It is the creation of likeness which fascinates me; a glint of gold in the shadows, the flicker of an eyelid, the shimmering pulsation of nerves under skin... likeness is always at the centre of my work.
Using the historically-loaded medium of oil on canvas I set out to create jewel-like treasures, like altar pieces or icons intended for personal devotion. I relish the glowing transparency and texture of oils and seek to create a feast of surface texture which can only truly be appreciated close up.
Humans relate to images of other humans, particularly faces, on a visceral, subconscious level; this is why portraiture is especially powerful and relevant. After layers of meaning and concept are stripped away, that relationship remains.
SELECTED COLLECTIONS/ COMMISSIONS/ AWARDS
2024 Coming soon: a new painting for the throne room of Auckland Castle, commissioned by The Auckland Project.
2022 'Reimagining Paul'. Commissioned by the University of Sheffield Centre for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies to create a large painting to tour a number of English cathedrals, sparking discussion about biblical texts.
2020 Commissioned to create the short film ‘A Room of One’s Own’ in collaboration with filmmaker Owen Tooth by Disability Arts Online during the first UK Lockdown.
2020 Commissioned to create a portrait of Rhoda Bennett for the collection of the University of Leicester to celebrate International Women's Day.
2018 Commissioned to create a portrait of Olive Banks for the collection of the University of Leicester to celebrate International Women's Day.
2014-16 Commissioned to create ‘New Friends for Alathea’ for the UK's Ingestre Collection (along with a short documentary film) using young people as models to make the rest of the collection more accessible to modern audiences.
2012 Derby Museum & Art Gallery commissioned 'The Captive' for their permanent collection to respond to the work of Joseph Wright for his 275th birthday celebrations.
2010 Derbyshire Libraries and The Big Lottery Grant commissioned 2 large paintings for 2 newly-built libraries. Tooth worked with multi-aged members of the local community as sitters.
2008 Awarded Arts Council funding to begin and tour her successful series ‘Concilium Plebis’.
2004 Awarded Arts Council funding to experiment with underwater photography for the ‘Ophelia’ series.
2001 Derby Chamber of Commerce acquires a Tooth painting for their collection.
2013 Rooms Magazine (10-page feature)
2013 Art of England Magazine
2012 BBC Radio live interview with Aleena Naylor discussing Caravaggio
2012 BBC Radio interview with Andy Potter
2010 HiFructose.com (studio-visit feature)
2009 BBC Radio interview
2009 BBC online interview
2009 The Metro
2008 Newsnight Review (3/10/08 Liverpool Biennial special)
2008 KERA Maniax (Japanese)
2008 BBC Radio interview with Claire Hamilton
2008 Imagine FX magazine
2007 KERA Maniax (Japanese)
2007 Imagine FX magazine
SELECTED SOLO SHOWS
2023 CONCILIUM PLEBIS I Rotherham Minster, Yorkshire
2017 NEW FRIENDS FOR ALATHEA Ingestre Hall, Staffordshire
2016 NEW FRIENDS FOR ALATHEA Wednesbury Museum
2015 BREAKING ART Wallner Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham
2014 BREAKING ART Déda, Derby
2014 BREAKING ART The Customs House Gallery, Newcastle
2013 EVOLUTION Corke Gallery, Liverpool
2012 BREAKING ART pop-up show, Movida, London
2012 THE CAPTIVE at Derby Museum and Art Gallery
2011 HEREDITY Lazarides Gallery, Newcastle
2010 CONCILIUM PLEBIS Lazarides Gallery, London
2010 EXTRAORDINARY PORTRAITS OF ORDINARY PEOPLE feat. JOSEPH WRIGHT OF DERBY. Derby Museum & Art Gallery
2009 CONCILIUM PLEBIS The CUBE, The Biscuit Factory, Newcastle
2009 CONCILIUM PLEBIS Sandford Goudie Gallery, The Customs House, Tyne and Wear
2004 Michael Naimski Gallery, London
SELECTED GROUP SHOWS
2023 REIMAGINING PAUL Coventry Cathedral, UK
2023 EVERGREEN The Manger Gallery, UK
2023 REIMAGINING PAUL Sheffield Cathedral, UK
2023 REIMAGINING PAUL Doncaster Minster, UK
2023 REIMAGINING PAUL St Mark's, Broomhill, UK
2022 REIMAGINING PAUL Rotherham Minster, UK
2018 HERE/NOW Lawrence Alkin Gallery, London, UK
2014 THE 13TH HOUR Last Rites Gallery, New York, USA
2014 GILTY KISS 423 West Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
2014 Thinkspace Gallery, California, USA
2013 URBAN CONTEMPORARY international, Digard MVV, Paris, France
2013 WHAT IS DRAWING? Customs House Gallery, Newcastle, UK
2013 WIDER THAN A POSTCARD Breezeblock Gallery, Portland OR, USA
