Concilium Plebis 18 by Emma Tooth
Concilium Plebis #18 oil on canvas 2009 60x100cm [private collection, Iceland]

A brief history of

CONCILIUM PLEBIS 18 is a painting in oils on canvas I created in 2009. It measures approximately 60x100cm. It shows a young woman dressed entirely in scarlet who gazes at us coolly through her sunglasses.

In the times of the ancient Roman Republic, Concilium Plebis was the Latin name for the 'Council of the ordinary people', and in this series of paintings I sought to capture 'ordinary people' from the streets of Derby and immortalise them in the style of 'old master' paintings.

The model for this particular painting was a young girl named Paris. She was perhaps only 16 years old at the time we met, although she seems to portray a maturity in the painting well beyond her years. Owen Tooth introduced me to her. He had made a film for young people which Paris appeared in, and he suggested her as a model.

We visited Paris and her mother at their home one evening to do a photoshoot, (I wanted Paris' mother to be present during the shoot and I had her to sign a 'release form' to allow me to legally photograph her daughter). One of Paris' school friends was also there (she appears in paintings no.17 and no.19), along with a very large dog. The girls played loud music and all joined in the fun shoot – but the dog was blurred in every picture because it was just too excited.

Paris appears in the painting just as she was dressed on that day – head-to-toe in striking scarlet with gold jewellery. I deliberately didn't alter the models' clothes in the series so that they were true representations of the people in the paintings. At most I may have requested she wear something with a hood. Looking back, it was very fortuitous because that red really 'makes' the painting. I can't imagine it any other way.

Even more fortunately, part-way through the shoot some of the girls' schoolboy-friends turned up at her house too. I couldn't believe my luck! Despite their 'hard' looks they were actually very, very shy boys. It took a lot of persuasion, but finally they agreed to pose for a few pictures too (they appear in paintings no.14 and no.15). The Concilium Plebis project was full of these serendipitous events from the start. The whole series seemed almost predestined.

Concilium Plebis 18 has always been a particularly popular painting wherever it has toured. Partly of course because in the painting the young girl seems to have been transformed into a sexy young woman, radiating fashion-magazine coolness and confidence as she pouts sensually at the viewer. Her eyes are hidden though, which adds a sense of mystery, of superiority, or of fantasy – she could be anyone you imagine her to be. Of course it was never my intention to paint this innocent young girl as a worldly, smouldering sex-bomb of a woman. In fact, it never occurred to me to even see her like that until I saw other people's reactions to the painting – and then I felt very protective of her.

I think that is part of her allure though. I captured Paris right on the cusp of adulthood; a time when she is indeed just a girl, but a time when she is also keen to project herself as a young woman – and experiment with the all the incredible powers that that entails.

In 2014 CONCILIUM PLEBIS 18 was sold and now for the time being the painting hangs in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Emma Tooth.
July 2014, Derbyshire, England.