Emma Webster’s eerie compositions are invitations to travel beyond traditional vistas and into seductively hybrid environments that metabolize, materialize, and alchemize. Rendered in oil paint, her landscapes are simultaneously imaginary and familiar, gravity-defying yet abiding an internal order.
To arrive at this logic, the artist methodically works and reworks her compositions, distilling them through various media and technical processes: pencil sketch, preparatory drawing, collage, sometimes sculpture, virtual reality and augmented reality, digital rendering, and ultimately painting. Her process is both analog and technological, traditional and speculative.
In this regard, Webster is a decidedly twenty-first century landscape painter, one that subverts convention (like plein-air painting) to virtually paint from the inside, outside, and underside of unlikely panoramas.
Aloethylene, for example (shown above), presents a view onto a thick grove of tree and rock-like forms perched at the edge of a cliff. Beyond it are signs of water, sky, and hills. This verdant grove of tendrils, branches, and foliage seems to be illuminated from within, casting shadows at the outer edges of its composition. Or are the shadows forming a cave, a dark forest, or a brewing storm?
It’s a formal ambiguity that stops short of all-out abstraction. In this world—as in all of Webster’s paintings—there are no signs of human life, and even the flora and fauna are alien. All is chimera. As the ambiguous forms merge with the landscape, their significance—as signs of life, characters in the narrative—dissipates into low resolution while the shapes around it are bumped into high resolution.
Although the artist is digitally native, Webster is nevertheless a dedicated student of the Masters. Her art historical knowledge and passion for famous painters can be traced in her stylistic flourishes and approach to lighting, volume, and gesture. Webster is wowed by Martin’s apocalyptic vision of Earth and delighted when O’Keefe makes the sublime feel tangible. About Turner, she exclaims, “We’ve been missing his special effects. Look at those pyrotechnics! It’s like IMAX!”
– Words by Catherine Taft, Los Angeles, August 2022