2012 5th BIRTHDAY SHOW Signal Gallery, London, UK
2012 UP CLOSE Signal Gallery, London, UK
2012 PICKS OF THE HARVEST Thinkspace gallery, California, USA
2011 The Biscuit factory, Newcastle, UK
2010 5 YEAR ANNIVERSARY SHOW Thinkspace, California, USA
2009 GRIFTERS Lazarides Gallery, Rathbone Place, London, UK
2009 OPS EXHIBITIONS Stadtgallerie, Stadtbibliothek and Lagerhalle Osnabrück, Germany
2008 LIVERPOOL BIENNIAL International Artists Exhibition at NOVAS CUC, UK
2008 GAZE portraiture exhibition, Derby Museum & Art Gallery, UK
2008 THE AFFORDABLE ART FAIR London, UK
2007 Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham, UK
2004 THE LONDON ART FAIR UK
2001 ROYAL SOCIETY OF PORTRAIT PAINTERS Mall Galleries, London, UK
2023 Goth by Geoffrey Key & Nick Brown OBE
2021 Our 100: One Hundred Years of Change curated by Elizabeth Blood, University of Leicester
2017 *Orpheus in the World Interior by John David Ebert
2017 *These Things We No Longer Are by John David Ebert
2015 Cultural Decay Rate by John David Ebert
2014 The Art of Gothic by Natasha Scharf
2011 *Take a Bite by Nancy Schumann
2010 From Pig Farmers and Showgirls by Emma Tooth
2005 Mam Tor's Event Horizon 2
2005 Mam Tor's Event Horizon 1 (English and Italian versions)
* denotes a title for which Tooth provided cover art only.
One of the most exciting artists working in portraiture today (1), Elizabeth Tooth exhibits her breathtaking (2) oil paintings all over the UK and abroad.
She is best known for her extraordinary portraits of ordinary people entitled 'Concilium Plebis' and her painting 'The Captive' commissioned by Derby Museum and Art Gallery. Tooth's paintings feature in public and private collections all over the world including the UK, France, Canada, Iceland, Germany, North America and South Africa.
She’s featured in Japanese streetstyle magazines (3), on BBC Radio discussing Caravaggio, and exhibited at dozens of galleries and museums - as well as former-dungeons, cathedrals, stately homes, derelict buildings and tattoo conventions. An occasional art tutor and model, she’s inspired many other artists; most notably important British painter Geoffrey Key (4) who created his most arresting and striking 'Goth' series and book (5) following a momentary chance encounter with the “startlingly elegant figure” of Elizabeth (6), when her pallid face “lit up the room” at an antique fair in 2023 (7).
Her dreams of exhibiting in gothic cathedrals were fulfilled in 2022+23 when she was commissioned by the University of Sheffield to reimagine St. Paul, taking in notions of masculinity and disability, with compelling results (8).
The same year, her incredible life-like paintings drew the attention of the avian community as well as the local press (9), and just before that she was commissioned to create two posthumous portraits of notable women for the University of Leicester in celebration of International Women's Day.
In Lockdown she created short film 'A Room of One's Own' with husband Owen Tooth in her home-studio, offering a rare glimpse into her private world. And before that she was proud to create a new painting for the historic Ingestre Collection - their first in over 80 years, the first by a woman and the first representing people of colour. After a short tour, the painting, ‘New friends for Alathea’, came home, finally taking its place at Ingestre Hall alongside the 17th Century jewels of a collection spanning 4 centuries.
In 2013 Tooth exhibited alongside Basquiat, Picasso, Keith Haring, Blek le Rat, Swoon, Banksy and many more at an "Unprecedented international Urban Contemporary event” in Paris. The Drouot Digard Urban Contemporary Auction offered “fans and buyers alike access to the global legends of art” with “An unparalleled sale offering the most comprehensive catalogue of street art ever seen to date."
2010 was crucial year which saw not only the release of her enigmatic art book, 'From Pig Farmers & Showgirls' (under nom de plume Emma Tooth) but also a once-in-a-lifetime dual exhibition at Derby Museum & Art Gallery, where she mixed her dignified and reverent (10) paintings of ‘chavs’ and ‘hoodies’ in with those of the 18th Century master Joseph Wright of Derby. She then memorably filled the museum with breakdancers, back-flipping among the priceless works of art. Later her paintings inspired the acclaimed street-dance shows 'Council of The Ordinary' and 'Tribal Assembly' by bboy champions Bad Taste Cru.
