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.
After several other exhibitions in London this year, Glasgow-based France-Lise McGurn pulls out all the stops for her solo exhibition at Bosse & Baum in Peckham (on until 18th December 2016). Presenting her signature wall and floor paintings alongside her figurative paintings on canvas and a more experimental sound piece, McGurn titled the show Mondo Throb, referencing both the 1970’s mondo genre of exploitation filmmaking as well as excited, inflamed body parts. In stark contrast to her earlier work that fragmented the human body with a more innocent vibe, these paintings are erotically charged with the viewer treated to a parade of bodies and body parts, from one seated nude gazing upon a topless woman in repose to another nude woman masturbating. The titling of the paintings is revelatory as well (e.g., Aerobics gives you herpes, Betty batteries and Hermione Hormone).
The presentation of the paintings on canvas on top of the wall paintings brings to mind an orgy of limbs or a subtle nod toward club culture, an area of activity where McGurn is incredibly active in Glasgow. She runs a club night residency at the poetry club in Glasgow, in collaboration with Katie Shannon, called DAISIES, where they invite DJs and artists to contribute to the décor and installation. The floor paintings and artist-rigged lighting in the gallery space further contribute to that club ambience with the random squiggles of paint on the concrete floor suggestive of the stains and detritus left behind after a wild and crazy night on the dancefloor.
McGurn’s work is developed from her personal archive of collected imagery and moving image files. For this body of work, ecstasy was the focus, and the artist culled imagery from multiple sources from film, television, music and visual culture – from softcore and sexploitation films such as Emanuelle (1974) and Nine and a Half Weeks (1986) to illustrations for Happy Families decks of cards (1939). A visit to this exhibition is strongly recommended whether you are looking for carnal ecstasy or divine ecstasy. It is a visual feast for the eyes.
For those living in Glasgow, look out for McGurn’s work at the Pipe Factory in February 2017.
All photos courtesy of the artist and Bosse & Baum. Photo credit: Oskar Proctor
About the Artist
France-Lise McGurn (b. 1983, Glasgow) lives and works in Glasgow. She graduated with a BA from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in 2005 and with an MA from the Royal College of Art in 2012. Selected exhibitions include: Nomadic Vitrine, Recent Activity, Birmingham (October 2016); Felicity Black, Vertical Vulnerability, Caustic Coastal (October 2016); The Old Things, Crévecoeur, Paris (July 2016); Sexting, Kate Werble Gallery, New York (July 2016); At Home Salon: Double Acts, Marcelle Joseph Projects, Ascot (May 2016); Only with a light touch will you write well, freely and fast, Supplement, London (2016) and David Dale Gallery, Glasgow (2015); NEO-PAGAN BITCH-WITCH! Evelyn Yard, London (2016); 3am (solo), Collective Gallery, Edinburgh (2015); A collaboration with Marianne Spurr, Studio Leigh, London (2015); Nos Algae’s, a performance at Tramway, Glasgow (2014). She was part of collaborative performance Amygdala N.O.S with Kimberley O’Neill and Cara Tolmie at South London Gallery (2015), for the launch of Love your Parasites, edited by Camilla Wills, which she also contributed to. Upcoming exhibitions include France-Lise McGurn, Zoe Williams & Urara Tsuchiya at The Pipe Factory, Glasgow (February, 2017).
Artist Laurie Nye’s other-worldly paintings filled with omnipotent female cyborgs and organic geometric shapes feature at the current group show at The Dot Project in London entitled “Figure It Out” (until 13thNovember). On the occasion of her European debut, Marcelle Joseph sat down to talk to this LA-based Memphis-born artist about her painting practice and inspirations.
- Your paintings offer a vision of an alternate reality or a fantasy world ruled by women and for women. Could you talk about your subject matter? Is it utopian or feminist in focus?
I’d say my paintings are conjured from a feminine gaze and lean toward a visionary type of pictorial space. I do like to reimagine myths, turning them on their ear and offering a different perspective, flipping roles of hero vs heroine. I feel compelled to look beyond the reality I live in as a woman and a creator in a patriarchal world where I see a history strewn with cruelty, greed and environmental exploitation. I collaborate in an alternative reality with invented muses, which are powerful, intelligent, empathetic and hybrid female energies. That sounds either utopian or escapist, when you think about it.
- Are there narrative threads weaving through your paintings in general? I see for your 2015 LA solo show you transformed the myth of Andromeda, recasting it to empower female characters. Does this theme continue through the works presented at The Dot Project in London?
