Fantastic Find in Fitzrovia: Carla Busuttil at the Josh Lilley Gallery

31 Mar

I knew of the Josh Lilley gallery by reputation, of course, but this visit was another first for me. 

Once again, my geographical ineptitude came into play as I convinced myself the gallery was in South Riding Street.  “Where’s that?” I hear you say.  Well those of you who like crappy Sunday night TV programmes may recall South Riding was one of those, rather than a street in Fitzrovia that’s actually called Riding House Street.  An easy mistake!  After re-checking the address, I turned around and tottered off in the right direction, back on track.

Image via

The images I had previously seen of Carla Busuttil’s works didn’t do them justice.  I thought they looked a tad over simplistic and not that exciting.  Well, first impressions aren’t always right and I’m happy to admit I couldn’t have been more wrong.  These really amazing works have to be seen in the flesh.  Yes, they are simplistic – a style that is effective and powerful due to Busuttil’s obvious painting talent and the serious subject matter on which she focuses.  The child-like naïvety engages the viewer with a perverse fascination to enter the psychedelic maelstrom of her world.   

King of the Jumble, 2010, oil on canvas, 170 x 200 cm.  Image via

The gallery is split over two levels with the majority of the 20 works on display downstairs.  Unlike some other contemporary galleries that can lack imagination, this space is exciting.  It exudes warmth yet the clean-cut, more intimate, sections downstairs show the works off perfectly. 

Image via

Busuttil is a young artist with a multi-cultural background: born in South Africa of Armenian ancestry, she studied in London and now lives and works in Berlin.  Her works draw on her own experiences and family history, investigating the abuse of power and violence focusing on the perpetrators of such atrocities.  Through her use of bold, striking colours and broad expressive brush strokes, the artist places these figures in the spotlight, holding them accountable for their actions.  We, the spectators, are the jurors at their trial.  Through her unconstrained style, Busuttil gives these figures vulnerability; an inherent contradiction considering the characters she is painting – despite their actions being beyond reproach, we pity these figures, isolated on the canvas.  The bright, dynamic colours serve to emphasise the horror of the subject matter.

The Showman, 2010, oil on canvas, 200 x 170 cm.  Image via

Although some of her subjects are indeed well-known figures, what makes the works so successful is that they do not focus on a particular person but are a montage of events, people and places, blurring the boundaries of fiction and reality.  Busuttil extracts the essence of her characters rather than executing their portraits. 

For me, the powerful resonances are most effective in the larger-scale canvases.  It is the simplicity that makes these works striking.  There is no denying that Busuttil can really paint, these are good!  The coarseness and liberalness of her paint is savage, the rough and almost over-eager application echoing the brutal subject matter.    

Image via

I could have happily stayed longer in this gallery not only gazing at the paintings but enjoying the brilliant acoustics, perfect for my high heels to make that wonderful clacking sound.

The Josh Lilley gallery is certainly not just another white box; this gallery has personality and so do the paintings on display.  Keep this high on your to-see list when you’re checking out the latest on the London art scene. 

Pride and Judas, 2010, oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm.  Image via


Carla Busuttil: Rug & Gut & Gum is at the Josh Lilley Gallery, 44-46 Riding House Street until 28th April 2011.

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