Breaking Art


BREAKING ART is the new portraiture collection from British artist Emma Tooth, and the site of an unlikely union between classical fine art and breakdancing.

The worlds of fine art and street-dance collide in this unique exhibition where Emma Tooth captures moments of impossible stillness and grace in the seemingly aggressive yet highly controlled movements of B-Boying.

The show comprises a series of dramatic oil paintings in a traditional style, many referencing “old master” paintings and sculptures, but featuring unequivocally modern subjects. Emma captures the unexpectedly elegant freezes, power-moves and acrobatic precision of breakdance with her trademark use of chiaroscuro lighting and stark contrasts of old and new.

Breakdancing crash-landed in Emma’s consciousness during her Concilium Plebis project when she painted Derby-based breakdance team, Trinity Warriors in the style of Caravaggio’s Doubting Thomas. Then in 2009 when rival team Bad Taste Cru performed a show based on her paintings for her exhibition in Newcastle she was blown away; ‘It opened my mind to a whole other culture. The dancers seem to escape the limitations of their bodies and transcend what I imagined human beings are capable of’.'

Despite the prominence of the human figure in her recent work, Emma maintains that, 'it is only when the body becomes a reflection of the soul that inhabits it - through dress or posture, surgical modification, tattooing etc - that the human body becomes interesting to me.' Emma was inspired by the notion that the dancers needed nothing but their own bodies to present their art and express themselves, and this comes across particularly in her images the body suspended in black empty space, at a moment when it is not even in contact with the Earth - surely the ultimate moment of freedom.

For the first time the artist approaches dynamic human anatomy; seemingly peering beneath the skin to examine what underlying mechanisms support these otherworldly postures. At times harsh fields of light and shade dissect the body, almost to abstraction. Notions of masculinity and animalistic display pervade the canvas as Emma Tooth demonstrates that Art can bring together people and ideas that could meet in no other way.


Dance team Bad Taste Cru created a piece called Council Of The Ordinary based on Emma's 'Concilium Plebis' paintings and performed it for her on the opening night of her show at The Customs House in 2010. Their astonishing performance has since appeared at London's Breakin' Convention, the San Francisco Hip Hop Festival, Trafalgar Square Arts Festival and many more.

It was at the Customs House Emma met dancer Robby Graham, who became the model for ‘The Captive’, commissioned by Derby Museum and Art Gallery in 2012 and for a number of the portraits in Breaking Art. Later paintings in the Breaking Art series follow on from 'The Captive' and expand the theme to explore the fetishisation of personal communication devices which paradoxically seem to insularize and isolate the inhabitant of the urban jungle rather than facilitate meaningful communication.

The 'Council of the Ordinary' performance was so successful Bad Taste Cru were later commissioned by Without Walls to develop a sequel: Tribal Assembly (Comitia Tributa) featuring the same archetypal British street characters originally inspired by Emma Tooth's paintings.

In 2014 Bad Taste Cru returned once more to The Customs House with Emma to launch the Breaking Art exhibition, completing the circle.


Emma Tooth wishes to express her thanks to the artists who shared with her their time, skills and style and without whom Breaking Art could never have happened, particularly: Robby 'Raw-B' Graham, SkoreTRC and Kate Lowe.

right: Emma with Trinity Warriors

Breaking Art

Emma Tooth at Signal Gallery