‘A new and beautiful and interesting disease ‘ was how the critic Arthur Symons described decadence in 1893. Over a century later, it seems there is still no definitive cure. A preference for artifice over nature, for the transgressive over the routine, and a sense of jaded disillusionment: the symptoms of decadence endure today. In such decadent times, we are pleased to present ‘Decadents’, an exhibition about this ongoing condition, with works by Rebecca Stevenson, Gill Button, Troy Brooks and Ray Caesar. It will be Ray Caesar’s first London gallery exhibition since 2010 and introduces a brand new work: ‘Royale’.
Ray Caesar’s digital paintings of enchanted worlds and femmes fatales have a feel that is both sensual and sinister. Whilst inspired by Old Masters such as Gainsborough and Van Eyck, decadent undertones abound – be it in the understated eroticism, the languid luxuriousness of his women, or the clinical bondage details of their outfits. These different influences thread together to create a tantalising land whose inhabitants have long become accustomed to dissolution.
Rebecca Stevenson also explores the interplay of the enticing with the macabre, through sculptures born of a romance between a museum and a harvest fair. Growths appear on classical artworks like a spawning of decay, but take the form of fruits and flowers blossoming forth like a baroque cornucopia. Such extravagance sprouting from the wreck of the Old World captures the decadent disposition at its most romantic and theatrical.
Gill Button’s portraits display another kind of decadent theatricality: a sense of impassive elegance, captured through the intimacy of a close-cropped fashion portrait. Gill’s women seem picked straight from a modelling shoot, addressing the viewer with directness and attitude. Through her fluid painterly treatment, Gill captures a louche indolence in her sitters, whilst also hinting, somewhere in the background, at the fragility of their facades.
Troy Brooks also looks at the contradictions of artificiality, through portraits of androgynous women captured at the height of their own private dramas. Presenting them spot-lit, Troy makes them appear almost like film stars, enhancing the suggestion of potent hidden narratives. In this way his women seem somehow prisoners of their own exuberance, beholden to their decadent impulses whilst also lucid enough to perceive their own folly.
‘Decadents’ opens on Wednesday 13 July, 6:30 – 8:30PM.