piercings is painted blue against a red/pink background

“Micheal: the Warrior” 22×30. Oil on Wood Panel.

Painting of a short haired woman looking back against a yellow background

“Mary” 42×60. Oil on Wood Panel.

How did you get involved with designing this year’s Homegrown Music Festival Field Guide cover? Was there anything in particular that helped inspire the design?

I’m honored to have my art featured on the cover of the Homegrown field guide this year. It feels amazing to be part of an event that brings so much joy.  Many of the past covers put a strong emphasis on community by portraying large scenes with many people. I wanted to create something that felt more intimate, a reflection of the solitude we have all grappled with in the past couple years.

Duluth Homegrown Music Festival Cover, 2022 by Emily Koch

Is there a story behind the @cherrymcpoppins username?

Cherry Poppins was my roller derby name. Turns out I’m no athlete, but I did run the merch table with lots of enthusiasm. If you ever have the chance, you’ve got to see the Harbor City Roller derby in action.

Where can folks find your work?

If you’d like to see my work in person, you can visit Blush on April 20. My artworks will be on display accompanying musical acts and performance art. The event starts at 7. Find out more on Blush’s social media sites!

Keep up with Emily online on Instagram at @cherrymcpoppins or on her website,

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