The Scandalized Mask, Josh Lilley Gallery, London – review

Whither the portrait? This intriguing group show, taking its title from Belgian expressionist James Ensor’s first mask painting, brings together four artists born in the 1970s, two from Los Angeles and two Europeans, who use different media to consider fresh ways of treating the human figure, employing devices of screening, layering, concealment and disguise.

Most Ensor-like are Peter Linde Busk’s distorted anti-heroic characters, who emerge like ghosts or hieroglyphs from scribbled, brutally patterned
dark grounds built up in layers of acrylic and crayon on linen or cotton duck. Broadly allusive, with references from The Wire and David Bowie to Verlaine and Degas, Linde Busk’s paintings turn on masquerade, shifting narrative and images of excess and failure. “Characktertopf”, a scrambled white ceramic head protruding from the walls, is a burst of white light among the darkness but also recalls medieval gargoyles.

Brian Bress’s film “Whitejumper” is a lovely, crazy complement to Linde Busk: his elaborately masked, slow-jumping puppet, created from a skin of thread, rubber and beads, and imprisoned within a world of restricted movement, is absurd, fantastical but somehow tender. Nick Devereux’s pastel drawings on digital pigment prints further abstract the idea of the figure, playing games with volume and light, asking questions about the nature of visual representation. A step away is Anthony Lepore’s queasy installation of a Los Angeles surgeon’s waiting room – complete with trashy magazines, plant, hand sanitiser, and walls decorated with horror-prints that denature the figure, teasing our fears not only about the vulnerability of the flesh but about human identity itself in an era of surrogacy and cloning.

Until July 6,

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