Josh Lilley is delighted to announce the opening on Thursday 17th March of the debut show at the gallery by South African painter Carla Busuttil.
Drawing upon her own family histories - of both an escape from genocide, and an emigration to a society founded upon racial prejudice and exclusion, the twenty paintings in Rug & Gut & Gum explore Busuttil’s investigation into abuses of power and violence, focusing on the individuals or groups of people responsible for such acts. The knowledge and experience of her Armenian relatives fleeing Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century, and her own birth and childhood in South Africa during the height of apartheid – have both enlightened and darkened her perceptions of humanity and its struggle for control. Through the rendering of these ambiguous characters – executed in her expressionistic brush-strokes, build up of paint, and boldness of colour - Busuttil seeks to place them and their actions up for account.
Some of her subjects may be well-known figures, yet she prefers to rely on visual cues in the paintings - rather than depicting them in a solely representational manner. It is important for her that her treatment of such subjects is not restrained by subjective judgment, but that there should be a tension between the (real or imagined) recognition of these figures and the way they are painted. While there is a strong African resonance within the paintings, and specific references to the Armenian genocide, many of these works are non-geographical in their makeup in that they do not focus on a particular place or person, but are rather a collage of events that have taken place over a period of time. Each work is drawn from a combination of found or real imagery, together with fictional elements and characters. Often the boundaries between fiction and fact are blurred into recurring themes - such as that of Zig Zag, who first appeared in her work a few years ago.
The real image components are sourced primarily from magazines, newspapers, and the Internet. Busuttil then extracts the essence of such an event or character, highlighting it and bringing it to the fore. By minimising the language of paint, and using striking blocks of colour - Busuttil creates a sensory and emotional engagement with the viewer. The thick application of paint allows every gesture to reveal a savage quality that undermines the decorum of her subjects. Leaders and soldiers become abstracted cartoon like caricatures – diluted portrayals full of aggressive expression. In a nod to the capacity of painting’s history to grapple with emotion through course brush-strokes and the quick instincts of paint, her works also allude to the looseness and confident gestures of Kirchner, while emanating the solitude and loneliness of figures in the work of Edvard Munch.
Though the acts of many of her figures are beyond reproach, Busuttil makes them seem vulnerable or awkward in order to bring them down to an accessible level. The title itself - Rug & Gut & Gum – comes from the book Money by Martin Amis - where he describes the vulgarity of shady characters trying to stem the effects of aging through cosmetic dental work and expensive hair. This absurd and ultimately doomed pursuit, that of immortality and perpetual power, is shown to be a product of greed and vanity. Through such visual parodies, Busuttil is able to evoke the unspoken horror of how tyrants are gradually embraced by society, and how we, under the spell of their public charisma, become passive participants in their wishes.
Carla Busuttil - Born 1982 in Jonannesburg, South Africa, lives and works in Berlin. Busuttil studied a Masters in painting at the Royal Academy Schools, London (2005-2008). She featured in Newspeak: British Art Now, at the Saatchi Gallery, London, 2010, as well as being included in Daily Miracles, Josh Lilley Gallery, 2009, and Jerwood Contemporary Painting Prize, Jerwood Space, London, 2009. She had a solo show at Gimpel Fils, London, 2009.