At Niru Ratnam in Soho, Courage The Cowardly Dog puts on his signature frightened frown in one of Vilte Fuller‘s vignettes. An enduring cultural icon of the late 90s and early 00s, Courage’s animated origin story - orphaned as a puppy and adopted by an elderly couple living on an isolated farm on the fringes of the fictional town of 'Nowhere’, he protects his unsuspecting owners from paranormal peril at the hands of malevolent monsters, vampires, zombies, aliens or other supernatural beings - could be somewhat reflective of the artist’s own familial relocation from Lithuania to rural Kent during her juvenescence, where hostility reared its head in the form of anti-Eastern European rhetoric spouted by British National Party sympathisers, United Kingdom Independence Party members and staunch Brexiters. Perhaps to combat such conflict, Fuller has adopted a signature brand of surrealism and dark humour reminiscent of the Cartoon Network series, as well as employing a recurring pickle motif, itself intent on undermining each painting purely by its idiosyncratic inclusion, but also serving as an anthropomorphized allegory of the alienation and otherness experienced by immigrants to the UK in the current socio-political post-Brexit climate.
For this debut UK solo exhibition, Fuller openly embraces her Lithuanian lineage, pedestaling personal nostalgia for her homeland and heritage whilst simultaneously reclaiming her cultural identity from both those insistent on stereotyping or subjugating foreign nationals and those keen to adopt international cultures and, specifically here, cuisines to cater to the gentrified middle classes. With source imagery scoured from Instagram accounts archiving a particular time or place - Lithuanian 90s Aesthetics, for example - as well as from photographs taken by her grandfathers - both avid photographers, one professionally - Fuller’s smaller paintings seem to serve as stills, scenes or storyboards indicative of a wider narrative at play (it is unsurprising that in addition to her painting practice, Fuller has recently released her own gerkin-centred graphic novel). Smiling stacks of Billy Bear ham, Baltic branded food packaging, depictions of a distorted and disfigured Melania Trump and post-Soviet porcelain ornaments all appear out of context yet not out of place.
Fuller’s larger paintings introduce more complex constructions, repeatedly populated by shadowy besuited smoking figures or bodiless floating faces that blur in and out of a backdrop of Eastern Bloc Brutalist architecture. All of the above are invariably rendered in a sickly sweet palette of putrid pinks, mouldy maroons and mustard yellows, as well as the omnipresent grungy Chromium Oxide Green, said to be similar in shade to the walls of a former KGB prison site in Lithuania’s capital of Vilnius.
Finally, due in part to logistical limitations restricting the sourcing of art supplies during the recent pandemic lockdowns, bold stitching scars the surface of some of the paintings, as sewn together scraps of spare canvas form fitting, Frankenstein facades. Elsewhere, additional embroidered designs become further compositional inclusions, while one large work is complete with a candle wax coating, both indicative of Fuller’s continued experimentation with medium and investigation of material.