Jeffrey Deitch Los Angeles
September 8 – November 4, 2023
Recently, Los Angeles’ Jeffrey Deitch Gallery has seen a transformation from its usual white cube space into a black box theatre. Upon entering this low-lit environment, the viewer is first met with a series of ground-level flats of luscious, forested scenes surrounding a silent, vacant stage. As if having stumbled in during an intermission, the viewer is then lured backstage to investigate an assortment of behind-the-scenes details like road cases, props, wardrobes, lockers, and even a craft services table for hungry crew to steal a swig of coffee and bite of donut in between showtimes.
Of course, none of it’s real – rather, it’s all a fabrication as part of an intricate installation by visionary artist Emma Webster. This unique exhibition, Intermission, hints at Webster’s experience with set design, wherein she offers a unique insight into the many angles of stage production through the eyes of an accomplished painter.
Here, we are offered a realistic glimpse of the combined efforts that make a theatrical performance possible. No detail has been left out – even little reference photos and notes scribbled onto the backs of flats, evidence of painstaking efforts to pull off an applaudable show.
The fact that Webster’s paintings alone are enough to stop one in their tracks creates a further awe-inspiring experience. Her landscapes (oil on linens created in 2023), which can be found sporadically mounted throughout the venue, have a flair for theatre in and of themselves. In these, perspectives are distorted, and foreground elements are spotlit as any center stage character. The painting, The Rehearsal (Harvest Moon) shows a massive, baren tree expressively outstretched within a blueish grey, nocturnal environment, which reads as both organic and artificial.
While our immediate senses tell us this is an outdoor setting, certain peculiar details don’t add up: The horizon seems to curve upward against an undefined wall, a tree trunk to the left morphs into a pillar-like formation. Yet most notably, a full moon has been projected onto the background, its luminous image falling upon a wall of rocks, while casting the shadow of the predominant tree upon its reflection. While the source of this projection remains unknown, we can surmise that whoever cast it intends to play optical tricks on the viewer.
Virtual Vedute offers another anomalous scenario in which various levels of lush green plains ooze and twist together, while in a centralized nook, a cluster of tree limbs are mysteriously illuminated from the ground up, as if from foot lights on an obscure forest stage.
Webster’s fantastical paintings are displayed as a humble sidenote to a greater concept: the merging of painting and theatre to create a unified, immersive experience. Here, she effectively breaks down the boundaries between visual art forms to show that one may bolster the other, demonstrating that creativity is a free-flowing entity which needn’t restrict itself to any particular medium. In doing so, Webster has captured moments of – and moments in between – suspended belief, leaving the viewer inspired on many levels.
Cover image: Virtual Vidute; All images courtesy Jeffrey Deitch Los Angeles, photographed by the author.