7 February 2024

Luke Burton: Westminster Coastal | opens 7 February

Exhibition : 7 February – 2 March 2023

Luke Burton’s fourth solo exhibition at the gallery, Westminster Coastal, delves into the intersection of politics, personal narratives, and cultural symbolism, and questions the role of art in political discourse. An installation of office furniture, paintings and vitreous enamels combine to suggest an ambiguous department of the Civil Service.

At the heart of Westminster Coastal are two large paintings. These works combine seemingly disparate imagery from Westminster’s multifaceted identity: an ancient archaeological site, a symbol of government power, and a patchwork of neighbourhoods. The paintings subtly integrate portraits of civil servants, blending official imagery with personal moments of crisis, such as Sir Philip Rutnam’s resignation speech. Oversized chandelier droplets morph into something more brutal, while Celtic artefacts double as decorative and warlike objects. Burton’s exhibition is a narrative of Westminster’s history of violence seen through a decorative lens, with this duality of lightness and historical gravity creating an ambivalence throughout the work.

Crosswords serve as a metaphor for the relationship between language and art, blending abstract, geometric, and decorative forms to communicate a coded visual language. This interplay is a pivotal aspect of Burton’s work, resonating with a style that oscillates between realism and mannerism. In the exhibition, lustrous vitreous enamel sculptures are displayed as archaeological artefacts within a crush of abandoned office furniture. These enamels are reminiscent of heraldry, alluding symbolically to gestures of power and violence, whilst in their Byzantine ‘costume’ hinting at Westminster’s mediaeval history. On closer inspection, they are found to be resting on a range of food and packaging, from miniature Twiglet plinths to the inside of bejewelled Monster Munch packets. These theatrical combinations of references suggest an uncertain scene – part archaeological dig, part Civil Service office, part gallery space.

Burton’s work explores the complex relation of politics to painting, posing the question: what does political painting look like? And, further, are not all paintings inherently political? His own experience of living in the borough of Westminster for the past three years allowed the artist to see the everyday world of the political machine and imagine the more prosaic workhorse of government, the Civil Service. A period of immense Government intervention during Covid paradoxically led to a profound breakdown of other essential functions of society. This left the Civil Service in a perpetual state of bureaucratic freeze, in which it became increasingly difficult to ‘do’ politics. Westminster Coastal is a thought-provoking exploration of our always interwoven political and personal realms, inviting viewers to contemplate the intricate relationship between art, politics, and history.

An exhibition text by writer Octavia Bright, author of This Ragged Grace: A Memoir of Recovery and Renewal, is available in the gallery.

About the artist

Luke Burton (b. 1983, London) studied at Chelsea College of Art and Design, BA, London (2002 – 2005) and MA at the Royal College of Art, London (2011-2013). Recent selected solo and group exhibitions include: Father Tongue, Why Not Gallery, Tblisi, Georgia (2023); 20, Union Gallery, London (2023); Lotte Art Fair, Gallery Woong, Busan, South Korea (2023); Open Studios, British School at Rome, Rome (2023); Girton College, Cambridge University, Cambridge (2022); Solo Show, OOF Gallery, London (2022); Art-O-Rama, Bosse and Baum, Marseille, France (2022); British School at Rome, Rome, Italy (2023); Alkinois, Athens, Greece (2022); Girton College, Cambridge University (2020); A-DASH, Athens, Greece (2019) among others. Luke Burton is currently on a residency at Eltham College, London and has an upcoming solo exhibition at Gerald Moore Gallery, London in April 2024.