British-American artist Emma Webster is recognised for her ethereal, dreamlike vistas painted from miniature dioramas and virtual reality simulations. Through staging natural landscapes, Webster raises questions regarding the implications of represented reality and human intervention in the environment.Read More
Born in Encinitas, California, Webster graduated with a BFA from Stanford University in 2011 and went on to work on advertising and design projects. The artist first developed her ideas for small-scale maquettes during this period, while creating set designs for La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. She expanded this concept at Yale University, where she graduated with an MFA in 2018.
The unearthly tableaus of Webster's oil paintings are based on her dimly lit dioramas, composed of cut-outs, clay figures, and plastic props, that are then transformed into digital landscapes using VR technology. Characterised by atmospheric lighting and a consciously theatrical arrangement, Webster's paintings have drawn comparisons to the work of Albert Bierstadt, Hieronymus Bosch, and Walt Disney, among others.
Webster encountered 3D modelling in 2018 through her friend and VR artist Wyatt Roy, who turned her dioramas into a video game using 3D scanning. In 2020, Roy sent her his Oculus goggles, which Webster then employed to create digitised versions of her maquettes and props. The new technology enabled Webster to play with light in ways that would be implausible in real life, resulting in a heightened sense of the mystical in her paintings.
Webster's 'natural and mystifying vistas', as they are described by Ocula Advisory, often feature animals with stylised proportions that evoke children's toys. Such was the case with the paintings in Arcadia, her first solo exhibition at Diane Rosenstein Gallery, Los Angeles, in 2019.
The exhibition earned Webster critical attention. The bull in Bucolic (2018) lacks the charisma of the actual animal, having been rendered with short, lumpy legs, while the handful of creatures—deer, rabbits, a bull—that stand upright in Still Life (2018) appear stiff like puppets or figurines.
Consisting of layers of hills stacked behind one another, the scenery in Still Life appears as though the viewer is situated in front of a stage. Et in Arcadia ego (2018) similarly reveals its own artifice; fruit, berries, butterfly wings, and an egg are casually strewn over a view of an idyllic landscape that bears resemblance to Poussin's eponymous 17th-century work, which shows four figures before a tomb.
Skewing laws of the natural world in her paintings, Webster interrogates the traditions of landscape painting and its allegiance to depictions of the environment.
Human figures are completely absent in the paintings that Webster presented in Illuminarium (2022), her first solo exhibition with Perrotin at the gallery's Dosan Park location in Seoul. Instead, trees perhaps begin to resemble creatures as they curl into impossible shapes.
The green palette of Aloethylene (2022) reinforces a sense of the uncanny, while in Field Guide (2022), tall, thin trees sprout out of curves in the landscape, challenging conventional approaches to representing or envisioning nature.
Emma Webster's paintings have been presented in solo and group exhibitions internationally.
Solo exhibitions include Illuminarium, Perrotin, Seoul (2022); Green Iscariot, Alexander Berggruen, New York (2021); and Arcadia, Diane Rosenstein Gallery, Los Angeles (2019).
Group exhibitions include Fire Figure Fantasy: Selections from ICA Miami's Collection, Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (2022); Stockholm Sessions, Carl Kostyál, Stockholm (2021); Show Me the Signs, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2020); and Spirited Densities, Thomas Erben Gallery, New York (2018).
Emma Webster's website can be found here and Webster's Instagram can be found here.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2023