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, South Africa) is a conceptual painter whose work is complex in range of theme and materiality. 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 philosophical approach to painting originated in her PhD in Philosophy (Wits, 2017). Her research was co-supervised by artist Penny Siopis, whose lasting mentorship of Webster led to the development of a close analysis of Siopis’s practice regarding trauma, objecthood, and the embodied "sexuality’’ of the painted surface. Webster’s ideas address painting as re-articulations of psycho-somatic events which reveals painting at its most robust: where it lays bare the aesthetic ideals of the enlightenment project as traumatic.
Webster’s current painting (2018-2020) exerts itself as a detachment from the traumatic underpinnings of that thesis towards a new experiment with lightness and irony. But for Webster, the theme of each body of work lies adjacent to achieving the unresolvable power that painting has to deeply move the individual and collective. In that way, painting plays a quiet yet containing social role in the arts and for the public. Her work is held in private and public institutions locally and internationally and has been reviewed by critical authors such as Amie Soudien, Same Mdluli and Dave Mann.