While standing face to face with Faiza Butt’s large scale romanticized painting at Grosvenor Gallery, London, the artist’s trajectory echoes in my mind. The works are an ode to nature, where the title Super Natural doesn’t refer to otherworldly beings; instead, it aims to assert the idea that nature in itself epitomizes the word super. According to the artist, her paintings are a gateway to start a dialogue on the inescapable use of gadgets and social media. It was during the pandemic when the artist, locked in with her children, realized how pervasive the use of technology is.
A marker of personal growth, this show demonstrates Butt going full circle in her artistic journey. Since her MA days at Slade School of Fine Art, the artist had maintained that ‘painting was dead’. This idea has often been reflected in the works she produced, where traditional painting was mostly absent. However, the pandemic gave the artist time to ponder on the role of painting in the contemporary art world and she realized that it was academic corruption that kept her from using her medium of choice. With this body of work Butt has returned to oil painting in a traditionalist style; heavily inspired by Old Dutch masters such as Melchoir de Hondecoter. Employing realist technique to make the larger-than-life painting titled Super Natural, the artist confronts present day issues of destruction and disregard, and the use and abuse of nature caused by man. The painting depicts exotic birds in the foreground — stunning in their portrayal — with a grand architectural monument on the right, flanked by a vivid yet serene sky in the background. Had it not been for the waste and plastic debris, such as a bag of Lays chips and discarded soda cans littering the bottom of the painting (emblems of present-day), this painting could be attributed to the masters of 17th century Netherlands.
The other paintings included in the show sets the artist’s children as muses and models. Conceptually, these paintings seem to be an extension (of sorts) of previous works. Butt has often made use of popular cultural iconography in her visuals to communicate her ideas. These new paintings follow along the same trajectory, as she references modern-day gadgets, technologies and social media — major facets of contemporary life — in classic compositions inspired by artists such as George Hedrick Breitner. The painting Layla listening to Youtube embodies the artist’s interest in cross-culturalism. Not unlike paintings by European masters, or miniature paintings belonging to the Company School, this piece is dotted with elements that are distinctly representative of different, and sometimes remote cultures, or ‘the other’. The Chinese Kangxi ceramics, the Kimono worn by the central figure, the Persian print on the blanket, Pakistani marble inlaid table, French Aubusson tapestry cushions, the Afghan Khan-Mohammedi carpets and Flanders verdure antique tapestry in the paintings are all indicators of the artist’s curiosity. The work positions itself in contemporary life, which in itself evidences strife and conflict.
Butt’s paintings tend to make time imperceptible while fusing cultures with her insightful use of technique and subject matter. Ironically this amalgamation is extensively enabled by gadgets and technology which the artist is considerably wary of. According to the artist the real world is much larger than seen through the eye of a screen; yet it is social media platforms that seamlessly spread information and bring different cultures closer together.
Besides the paintings the exhibit also showcases three ceramic bowls carrying elements from her previous works such as the stars and dots pattern. These playful bowls depict consumerist symbols such as single-use plastic water bottles, storm troopers, lego bricks, Greco-Roman iconography, lollipops, mythical creatures. Giving arabesque a new meaning these pieces are a contemporary delight and very distinct from the paintings. While the paintings blend time and cultures, these glossy bowls are strictly embedded in the here and now.
Super Natural, new works by Faiza Butt was on display at Grosvenor Gallery, London, from the 8th October 2021 till 20th October 2021.
Image courtesy: Grosvenor Gallery, London