Extracts from Emma Tooth interview in Chronicles Magazine circ. 2006

Emma Tooth is a portraitist and costume artist. She is the muse, model and artist of her hyper-realistic art in one. Some critics say she is too young to be as accomplished as she is. Then again, eternal youth has always been an essential part of darker art...

Please introduce yourself:
'Emma Tooth is a one-woman costume drama; the portrait painter with a rifle in her lap and birds in her hair...'

Tell us a bit about yourself:
'Well, I am a very visual person and art and decoration in all its forms are absolutely essential to me. I can't bear the mundane, the trivial... I need exaggerated, theatrical beauty in all aspects of my life...'

How did your interest in art originally develop?
'As a child I didn't really play with toys or games as much as draw, make things and dress up, oh, and play with animals - so nothing much has changed really!'

What is your training in art?
'I am self taught - you have to be. I hold a degree in Fine Art which gives me all the background knowledge, the academic side of things - but as far as actually making the work, no one teaches that any more. I have learned everything I know from just trial and error. Just wanting to achieve something and trying till you figure out how. Ive been working in oils for about 10 years now and I think I'm finally becoming the painter I always wanted to be. It's the same with the costumes - I've been sewing for about the same amount of time and it's trial and error. Sometimes the costuming threatens to take over the painting - to take over my life! The fact that once I've spent ages on it I can put it on and become the work of art - that's irresistible!'

Do you have any plans to make costumes to sell?
'...I have to be strict with myself - I have had to make the decision to concentrate on painting. I have many interests... painting, costuming, singing in choirs and bands ... learning Japanese etc etc - but there just isn't time in the day!'

Describe your style. What do you aim to do with your work?
'In short it could be called Hyper-realist portraiture. A couple of years ago my style was more Photo-realist but I was seduced by texture - oils can do so much more than just ape photography - after a while that becomes to easy, too obvious.

There is always this tension between realist painting (especially portraiture) and photography - when photography was first invented it effectively replaced mimetic painting in the sense that one no longer needed to pose for weeks and pay a painter for their time - the photograph was truer to life and more or less instant by comparison. So for the past 100 years or so painting has been thrown into turmoil, trying to find its purpose - and millions of square feet of ugly painting have been produced in this experiment. However, now I feel that we can find a space for painting... in it's own right and enjoy what it can do, not worrying about arguing with photography, or commenting on the role of photography as photorealism does. For me, the photorealism was just a learning phase, teaching me to look, to create a range of effects...

...what I'm trying to achieve now is a balance between the realism, the description of a person's image, with the creation of beautiful textures in the surface of the paint. I keep finding myself painting things like rusty cans, crumbly bricks, sackcloth and wrinkles. I have always been fascinated with this decay... The paint peels, things grow and rust and a magical beauty appears all by itself out of something ugly... I find a real comfort in seeing how in such a short time nature can tear down human structures and bury them then take over again...'

 

Reporter: Rebecca Summers