Goodman Gallery is pleased to present A Horse With No Name, a solo exhibition of new 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, 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.