Painting as Witness


From 09-03-2019 Until 12-05-2019



In this body of work Annabel Emson (London, 1975) plays with painting as a way of exploring notions of childhood, body and trauma through the lens of reality and observation, both present and past. 

She refers to painting not as inanimate object but as an animated part of herself, an extension of an ‘other’ into a kind of ‘eigenstate’. The created object becomes the silent observer of what it was created from, bearing witness to inner experience. Not the single sensory experience of a scene, a sound, a touch, a smell, a feeling but the amalgamation of the experience seen through the eyes of memory. 

The observed becomes the witness looking back at the artist, mirroring the experience. A painted presence created to see itself being seen. Touching on the idea of do we really exist if no one sees us. The artist being witnessed by their own painting, as in ’Through me’; a mixture of sensation memory and feeling made physically present, made real through paint.

The concept of transformation is central to the work and the question of ‘does something behave differently if it is observed?’, plays into the notion that the artist can be transformed by being looked back at by their own paintings. Emson is inspired by how this concept plays out in quantum physics under Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

Through parenthood the artist has become increasingly interested in childhood and the body, trauma and memory and the fundamental process of being witnessed and mirrored. In painting she plays with the notions of who is the witness, her or the paintings, and what is it to exist only in the eyes of another (as in infancy) and how that develops into a kind of own state ‘eigenstate’ with maturity. And what happens if that development is ruptured through trauma, how does that interfere with traditional notions of time and space. Picasso’s notion that ‘everyone is an artist’ links to this idea that we are all born with our own ability to create our own witnesses to our experience.

Annabel Emson currently lives in London, she completed her BA at Chelsea College of Art and her MA at The Slade School of Art. She studied directly under Peter Doig, Chris Ofili and Bruce Mclean. 

Her work is currently held in a number of public and private international collections and museums including the Saatchi Collection, Burger Collection, Sachs Collection, Gmurzynska collection, Schwarzenbach collection and de Fundatie Zwolle.