Each month we invite a member of the She Performs community to share their Artists to Watch - a personal selection of artists whose work has caught their attention.
This month’s a2w - Charlie Betts, Jessica Emsley and Bella Schauer have been chosen by Anna Garrett.
Charlie Betts is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice spans painting, performance, installation, video and participatory collaboration. She studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths and Kingston University. Charlie’s work engages themes of temporality and gesture, whilst she considers her body as performer within and of the artworks, through feminist philosophies in a fleeting autobiographical way. She collaborates with other women artists, pushing the boundaries of her own practice. Notably within the collaborative works of artist group [NAME], pieces tend to lean towards an ephemerality, ambiguity, multi-dimensional feminine space - where spontaneity and humour often appear in the works.
Her artworks exist in a position of translation, reflection, fragmentation and the moment. She encapsulates dynamism and emotion in the same space, the same gesture, devolving the presence (and absence) of the artist. Through a rollercoaster of a year, her recent works are an expression of the personal, yet political. Charlie’s practice engages her dual role as a woman and a mother, individual and collaborator. Charlie’s abstract paintings encapsulate a sense of aliveness, and feminine energy that comes from a raw place. As a viewer engaging with the works in the flesh, their sensuality, painterly surfaces and colour palettes seem to border an unconscious gesture. Re-connecting painting to a position of bodily presence and time-based sense of phenomenology, letting the piece form in front of her - Charlie considers painting as a metamorphosis of object, textile and performance, constantly pushing and pulling between construction and deconstruction.
Through engagement with a sense of contemporary feminist theory, the history of women’s suffrage and notions of the gaze, she considers what it means for her to be a woman artist working in the U.K. now, an artist in motherhood, and how this affects her practice. Charlie encompasses a variety of collaborations - in which a flexible and resilient approach expands her artistic identity. When you dance, I wish you, a piece co-choreographed in 2016 by the artist with dance company Everyday People, explored autobiographical elements that Charlie describes as ‘major shifts and phases of life’. It was both beautiful and moving to see a time-based piece so personal and experiential, exploring a huge change her life - of becoming a mother.
Jessica Emsley is an artist engaging themes of ecologies, and more specifically, unlocking new ways of communicating and interacting with the more-than-human. Her work is performative, narrative and ephemeral, through writing, drawing, photography, and the participatory. She currently studies MFA Fine Art at Nottingham Trent. With interests in semiotics, phenomenology and a deeper engagement with nature, she embraces the shortcomings of the potential notions of ‘becoming plant’ or feeling otherwise. Jessica practices a sensitivity of openness, giving time and space to a ‘greater receptivity’, leaving assumptions behind. It might be said she engages non-human nature with a subtlety of eco-feminism, through her more-than-human exchanges; and perhaps in a material feminist sense suggesting the lines between human and nature are blurred. As humans we are in fact nature, within ourselves as host organisms, and through the porousness of our bodies in a living world.
In her recent multi-dimensional project, Woodland Conversations (2020), the artist spent nearly every day in a local woodland over an extended period of time during lockdown last year. Jessica allowed herself to experience nature on a slowed time - a pace more in line with the plants, fungi and mosses themselves. She attuned her senses otherwise: listening, touching, tracing and being present. By disrupting her own experience (and even following actions chosen at random written beforehand) the artist became more lost within, and of, the ‘wilded’ in-between natural space. Jessica’s practice invites a feeling of the ‘wilded’ self, a connection (or re-connection) to the stillness of being on nature’s time. It is in this borderland she is able to invite the viewer, through her experiential spoken word and documentary photographs of her own body, in and around the non-human.
The work offers quiet respite in a contemporary world fraught with so much, and echoes a feeling of an escape to slower-paced green space as therapy from a screen-based world, which might resonate with many during lockdown. Through her practice, Jessica touches upon an ecologically and politically charged subject in an understated - although powerful - way. She brings to light a conversation to our potential loss (and re-connection) to the natural world, and how we might be able to begin to (re)wild ourselves.
Bella Schauer is an artist from Arizona, USA, and currently lives and works in Mexico City. She is interested in the expanded histories of the symbolic, spiritual and holistic relationship between women and nature - and embracing nature as feminist space, both in her painting and drawing practice, bodily, physically and through performative narrative in digital collage. Bella engages a reconnection of the feminine, growing in a sense of empowerment in her own sensuality and female-ness, and re-embodying identities of women related to a sense of magic: whether as shaman, witch or goddess. Often dream-like, lucid and fluid, her skilful drawings and paintings border the surreal, and touch upon her own experiences and identity as a woman in the 21st Century - as well as what it is to connect to the natural ‘other’, physically, emotionally or spiritually. Recent works have become almost autobiographical, rendering a feeling of the organic, non-linear, illogical, sensitive, feminine energies. Expressive and yet highly observational, it is the process of making that is just as important for the artist. And in a time of uncertainty and lockdown, it is finding this creative time for yourself, a stepping away from the everyday, that becomes so valuable and vital for positive mental-wellbeing for us all.
Moreover, Bella’s engagement with storytelling of subjects through portraiture, connecting identities and cultures, charges her motivation. As an artist she endeavours to tell forgotten or lost stories, histories, and engages with people who may have been forgotten over time, or in the present - especially within a cultural and feminist context. It is in this way her practice resonates today - through the traumas that this year have caused so many, it is shining a light on the overlooked person or people that becomes highly political. Her pencil portrait Mashallah (2019), was made during the artist’s time living in Albania, a country torn. Her portrait celebrates the joy of someone so thankful to be able to sell her wares every day and make a living. The simple action of taking the time to make the woman’s portrait, and then give her the portrait as a gift, is an act of generosity of spirit - a generosity that we can all learn from in this challenging and difficult time.
Anna Garrett is a practising artist currently based in Mexico. Before she left London, SP’s Lynn Seraina Battaglia caught up with Anna in her studio at Goldsmiths, from which she graduated with an MFA in 2019.