Carla Busuttil’s third solo show at Josh Lilley in London entitled The Super-Suburb Defence Authority touches on all of the ills that have infected South Africa since its colonial era. As a South African artist growing up under apartheid but living and working outside her home country since moving to London to attend the Royal Academy Schools in 2005, Busuttil is able to look back on her native land with a dispassionate and impartial lens, picking up on all of the developments and setbacks of a country struggling to cleanse itself of its apartheid history.
Consisting of painting, sculpture, video and bespoke artist wallpaper, this exhibition actively engages the viewer, whether interested in the politics or not, as the installation is a master class in exhibition making and the politically and culturally-charged subject matter is understated, drawing the viewers in instead of slapping them on the face. In the first room of the exhibition, there is a large seemingly innocent painting of six school boys in their uniforms painted in a lurid yellow colour, with their school’s motto printed on the top left corner of the canvas: “Our motto is achieve. And success we will achieve.” Inspired by a school photo of the artist’s husband’s secondary school class in South Africa where he was forced to learn the Afrikaans language that only 13% of the South African population understands, this painting is quintessential Busuttil – revolving around the human form, painted in an abstract contemporary style, using a painterly brushstroke, and touching on the political landscape of a vibrantly coloured South Africa. In the same room, the viewer is confronted with four thickly-impastoed primitive faces reminiscent of African masks but painted on vintage cricket pads found in thrift shops in England, subtly pointing to South Africa’s colonial past. Presented on traditional gallery plinths, these sculptures are all titled Nightwatchman, alluding to the overall theme of this exhibition exploring the South African private security industry that employs more people than the police force and army combined.
In the downstairs gallery spaces, another thought-provoking painting of a car park guard intrigues the viewer as the man’s face is painted blue, matching the painting’s ground and hinting at racial tension, social unrest and the giant chasm between the rich and the poor. Continuing this leitmotif, Busuttil presents for the first time in the UK the video she produced after extensive research in Johannesburg called Mosquito Lightning, a parody advertisement of the private security firm the artist founded while on a residency there earlier this year. Presented on top of bespoke artist wallpaper, this video work is equal parts humour and terror as the entire private security industry profits from fear and its amplification in order to fulfil its corporate promise to eradicate it. This emphasis on the fear of the “other” in society has universal applications at the present moment, whether it be president-elect Trump promising to ban all Muslims from entering the United States or the British majority who voted for Brexit this summer in order to stop immigration into the UK. So through Busuttil’s window with a view of suburban South Africa, the viewer has a glimpse of its own political realities in present-day London.
All in all, this exhibition is definitely worth a visit (on until 23 December 2016) for Busuttil’s tantalising painting technique as well as for its transporting qualities – from a grey wintry day in Fitzrovia to a colour-saturated, bright day in a privileged Johannesburg suburb.
About the Artist
Carla Busuttil (b.1982, Johannesburg, South Africa, lives and works in Oxford) studied at the Royal Academy, London, and University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Solo exhibitions include Choice. Click.Bait, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2016; A Change of Tongue, Space K, Seoul, 2014; and Generation V, Josh Lilley, London, 2013. Group exhibitions include We see (in) the Dark, Museum of Africa Design, Johannesburg, 2015; Creative London, Space K, Seoul, Gwacheon & Gwangju, 2012; and Newspeak: British Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2010.
For the coveted gallery exhibition slot during Frieze Week, Hannah Barry chose two stalwarts of her stable: James Capper and Shaun McDowell, presenting solo shows of new work on each of the two floors of the South London gallery space. Due to unprecedented interest, their solo shows have been extended to 30thNovember so hurry over to Peckham to see James Capper’s EARTH MARKING EXPEDITION: Film, Mobile Sculpture, Component Parts and Shaun McDowell’s Navigator – new paintings from the studio in Redhill.