Tooth hadn’t envisioned then that 8 years later when Joseph Wright was celebrated with an interactive memorial Star in his home city she would have the honour of unveiling it. She was joined by others, including Lord Burlington who was unveiling a star for his illustrious ancestor Bess of Hardwick, but it was Elizabeth in her rococo gown who stole the show. (11)
After gaining Arts Council funding to start the Concilium Plebis project, and The Guardian suggested it was worth seeing (12), she toured her work extensively for several years from 2008 under the name Emma Tooth. She exhibited with Lazarides gallery in two solo shows and in the 'Grifters' group show (alongside Antony Micallef, Faile, Jonathan Yeo etc). She was 'Featured Artist' at the 2012 Picks of the Harvest show at Thinkspace gallery, California, where she appeared in another of her rococo gowns and was described as 'The shining star of the night' by HiFructose.com.
At the 2008 Liverpool Biennial, a selection of her paintings were displayed in the studio for a special edition of Newsnight Review (13). She narrowly avoided appearing on ‘Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares’ by refusing to flirt with its star (who thought her a “canny minx”), and declined an invitation to appear on Rolf Harris’ ‘Star Portraits’ programme. However, in a brief lapse of judgment she did appear on Channel 5's ‘Trisha’ (14).
Around 2004, while known as Emma Simcock-Tooth, she was invited to form part of a ragtag band of renegade artists and writers taken under the wing of legendary Brit comic artist Liam Sharp and Mam Tor publishing. She had once cherished a dream of becoming a comic artist, and even worked briefly in a comic shop as a teenager - where she soon discovered her aptitude as a Cambridge tourist-attraction far outstripped her abilities on the till. But it was fated that the world of comics should come to her. Event Horizon was published in English and Italian and won Best Graphic Novel at SciFi London 2006 and was nominated for the Eagle Award in 2007. Tooth’s paintings were so good fans often expected her to be a man, and she toured the UK and France for myriad book-signings and comic conventions, drinking with such luminaries as Glenn Fabry and Simon Bisley. French artist Barkmann even created a character - Madame Geist - inspired by Tooth's inimitable style.
It was when exhibiting at the State of the Art International Tattoo Convention, Tooth was approached by piercing world record-holder Elaine Davidson (15), who she later painted in the guise of 'Watchmaker'. At the previous year's event Tooth was interviewed on ITN and edited so severely that she came across as quite mad.
She posed underwater in Rococo splendour as Ophelia. Twice. And one afternoon in Kyoto she respectfully donned the priceless traditional regalia of the Geisha, who dedicate their lives to carrying art to its highest expression and are said to inhabit a separate reality (16). The parallels were simply irresistible.
Over the years she’s appeared in endless obscure magazines and blogs, (many now long gone) even serving occasionally as cover-girl (17). In 2008+9 she even appeared larger-than-life on BBC Bigscreens in Liverpool and Derby.
She is the woman with birds in her hair (17) who collaborated on and appears in some of the spooky short films of Owen Tooth (19) - her childhood sweetheart whom she wedded in a 900-year-old castle in 2004. The bride wore a black Victorian gown created by her dearest friend the couturier Olivia Barnard-Firth, better known as The Wicked Lady (20).
While still at University, Tooth exhibited with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, created a monumental painting 30 feet long and penned the year's highest-scoring dissertation. She was declared “A force to be reckoned with” (21) when she took the Artist's Commission Prize at the Derby Open Exhibition in 2001, and her portrait of Owen entered the Derby Chamber of Commerce's collection. Around this time she joined two choirs and sang Bulgarian for several years. She briefly fronted a (thoroughly dreadful) band and 'brushed off' (22) a large garage bill, painting murals of classic cars in payment.
The artist and her home have featured in lifestyle magazines praising her “seemingly endless creativity” (23) for as well as creating her own unique clothes, she collects and revamps antique clothes and Victorian beadwork obsessively. "Some may say she is a walking piece of art herself thanks to her theatrical presence… stunning eye make-up and clothes with an historical air show her creativity in evidence every which way" (24).
She started making her own clothes on an early 1900’s Singer sewing machine around the same time she began to paint, She described her art education in Rooms magazine: “When I was about 17 my wonderful A-Level tutor handed me a box of gnarled old oil paint tubes and a filthy jam-jar of turps, and with the words ‘Have a play!’ my career had begun” (25). The same magazine also described her as "The modern-day renaissance master".
Born in Cambridge, now living in rural Derbyshire, Tooth cordially hated her school years (but enjoyed writing very long essays) and was known variously to her schoolfellows as "The Black Widow" and "Tank Girl" (26) due to a somewhat dramatic haircut she sported throughout her teens and 20's.
