Jessica Webster: A Horse With No Name
Goodman Gallery is pleased to present A Horse With No Name, a solo exhibition of recent paintings by Jessica Webster. This new series by Webster, several years in the making, represents an attempt by the artist to challenge the very foundations of her practice. To achieve this, Webster adopted a practical approach that began with rethinking one of the most essential materials used in her practice: the canvas.
Using jute fabric instead of typical cotton, Webster set the first of several framing principles for this body of work. The next step was finding a medium that could sufficiently transfer itself onto the unforgiving jute surface. Using a cold wax substrate mixed with paint, Webster was able to achieve the desired effect of setting up the conditions for a new process.
Webster describes the motivation behind this as a “desire to challenge contemporary painting and to drag it down.” Explaining further, the artist points to the trend of paintings that “move toward showcasing the transcendence of various experiences”. Instead, Webster wanted to create work that references this style of painting while concurrently challenging the viewer to move beyond what might be typified as beautiful. Or in the artist’s words, “anti-aesthetic”.
Using subject matter that speaks to the seductive nature of “beautiful” imagery, Webster drew on various sources to inform her work. These included landscape pictures, archival photographs, pop graphics, Neo-Classical painting and even gaming apps such as Candy Crush, with its “artificial intensity… design-format of cubic segmentation, golden proportions and evanescent layers.”
“In this work, the ‘distress’ of the symbolic landscape becomes an act of palimpsest and damage,” says Webster. “The stubborn emergence of surface provokes an uneasy cohabitation of these themes. A symbolic connection to ‘land’ is under the duress of excess and deficit. It prompts a deadpan analysis of romance and the landscape as simulated, man-made, and predisposed to break down.” Referencing these themes in relation to her process, Webster settled on the exhibition’s title. “It tells the viewer that they must be prepared to ride into this on their own steam.”
Jessica Webster (b. 1981) is a Johannesburg-based artist and conceptual painter whose work is labour-intensive, complex in range of theme and materiality, and installation-based. A Horse with No Name is her third major solo show with Goodman Gallery. Certain conventions of painting are treated as crucial underpinnings to Webster’s work: a modernist conviction in the purposefulness of the painted surface; and an emphasis on psychological, unconscious relationships between social conditions and personal experience provoking effect and disturbance in her work. From her first solo show I knew you in this Dark at David Krut Projects in 2009 through to her solo shows at Goodman Gallery Murderer (2015) and Wisteria (2017), Webster has pursued ideas about traumatic memory, and the human predicament for sense-making, as having a defamiliarising effect on the almost mundane visual realities of daily experience. Webster’s approach to each body of work is made productive by limitations set upon her body as a survivor of violence and being wheelchair-bound. The ghostly traces of intense labour in movement and gesture establishes the formal signature of her work.
Webster’s philosophical approach to painting originated in research towards her PhD in Philosophy (2017) at the University of Witwatersrand under Professor Gerrit Olivier. Her ideas on painting as re-articulations of traumatic events, in terms which continue to sustain yet lay bare the aesthetic ideals of the enlightenment project, were examined and roundly endorsed by critical theorists Sarah Nuttall (Wits), David Bunn (Duke), and Griselda Pollock (Leeds). Webster’s current painting exerts itself as a detachment from the traumatic underpinnings of that thesis towards a new experiment with lightness and irony. Her work is held in private and public institutions locally and by international investors and has been reviewed by critical authors such as Amie Soudien, Same Mdluli, Michael Smith, and Sylvia McKeown.
Jessica Webster: A Horse With No Name runs at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg until 1 August 2020.
December 20, 2021
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