Emma Beer has been making paintings like these — abstract, overlapping geometrical colours and textures in rich complimentary colours — since 2010 when I first met her. Back then, our arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders as we danced round the room at a Greek birthday party, I was struck then by a person who seemed, somehow, to have a firmer centre than most — like an essential part of her was established in a way that it wasn’t for most of the twenty-somethings in the room. She seemed strong to me then, and I see that same strength expressed through her work now.
Beer has named this new show with reference to courage. What does that entail in her own abstract language? You might say that her work is, in some ways, risk-free: she’s not dealing in controversy, or unpleasant truth. Her paintings are full of firm and strengthening colours and shapes.
In some of her previous series, the works have all been named with pieces of dialogue from old-fashioned and cheerful films (The Sound of Music, All About Eve), which have struck me as appropriate titles. These paintings are warm and embracing: you can rest your eyes on them and feel just enough challenge and rub in them to be engaged — bold lines and shapes lying against each other, coming to meet each other, or piling on top of one another — and then all this colour and depth rushes into your alert mind and bolsters it. Exactly as those films were made to do — entertain you, cheer you up, give you hope. These are feel-good paintings in the most intelligent sense.
In the context of #nofearsemmaeeers, then, it seems that, rather than work that necessarily takes courage to make, this is work that represents courage and imparts courage.
But looking at this new series as part of Beer’s greater body of work reveals a different kind of courage on the part of the artist. Within these works there is a lot of variation and beauty — shifts in colour, line, and texture — but the technique and overall project remains strikingly unchanged since 2010. In a time in history that hungrily demands something constantly new, only to discard it and look to the next thing, and when artists, perhaps more than anyone, are tied to the demands, desires and responses of their audience, Beer persists. She remains focused on this practice, blocking out the noise, and the result is something like a public meditation. She continues to investigate, push, and explore down the same path, rather than giving up and starting off down another. Aside from sheer pleasure, what we can experience in Beer’s work is almost a performance in the courage it takes, in 2018, to pursue your own loves and curiosities unflinchingly in anything that will be shown to and judged by an external audience.
In writing about her own work, Beer refers to the courage it takes to create something it’s possible no one will care about — a very human battle in art, but also in life. Who are we if no one is noticing? Beer has pursued her own passion, and the fact that the resulting work continues to find subtle new angles of beauty proves the importance of her pursuit, and can inspire courage in those of us who see it.