Never what you might call a ‘people-person’, her earliest memories are of running away from home. She was later found bonding with a large black corvid who pecked playfully at the buckles on her shoes. Since then the reclusive artist has come to the rescue of many birds - especially chickens - and is never happier than when in their company.
(1) "Elizabeth Emma Tooth is among the most exciting fine art portrait painters in England today." http://www.sourharvest.com/an-interview-with-emma-tooth/ 24/02/12
(2) "Breathtaking... Incredible... Such a fine artist" - Aleena Naylor / BBC Radio Derby
(3) Including Kera Maniax magazine, Japan, in 2007 and 2008.
(4) ”Geoffrey Key is widely considered to be one of the UK’s most important contemporary artists.” https://www.geoffreykey.com
(5) “Geoffrey Key has recently completed one of the most arresting and striking series in a career spanning over six decades. These twenty-five new paintings have the power to stop you in your tracks.” https://www.geoffreykey.com
(6) “Looking up from the exhibits he caught a glance of a startlingly elegant figure dressed in an antique-looking, full Goth outfit. He didn’t know it at the time but the woman he’d seen was the artist Elizabeth E. Tooth. The striking figure awoke a series of images stored in his imagination and by the time he was back home the seeds of a painting were gathering in his mind.” https://www.geoffreykey.com
(7) “He looked up and saw a remarkable figure. There are moments which change the pattern of life and this was one such moment for Geoffrey. So much so, that it moved him to record it in words rather than paint. There were further repercussions of the moment, but it serves well to let Geoffrey’s poem record the moment of impact: ‘Within a room of bric-a-brac, An elegant, pallid face appeared. Dressed in refined jet monochrome. Her ashen face lit up the room. Elegant contrast against the clutter. From which my mind formed a chain. Each link forming a Gothic cast.’” Poem by Geoffrey Key quoted by Nick Brown OBE in his 2023 book ‘Goth’.
(8) Reverend Dr. Casey Strine said: ‘We are pleased and excited to host this compelling exhibition. Paul is one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity—but rarely if ever recognised as someone who lived with a hidden disability. These artworks challenge us to rethink him and his writings in new and important ways. I believe they will challenge the Church of England and all Christians to look afresh at how we welcome, support, and include people with disabilities in our worship and service.'
(9) ‘Derbyshire artist fools birds with incredible life-like paintings of moss and ivy. Derbyshire artist Elizabeth Tooth is used to fooling humans with her portrait paintings which are often mistaken for photographs, but this is the first time she’s fooled a different species!’ https://www.derbyshiretimes.co.uk/arts-and-culture/art/derbyshire-artist-fools-birds-with-incredible-life-like-paintings-of-moss-and-ivy-4162894
(10) Concilium Plebis reviewed in The Metro newspaper 08/01/09 as "The best place to overcome class prejudice... Elizabeth Emma Tooth's Renaissance-style oil paintings of white youths often demonised in the media as chavs and hoodies imbue the subjects with dignity and reverence."
(12) https://www.theguardian.com 'The Beating Art of Newcastle' 22/12/09
(13) Tooth's paintings were selected for prominent display in the 3/10/08 special edition of Newsnight Review from Liverpool during the Biennial that year.
(14) Yes, this really happened. Elizabeth was contacted by the Trisha team and invited to appear on the show discussing her black wedding. She agreed (just so she could say she had really been on a daytime talk show) and got what she deserved alongside a male witch and some people wearing bells who perhaps would have been better off in some kind of secure facility rather than being paraded on British television. Tooth was asked quite seriously by an awed audience member if she even wears a black swimming costume when she goes on holiday. The answer, of course, was yes.
(17) Obscure publications… including covers and features in vampiric lifestyle magazine 'Chronicles' circ. 2002 and the dubiously-named Norwegian dark music magazine, 'Rimfrost' in 2003, Nord Eclair, Roubaix, (French) 2006, Graphotism 2008, Blancopop.com (Spanish) 2010, Eyezine 2011, www.20minutos.es (Spanish) 2012, TheFlyingFruitbowl.co.uk 2013, to name just a few.
(18) Imagine FX Magazine, Aug 2008, Feature p.71.
(21) The Derby Evening Telegraph declared her work "A force to be reckoned with" circ. 2001.
(22) The Derby Evening Telegraph pulls out all the puns for their short photo-article 'Artist brushes off repair bill at garage', 22/07/03, p3
(23) Wendy Roberts in The Derbyshire Magazine, 2011
(24) Wendy Roberts in The Derbyshire Magazine, 2008
(25) The now sadly defunct art journal Rooms magazine, issue 12, 2013
(26) Interview with Alice Doyle for Sequential Tart 01/05/07. http://www.sequentialtart.com/article.php?id=492