Bold Portraiture

British artist Bettina Newbery paints fine oil portraits inspired by fashion and popular culture. The past year has seen the creation of works rich in geometric evolutions – portraying modern women, telling new stories and establishing an immediate connection with the viewer.

A: In issue 91 of Aesthetica, two portraits from the A Kaleidoscope of Colours series were featured: Estela and Juliana. Who are these women and what are their stories?
BN: I am a contemporary artist working in oil, on silk and monoprints. Specialising in portraits and figurative work, my muses are female icons or glimpses of models interpreted in my own captivating, colourful style.

For Estela and Juliana, I have drawn inspiration from fashion across different decades such as the original Christian Dior Couture dress design from 1953 (after a visit to the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the V&A) – capturing an expression of regality through an alluring use of colour.

Juliana is proud; her face superbly modelled, but in her calm, determined gaze, there is not a hint of arrogance. Look into the eye of Estela: her thoughts are more absorbing than the scene around her. The beauty of her features keeps her at a discreet, protective distance.

A: How do works such as Estela and Juliana differ from Rhapsody in Blue and Who is Eve?
BN: Who is Eve? (2019) was inspired by the play All About Eve combined with the structure of Chinese ancestor paintings, drawing us in towards the centre. Who is Eve? accumulates a selection of very different modern women as does Rhapsody in Blue (2019). Using a set of accented curves, I invite you to stroll from one female protagonist to another, extending into the sky, which has something surreal about it.

A: What is the significance of Celia within your artistic development and exploration?
BN: Celia (A Kaleidoscope of Colours) was the first fashion plus pop art-inspired oil portrait of 2019 in the series Portrait meets Pop, which is the overall concept of my art practice. Celia uses a succession of lines, circles and swirling shapes. It explores the use of colour and shape further than any of the previous portraits, and leads on to Rhapsody in Blue and Who is Eve?

A: Thinking about your inspirations, what is the role of painting is today’s digital landscape?
BN: Painting and real-world artwork remain significant both from a decorative and cultural point of view. The eclectic use of pattern and innovative colour combinations distinguish my work in today’s world of portrait painting. This is my way of storytelling, developing a new perspective and enhancing the underlying narrative.

A: How does the specific use of colour, tone and shape inform each portrait? Does working in oil help to facilitate this?
BN: Christian Dior is often called the designer of dreams – I tell human stories of beauty, vulnerability and excitement. Regardless of the technique, whether oil, silk or monoprints, you can achieve the same powerful effect of narrative.

A: What do you think it is about your paintings that establish an immediate connection with the viewer?
BN: The ladies in my paintings are elegant and confident – the glamour of designer fashion is an expression of desire, and they are stealing the show. As such, they appeal to the viewer’s moods and emotions – they grab you, they look at you and they draw you in. But as pieces of visual fiction as well, I do hope that they amuse, charm, delight and intrigue the viewer.

A: How does a viewer’s connection to your work inspire you when creating new pieces?
BN: Of course, the main protagonists are usually female, and as a woman, there is an element of self-projection in all of my work, hence the depiction of beautiful and thoughtful women in the modern world.

A: Which aspects of fashion and popular culture are you currently exploring as inspiration for upcoming works? Are there aspects of popular culture that concern you?
BN: There is always an element in voyeurism in the viewing of art as well as in the making; looking at any piece of art invites my personal interpretation of what the viewer might see in a piece of art, stretching it further. I am currently exploring graphic elements taken from nature: simple shapes that surround us and I am having fun with many more colours, also taken from nature. It is colour that brings the gift of magic to my paintings.

A: How do you think your work will evolve in 2020? Will you continue the current series? Will you revisit mediums such as silk?
BN: Expect the unexpected. I will further explore the overall concept of Portrait meets Pop – with fabulous colours and shapes, in a mixed media approach, creating unique portraits of modern women. I use the interplay of colours to bring out the many facets in each of my portraits, allowing them to be constantly rediscovered, highlighting the smallest of details and moving through different pictorial styles.

It can take as long as six months to perfect the various colour nuances and shades – the details may very subtle, yet they give us the sense of texture and depth. Part real, part fake, and uplifting regardless: a welcome relief from recent austerity. I will certainly be painting a bright future in 2020.

A: The past year has been busy for you! Where can we see your work in 2020?
BN: Yes – a large selection of my portraits from 2014 to 2019 were well received during 2019 group exhibitions in Bologna, Paris, London and the latest in Padua. My work will next be exhibited at NYAFAIR in New York, 2-30 April.
Instagram: @bettinanewbery

The work of Bettina Newbery appears in the Artists’ Directory in Issue 91 of Aesthetica. Click here to visit our online shop.