Irvin has explained that, in common with all his work, the subject of 'Empress' is the experience of 'being in the world.' He sees the space of his paintings as an equivalent for the space he inhabits in reality. During their creation, the artist's movements within the paintings evoke his movements in the world. For this reason he names his paintings after streets he knows well or has visited. Empress Street is in south London. The high-key colour and vigorous brushwork of 'Empress' are typical of Irvin's work and he uses these elements as 'containers for feeling.' The artist recalls that 'Empress' was executed with a sense of particular vitality and optimism.