Like Odysseus returning home, Paul Harbutt returns to these shores after a long absence, laden with surprises. His work has come a long way since his youthful exuberances that were exhibited here in Rome during his first one-man show in 1976. These new works are packed with originality and a startlingly refreshing use of new materials. Masterly control enhances every nuance of these original and charged works. Irony abounds and tempers the weight of some of the more intense and serious underlying subject matter, as do the materials used in many of the works. Morphing between hieroglyph, fresco, or anatomical chart, these paintings are splashed with humor and biting irony. A real English stew!
Whilst the many varied themes of Harbutt’s recent work often reflect issues of our own mortality, they could never for a moment be considered melancholic. They are not about despair or futility, but seek to draw back the curtain on fear of the inevitable future. With humor, poetry and beauty, Harbutt shows us that life is both shocking and wonderful at the same time. Death can be full of sparkling, existential and infinite possibilities. Harbutt’s work dares to ask if it is the absolute end, or the beginning of a new Odyssey, where all is reduced to fundamental matter to be perpetually reshaped and reused.
The canvases Harbutt has used for his message are covered with old scholastic charts. When the image of the painting is decisively described, echoes of these charts float to the picture surface. Cell structures, anatomical parts, scientific tables and such are the remaining fragments that Harbutt leaves to be seen in the final painting. They reaffirm that whilst life is constantly disintegrating and decaying, it also continually reinventing itself with refreshing clarity. With masterly aplomb Harbutt skips back and forth, and left to right in art history. Nothing is sacred. All movements and styles are game for Harbutts superb alchemic juggling act. His virtuosity allows him to frequently mix many elements into a complex but clear image.
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