Colourful celebrity portraits are now emblematic of Emma Gale's works on paper and canvas. A recent tour of Europe's great art museums has been the catalyst for a reinvigorated spontaneity and imaginative approach to this subject. Amidst settings of kaleidoscopic pattern the new portraits pay homage to famous twentieth century artists and musicians who challenged the orthodox cultural, moral and artistic boundaries of their times.

Predominant among Gale's menagerie of iconic faces is the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Her indomitable spirit and uncompromising imagery that was described by Andre Breton as "a ribbon around a bomb", has been an inspiration for generations of artists the world over. "I've always been passionate about her from school age," says Gale. "Frida was a bit crazy - in a wonderful way - and sexy and very cool. All the artists I've chosen to depict have those qualities."

Gale's art rewards a literate viewer and playful attitude. Richly allusive, her collages are a masterful synthesis of energetic line and mosaic-like surfaces. Shapes cut from glossy fashion and art magazines suggest a simultaneous celebration and lighthearted rebuttal of contemporary modish trends. In Gale's portraits costume and coiffure are as important as her celebrity subjects' visages. "I like to play with these portraits - maybe like a kid plays dress-ups, I treat them like mannequins," offers Gale. "I wanted Frida to reflect a strong, wanderlust persona. Her outfits now have fur and bones and feathers, are heavily beaded and full of tribal influence. She's more outlandish, edgy like in fashion mags, with pink and green eyeshadow and lots of cheek-defining rouge. Her hair is cropped, cool and up to date - Frida on a catwalk?"

The less flamboyant Vincent Van Gogh is attired in his signature suit that now sports a yellow sunflower. His bandaged ear is evidence of "crazy thoughts". "Behind those intense, different coloured eyes a wild animal is still awake," Gale comments. "As for Picasso, I have represented him as a statue topped by a paper crown - he's a monument unto himself as king of art, king of desire. There's a hint of the Napoleonic-like power he wielded over those closest to him as well." Other celebrities to be illuminated with such adroit whimsy include Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, James dean and Andy Warhol.

Gale is also absorbed by the physicality of applying paint to canvas. What matters most here is not visual accuracy but the communication of feeling. Immediate as finger painting, she creates a raw, primitive look to shake up jaded aesthetic sensibilities. "With the paintings I have tried to bring a bit more energy into them, push the level to see what I can get away with." Attracted to the implicit eroticism in Gustave Klimt's profuse decorative devices and Egon Schiele's gritty linear treatment of the female form, Gale has incorporated the formats of those Viennese artists into her latest paintings.

The work My Dress for Gustav loosely appropriates Klimt's famous 1906 Portrait of Fritza Reidler, but the face we see is Frida Kahlo's. Complete with the fan-shaped headdress, Frida is clothed in a black dress adorned with simplified, Klimt-like triangular swatches of colour. "It's a serene but stuffy pose and I've disrupted it by making the hands contorted in agitation," says Gale. "They have a deliberate unfinished look so as to express her inner angst." Another familiar Klimt composition has been utilised in the painting Walk Like an Egyptian. Once again Frida's image has transposed the original. Set amidst a tumult of unleashed swirls and yellow chroma, the bejewelled figure differs slightly in that her head now turns to fixate the viewer with a penetrative gaze. "Crazy, sexy and cool, these are not just portraits, they hold a narrative as well," concludes Gale. "I guess the purpose is to deliver a whole experience of character."



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