I was raised in the deep south in the U.S. and southerners do like narratives. I love allegorical painting so I tend to be drawn to ideas and themes. The theme of Andromeda continues to inform my latest work as I consider ways to depict a fantastic realm empowered and shaped by female hybrid beings. I see my work as an ongoing collaboration with these nature-loving muses. The idea of the cyborgian figure and the intermixing of geometric versus organic form continues to evolve in strange and surprising ways in my recent paintings.
- You paint exclusively female figures. Do you consider yourself a feminist or do you just prefer the female form for formal reasons?
My art practice is defined by a strong educational foundation in figurative drawing and painting. I love being a woman, painting women who rule in a reality I’d want to exist within. So far, the main subjects in my paintings have been female, not necessarily to the exclusion of other sexes. If envisioning a galaxy run by women is considered a feminist ideal then I’m a card carrying member.
- Do you use source material or do these female figures come from your imagination?
I enjoy looking at weird sci-fi illustration and I hoard art books and random ephemera. Over time, much of what I’ve collected and researched in the past has been internalised. I draw a lot straight out of my imagination. I’m very in tune with the internal world and I do a lot of paintings from simple pencil drawings of ideas that come to me.
- Let’s talk composition. Your picture plane is dense and crowded with imagery filling up every inch of the canvas. This convention lends an immersive quality to the work for the viewer. What are your intentions as the maker?
As for composition, I want to suck you in beyond the lateral plane of looking at a surface. It’s not enough for me to move your eyes around; I’m interested in a transformative space for the viewer to wonder about over time. The paintings have indeed become more shallow in depth which offers a more intimate space to the viewer and to my mind creates a more complex, figure/ground relationship.
- How do you approach your colour palette as the colours are vibrant and saturated? Do you believe that colour can provoke certain feelings in the viewer?
I’m very much interested in the emotive experience of colour. I think about colour a lot and my colour mood shifts. My last series was, to me, like my neon impressionist phase. Now I’ve returned to black as a marker of emphasis. I love the use of black in Manet’s paintings. I get excited and go through colour stories. I want to go dimmer, deeper, but I keep conjuring these exuberant, velvety, sort of weird palettes. Lots of yellow, pink, blue, red and black. I have ways of layering the colours to make them sing. It’s a balance and sometimes it really hits the right note. When you figure out how to make colours react to each other, a painting will draw out a visceral feeling.
- With your use of motif and pattern, your work is reminiscent of the great Swedish abstract mystic painter Hilma af Klint (1862-1944). At some point, do your figures become abstracted motifs/shapes/forms as well?
*Wow, thank you for the compliment, I have the highest regard for Hilma af Klint’s transcendent paintings. Her work is out of place, out of time and I definitely identify with that. She painted in a vacuum and in a way it seems like a gift to me, to have that autonomy and singularity of space in which to carve out a vision. To answer your question, the figures in my paintings are invented around the idea of hybridity, a changing body which can shift and morph. In my paintings, the figures/creatures/colours/forms are all able to meld and become indistinct from each other and their environment if they so choose.
- You attended the world famous Cal Arts, completing your MFA in 2002. How has your educational background played out into your current practice, if at all?
Cal Arts is becoming a more distant, yet idyllic memory. That place was a hotbed for boundless creative and intellectual experimentation. I was so fortunate to work with many wonderful brains, including the revered conceptual artist and thinker, Michael Asher. He was not an aesthetically minded artist, completely anti-visual and I learned a lot from those rigorous, all-day critiques. I was naive and I benefited from sheer dumb guts to speak up for myself. Many professors back then were anti-painting. That was how I began my passage of grad-school, “why painting?”. Sheesh! I made it out of there feeling I’d achieved an exclusive badge of honor alongside my fellow MFA comrades. We fondly call each other “Martians”. It changed me forever, giving me a broadened dialog outside of my painting practice.
About the Artist
Laurie Nye (b. 1972, Memphis, TN) lives and works in Los Angeles. She earned a BFA from the Memphis College of Art in 1995 and a MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2002. Nye’s work has been featured in one- and two-person exhibitions such as Andromeda, 5 Car Garage, Los Angeles, CA (2015); The Crystal Eaters, Statler & Waldorf Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2013); Nature Diamond Figure, Parker Jones Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2011); So Forgotten, Material Gallery, Memphis TN; and Laurie Nye and Paula Cane, Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2007). Her work has been included in thematic exhibitions including The White Album, Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA (2014); Material Anthology, Material Gallery, Memphis, TN (2013); Unfinished Paintings, LACE, Los Angeles, CA (2011); Like a Soft Summer Rain, Post Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2010); Boo, Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2007); and Sugartown, Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, NY (2005).