Getting to the Heart Of A Subject. What Drives Emma Cattell to Paint?

Art has no manners, I always feel, great art that is, and while most creative people paint diffidently and politely to capture the shape and outline of a subject, few have the will or courage of the explorer: of someone who wants to dive in as deep as they can and discover what it is that fuels the question or statement behind a person’s eyes. The Picture below is of Peter O’Toole, and anyone who has seen the actor in in Lawrence of Arabia will recognise that burning fanatical look. It is this characteristic of her painting which draws me to the work of Emma Cattell.

A1 O'Toole


More recently she has started producing paintings of the seven deadly sins, and as an example, here is her picture of Envy. Once again the secret is in the eyes, but look at the angle of the head and the way Emma has captured that discrete deliciously unsettling manner which lies at the heart of a failing we might see in another although seldom in ourselves. The longer you look at the picture, the more disturbing it becomes, because Emma has been brave enough to confront the reality of this profoundly destructive emotion.


The impulse behind the painting was apparently founded in her struggle to ‘capture’ another subject. Failing to do that irritated the hell out of her, to the point where she literally began to beat the canvas with her paintbrush. Under such, circumstances, manners, caution and fear tend to exit the room leaving plenty of space for instinct, insight and aggression. The desire to just get the subject on canvas and to hell with the consequences.

“Manners maketh man” some wise man said but I always believe, in part, that manners protect us from ourselves and keep the raw, selfish destructive, tender lost part of our personality well out of harms way. By becoming annoyed with herself, Emma let some primal aspect of nature, normally hidden by inhibitions, loose on the canvas, and the longer you look at the second painting in particular, the more you will be struck by the talent and insight she has allowed to escape from her ‘inner being.’

Emma Cattell built her name and reputation as a  photographer, and to quote from the website linked below    ” She has shot divas in their dressing rooms, rock stars in their homes, women prisoners in Iraq and nurses in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan; she is still one of the few British female photographers to have visited a war zone. Her long career has seen her travelling from Belgrade to Iraq, from Antigua to Mombassa, from Bangkok to Croatia and many, many places in between. ” Revealing the unique in the individual is her passion, as it is mine. It shows in her impressive photography and now it is clear in her painting.

What that tells you is that Emma Cattell has been to places and in situations most of us can hardly imagine. The artist draws on her experience, and she has had more than most. To meet her in the everyday is to meet an unassuming women who presumes little about herself, but to meet her through her work is to be greeted by a fierce spirit who has survived experiences most of us would find overwhelming.

Go over to her website and learn all about her. She is, I believe, a talent to watch, and one I am proud to know




About Peter Wells aka Countingducks

Trying to remember what my future is
This entry was posted in character, community, creative writing, Emma Cattell, Life, Painting, skils, Ukraine, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Getting to the Heart Of A Subject. What Drives Emma Cattell to Paint?

  1. Caroline says:

    Thank you for the link. What an incredible woman


  2. ksbeth says:

    her work is very powerful and makes her subjects and their emotional state of being, jump from the canvas right onto the viewer. how lucky you are to have crossed paths with her and thank you for sharing her talent with us.


  3. Scarlet says:

    The thing with that ‘inner being’ thing [lots of things going on with this sentence] is that it can’t be forced, it can’t be conjured up willy-nilly… but when it does happen it feels remarkable.


  4. gotham girl says:

    How wonderful to learn of a photographer with such talent! Really enjoyed looking at her portfolio and learning about her. I couldn’t agree more with her statement…“I feel naked if I don’t have a camera with me.” So true!! Thank you!


  5. backonmyown says:

    Thanks for the introduction to Emma. Her work is remarkable. I enjoyed reading your critique of her painting. Another talent to add to your long list of talents: Peter, the art critic. Your comments on “Envy” are insightful. I am drawn to the colors. I am not an art critic. I see a canvas and I like it or I don’t. I like “Envy.” Very much.


  6. Simplicity – often the most powerful form of communication. Lovely addition to your blog, Peter. An artist that creates in paint what you do with the word. I’d like to see more of her work!


  7. She sounds like a very inspiring woman Peter, with much talent too. Thank you for sharing this. Simplicity in art can often go very deep I think.


  8. Love your juxtaposition of the real-life Emma and the one that lives through her paintings.


  9. Art has no manners…


  10. Ina says:

    It is nice to know people in real life that are inspiring 🙂


  11. “Envy”
    Is Superb. I see it in her eyes. xx


  12. Barbara Ann says:

    Beautiful artwork. I appreciated your observations about the art that I might otherwise not have taken notice of.


  13. Peter! I’m so proud of you–pictures and a link inserted in the same post? My, my, my. You’ve become quite techno-savvy! 🙂


  14. r e douville says:

    Striking work. Interesting how seeing and experiencing a bit too much drives our insight and creativity. A friend now departed reported from Vietnam, she wouldn’t delve too much into her experiences, and spent her last years writing poetry.


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