For Emma Webster’s current exhibition Arcadia at Diane Rosenstein, she created dioramas based on historic paintings, lit them in a theatrical manner, and then reproduced them as oil paintings . The results are dramatic worlds where a sense of foreboding weighs on the scenes. This is not the fictional Arcadia of pastoral harmony, which the title of the exhibition references, but something more.
From the press release-
The show’s title Arcadia alludes to recycled and reassembled notions of nature and art passed down from antiquity. These fake bucolics, where each tree is as much a reflection of its maker’s hands as it is a symbol, point to the ways humanity manipulates nature, seeing nature only as it relates to mankind itself. As in garden design, man contrives his own aesthetic of “natural” beauty despite the existence of another untamed and unpredictable reality. Considering climate change and deforestation, Emma Webster’s landscape as still life rings a warning.
In the paintings with complex scenes, like Still Life, there is more of a feeling of collage than painting. A figure appears to be falling from the sky at the top of the canvas, day and night blend, and a tiny American flag is seen among the figures of animals and people. There is too much going on for the scene to be peaceful.
In Actaeon, the imagery is simpler. Referencing the myth of the hunter turned to a stag by Artemis and devoured by his own hunting dogs, the painting depicts the stag against the backdrop of a rising or setting sun. The figure is imposing, but at the same time it is also evident that it is a painting of a figure originally made in clay.
Webster’s paintings keep the viewer guessing at the layers of meaning behind the worlds she created, both simple and complex. They are also beautiful, skillful works that reveal more the longer you look at them.
This exhibition closes 3/23/19.