THE UNIVERSE Emily Kell paints is a place where everyday women are masters of their own universe—calmly in control and confident in themselves, no matter their shape or size. While pictured alone, they are anything but.
“When women are fully in their power or creating or following their hearts and doing awesome things, it creates this collective energy that adds up to the divine feminine,” Kell says.
“Divine feminine is the highest aspect of the collective of unconscious feminine energy. It’s all the highest aspects of each woman combined.”
In her paintings, the beauty of her subjects comes from within, radiating out into swirling mystical representations of power, peace and positive metamorphosis.
This meditation on transformation and exultation of women’s physical and mental beauty is more than a simple glorification—it is deeply personal for Kell.
She, as many young girls, struggled to embrace herself and her body. Her work is a vehicle to spread the self-acceptance she found after emerging from a dark place in her teenage years.
“Growing up, I felt like there was no space for women who were not thin. It’s either you’re thin or you’re fat. I was like, ‘Okay, so I’m fat.’ That was hard and it made me feel less beautiful—insecure,” Kell recalls.
These feelings—fed by the media, peers, and the general pain of teenage years—resulted in Kell developing an eating disorder.
By the time she began college at SCAD in 2008, she says, “I was still psychologically healing. While I was physically healed and eating properly there was still a lot of trauma.”
While at SCAD, Kell uncovered a way to reclaim her body and her relationship to it.
“I started painting self-portraits. I realized how empowering it was to paint myself—paint the body the way that it is and not try to make myself conform to beauty standards,” she says.
Discovering this in herself, Kell was compelled to share this powerful transformative experience with others.
“I started painting all kinds of women feeling it was a really empowering project to paint them in their natural beauty and to add these empowering elements that made them look like a goddess or an ethereal creature but still stay true to their body,” she says.
Kell celebrates the feminine form of all body types and races, referencing the stylistic hallmarks of Renaissance masters, yet painting with honest intent to capture the body as is.
“I don’t try to edit—taking out fat rolls out or anything like that—but I think my sensibility of painting was affected by my youth and my mom’s love of Renaissance paintings,” she says.
The women she paints exude the wisdom and all-knowingness of ancient Goddesses. In galactic, spiritually charged spaces, otherworldly light defines the graceful curvature of their bodies.
Kell predominately paints her close friends, but occasionally is “stricken” by the beauty of a stranger and asks to paint them.
No matter the subject, she allows their essence, their life experiences to enter the work through the collaborative process of shooting reference images for her to paint from.
“A lot of times we talk about stuff to do with the divine feminine or just experiences we’ve had overcoming insecurities. It brings up all sorts of things like that, especially in nude photo shoots, because it’s just natural to talk about your insecurities and the process of overcoming them,” Kell says.
She sees her experience as common.
“I think probably everyone goes through a metamorphosis when they are coming of age and then again when they are figuring out what they want to do with their life and who they want to be,” she explains.
Kell also explores the same themes of acceptance and strength in her poetry.
She weaves these verses into her compositions, written in a secret language of her own creation. Beautiful ancient languages—Cuneiform, hieroglyphics, and Sanskrit—inspired the flowing script.
“I wanted a way to put my poetry into the paintings that was really visually appealing and that didn’t necessarily distract from the painting aspect of it,” she says.
While she plans to bring her language into spoken form one day, it’s clear Kell has already found a voice in her painting.
It’s a soaring voice she hopes will reach others who—as she once did—find the narrow ideas of conventional beauty limit them from seeing the beauty in them selves.
“Painting myself and owning my beauty was a big thing for me,” she says.
So Kell paints with purpose and passion reminding all women of the power and contentment that exists in self-affirmation.
Kell says, “After going through this process of healing and metamorphosis I feel like I want keep finding ways to share that with a crowd of younger women and share the body positivity and the body acceptance with them.”