The title of Cat Roissetter’s new solo exhibition at Cob Gallery, ‘English Filth’, has as much to do with the material on and with which she works – oil-soaked paper, repeatedly worked into with lines and blocks of graphite colour – as it does with a specific idea of English culture: a crusted veneer of politeness that masks a festering mass of seediness and vice.
Drawing on Roissetter’s long interest in English portraiture, ‘English Filth’ is also prompted by the strange absence of nudes from the domestic tradition – and a suspicion that this links up with an English perception of nudity as always containing some element of lewdness or depravity. No naked body without a leering observer lurking behind a newspaper or a keyhole; no gilded drawing room without a grimy backstreet peepshow somewhere nearby.
Roissetter’s fascination with scenes that are sexually charged without being conventionally ‘sexy’ is at the core of ‘English Filth’. Her models’ bloated forms, tumbling like distended cherubs across the frame, emblematise an aesthetic mode where sexuality is inevitably accompanied by some suggestion of the farcical or grotesque. Seductive and unsettling, her layered, intricate but spacious drawings combine a sheepishly childlike innocence with a muffled sense of alarm. As in a nursery rhyme or fairy tale, there is often the suggestion of some sinister force bubbling up beneath the surface: a darker truth loitering just out of view.
‘English Filth’ witnesses Roissetter’s distinctive use of oil take a new turn: formerly used mainly as a means to increase the clarity of her graphite lines, its repeated application and removal has now become integral to a distinctive atmospherics of dreamy liquidity. The effect is of a sense of hubbub and motion rippling through the imagery; of each drawing being always under construction as it resolves and dissolves before our eyes.