Openings: Emma Tooth – “Extraordinary Paintings of Ordinary People” @ Derby Museum and Art Gallery by Sven Davidson

AM went along to the opening of Emma Tooth’s exhibition “Extraordinary paintings of Ordinary People” this weekend at Derby Museum and Art Gallery. Lavishly dressed for the occasion in one her own creations, Ms. Tooth’s paintings were spread across two rooms of the Museum, and ... both mixed in with the permanent collection of 18th Century artist Joseph Wright, and also in her own exhibition space with Wright’s paintings interspersed between Emma’s work.

It was a treat so see paintings from a past era displayed alongside contemporary works, and it also shows that regardless of year of creation, skillful painting is timeless. The new paintings blended well with the old with Emma’s classical style of portraiture complimenting the works by Wright from the Museum’s permanent collection. Many of Wright’s compositions are beautifully lit by candlelight, and a similar approach in her use of shadows and the lighting she stages in her reference shoots for her chiaroscuro pieces aligns Emma’s work perfectly alongside Wright in this showing.

Simon Nash and Marie Cox feature in the painting “Pietà with the telly on”. We saw this painting in progress earlier this year when we visited Emma’s studio and enjoyed it’s historical reference – a Pietà is known in Christian art as depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, most famously known with Michelangelo’s sculpture housed in St. Peter’s Basillica in Vatican City.

Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”, better known as the source of the phrase ‘doubting Thomas’ is also used as a point of reference for one of the Concilium Plebis paintings, with the modern cast of characters replacing Jesus and his disciples and the spear wound in Jesus’ side substituted with a fresh tattoo.

These symbolic visual references serve as both an identifier and an allusion for the viewer of Emma’s work, with her visual lexicon used to create both wholly original themes and also allegorical remixes – a pop culture twist on the old masters.


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