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Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
2 July – 13 August 2015
In “Murderer” Jessica Webster situates her painting practice as a dark interface between the performativity of narrative and the (dis)order of perception. By stepping into the murky world of cinema, and by using the word “Murderer” in its parenthesised form, Webster appears to be placing herself in the midst of dramatic action: torture, revenge and triumph. Yet the title of the exhibition also implies culpability.
Using a ‘found’ Korean action thriller by director Kim Jee Woon, entitled A Bittersweet Life (2005), Webster works with paint and encaustic wax on large and small-scale film stills (computer-generated screenshots), which have been printed onto synthetic and slippery digital canvas. In the film, the narrative plays out a well-known sequence of events: the misbegotten hero who undergoes creative levels of torture by his enemies and thus goes out to seek retribution and revenge. For Webster, the story seems to lie close to the collective consciousness of South African society.
Doubly, it resonates on a personal level: as a survivor of extreme violence Webster is interested in levels of account and accountability. Layered micro-narratives add to suggestive subtitles, causing uncertainty about the authenticity of the story. Meanwhile photojournalism, photographs taken by the artist and the familiar presence of nature in an urban setting provide a real and sinister backdrop to something despairingly playful.
Jessica Webster is a Jo’burg-based painter and writer. Born in the Free State in 1981, her painting was included on the group exhibition [Working Title] at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg in 2013. Previously she held a recognized debut exhibition titled I Knew You in this Dark at David Krut Projects in 2009. She has had two more solo shows in the interim: Original Skin, an exhibition of print works and paintings at David Krut Projects in 2011; and Mainly Benoni at Nirox Projects in 2012.
Webster obtained her BA degree in Fine Arts from the Michaelis School of Art at the University of Cape Town, where she was awarded the Judy Stein Painting Award in 2005. Since 2011 she is working to complete her PhD in philosophy and painting through Wits University, in the progress of which she has received the Mellon Wits Postgraduate Merit, and Oppenheimer awards. She has published a number of critical and creative essays.
Jessica Webster (b. 1981) was raised on the mines of the Free State and in Benoni. From a young age her proliferate painting and drawing practice was recognised as provoking the stranger qualities of the everyday: at sixteen, she sold her first major painting to the MTN Gallery in 1997. Webster entered Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2002 where she studied painting under established painters Malcolm Payne and Virginia MacKenny, attaining the Judy Stein Prize for painting upon graduation in 2005, and coming first in her class for academia and practice. In 2006, Webster survived an act of extreme violence in a shooting which left her paralysed from the waist down. Within six months of the shooting, she was being wheeled from hospital into Master’s supervision and mentorship with Penny Siopis at the University of the Witwatersrand, which resulted in her first solo show in 2009 at David Krut Projects in Johannesburg.
The show met with great acclaim: the Johannesburg Art Gallery acquiring the centrepiece painting of the exhibition and the bulk of the work being sold to experienced collectors. Art critic Michael Smith described her work in Mail & Guardian (2009) as ‘light years ahead of the simply sensational’. At the same time, Webster embarked on an in-depth study of painting and philosophy for her Master’s degree that has resulted in the expected fulfilment of her PhD in philosophy and painting in 2017. The relationship between writing and practice has been an intensive aspect of Webster’s career thus far, which has gained her critical recognition in the form of awards from both the Oppenheimer and Mellon Foundations. In 2013, Webster was assigned as part of the Goodman Gallery’s stable of artists, upon which they have published a number of her creative writings in 2013 and held her first solo show with the gallery in 2015. Referring to the intensity of the affect from the show, art critic Sylvia McKeown writes that ‘Some objects are steeped in emotion that is so powerful that onlookers can sense the soul of the object’s creator…in everyday life we call it great art.’ This relationship between states of consciousness in painting and the power of life experience to affect form was continued in her show Wisteria at Goodman Gallery Cape Town in April 2017, a year which proved to be full of success for Webster ,who also curated the ‘Emerging Painter’s exhibition at the Turbine art Fair, and was awarded her her PhD in Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand with no corrections.