Capper is a sculptor whose artworks adopt the techniques, materials and actions of industrial objects: hydraulic pumps, cutting blades and ploughs. These monumental steel objects function as mark-making tools, interacting with various terrain during performances that result in abstract compositions in the landscape. For his solo show, Capper presents three earth-marking machines, Hydra Shuffle II, Hydra Stepand Telestep as well as the full family of teeth for the latter two machines, all meticulously arranged in a lush light yellow purpose-built sledge.
For the artist who grew up working on his neighbour’s farm in Kent, these mobile sculptures may seem like a natural progression for Capper, but to tackle these complex problem-solving processes of innovation and engineering, the artist has had to develop his own unique sculptural language. As moving machines that draw on the landscape, these sculptures are conducive to starring in their own films so save time to watch Capper’s film, JAMES CAPPER TELESTEP A GUBBIO! featuring his six-legged mountain-climbing Telestep in the Italian Apennines of Umbria. Although shown inert in the gallery setting, these walking hydraulic gizmos are able to burrow into the viewer’s imagination with their zoomorphic characteristics – one looks like a caterpillar, another a Jurassic spider. All powder-coated in a variety of yellows and blues, these sculptures recall real-life tools used in industrial applications but hint at the inventive mind of a very special contemporary artist.
On the more intimate first floor of the gallery, a group of seven small square abstract oil paintings by McDowell hang at museum height around the four walls of the room. McDowell, the master of the gestural brushstroke and the genius colourist, outdoes himself here at his fifth solo show at Hannah Barry Gallery. After working solidly over the last year in his gargantuan double-wide mechanic’s garage-cum-artist’s studio in suburban Surrey, McDowell presents a well-edited selection of new paintings. Always painted at the same time on the floor of his studio, McDowell moves from board to board, painting layer after layer of lusciously coloured abstract marks, some transparent, some opaque, all curvy or swirly, never straight. The movement in the process is key as the finished works are alive and vibrant, both in colour and expressiveness. Each painting has the adequate space around it for the viewer to take in its unique vitality. Assembled as a whole, Navigator is a pleasurable assault to the senses.
All photos: Courtesy of the artists and Hannah Barry Gallery, London.
Marcelle Joseph’s Instagram page: @marcelle.joseph
About the Artists
James Capper (b. 1987, London) lives and works in London. He received his B.A. in Sculpture from the Chelsea College of Art and Design and his M.A. from the Royal Academy of Art, London, where he was presented with the Jack Goldhill Award for Sculpture. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2016, 2015 and 2011), Vigo Gallery, London (2016), Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York (2015), CGP LONDON/Dilston Grove, London (2015); Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood, UK (2015); Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Yorkshire (2013); and Modern Art Oxford, Oxford (2011). His works have been included in other important exhibitions at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (2014); The Moving Museum, London (2013); Saatchi Gallery, London (2011); and Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2013). In 2017, Capper has upcoming solo shows in Bath (UK), Oaxaca (Mexico) and New South Wales (Australia).
Shaun McDowell (b. 1981, Sussex) lives and works in Redhill, Surrey. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2016, 2014, 2012, 2011 and 2008); and Brickhouse at Nutbrook Studios, London (2011). McDowell takes an active role in curating group exhibitions in his Surrey studio space under the moniker Dynamite Projects (2015-6) and has also curated or co-curated EE=MC2, Evgenij Kozlov, Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2015); Save yourself! Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2014); PeckhamNewYorkParis, Galerie 104 Kleber, Paris; Martos Gallery, New York; and 88 Friary Road, London (all 2013); and Nothing Fixed, Marcelle Joseph Projects, London (2011). Selected group exhibitions include: What’s up 2.0, Lawrence van Hagen, London (2016); Confuses Paroles, Le Cabinet Dentaire, Paris (2015); Figure this Out, Assembly House Studios, Leeds and Passage Choiseul, Paris (2015); Degree of Darkness, Rook & Raven Gallery, London (2014); En-trée, Middlemarch, Brussels (2014); Visible, Invisible: Against the Security of the Real, Parasol Unit, London (2010); and Peckham Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice (2009).