The hallowed BBC documentarian Adam Curtis remarked in a recent film that “we’re living in a world that doesn’t make sense,” a decidedly curt phrase surmising the contemporary sense of disconnect we can feel as we navigate in between our many mutable physical environments, and digital data feeds, that often tend to pool into one simultaneous mode of frenetic living. Is it any wonder things don’t make sense? In our accelerated post-truth, post-internet, post-post day-to-day, who’s got the time to take a step back and ruminate on our current form of existence? Leo Fitzmaurice’s latest solo exhibition at The Sunday Painter takes up this challenge, chewing over this present malaise of disquiet and uncertainty that looms large over us all, skilfully unpacking these notions across a series of sculptures and installations.

Leo Fitzmaurice, ‘The Reverse Being True’, 2024, Salvaged signage panels, 155 x 420 x 7 cm. Courtesy of The Sunday Painter and Leo Fitzmaurice. Photography: Ollie Hammick

The exhibition foregrounds its intents early, beginning at the title, Misconstructary, a neologism that makes you do a double take. It’s a word that feels simultaneously known and unknown, highlighting Fitzmaurice’s fascination with how information, objects and language acquire and eschew meaning as part of our lived experience. A corruption of ‘misconstruct,’ the title emphasises how, like Fitzmaurice himself, the English language displays magpie-esque tendencies; words from languages all around the world get picked up and adopted into the lexicon, along with terms from industry and even brand names, which through common usage become generic terms, think Hoover or Sellotape. Misconstructary reads as act of self-branding, the artist revealing his hand. The collected works on display are all comprised of recontextualised objects, further united by their existence as being vehicles for graphics and information and branding, that in some way influence consumer choices. Packaging, signage. Directions to make a purchase, shop here, shop there. Through Fitzmaurice’s playful emptying of each object’s original use, he ultimately questions their very existence, making visible their presence as conduits of our capitalist system, and the Pavlovian place these things can hold within our psyche.

Leo Fitzmaurice, ‘The Reverse Being True’, 2024, Salvaged signage panels, 155 x 420 x 7 cm. Courtesy of The Sunday Painter and Leo Fitzmaurice. Photography: Ollie Hammick

In Fitzmaurice’s ongoing series Misconstruction, a number of analytically reworked pieces of packaging form an orderly greeting as you enter the exhibition space. Any identifiable logos and text have been methodically cut out of the intimate cardboard cubes, creating voids of space sitting alongside panes of graphic colour within these familiar objects. The linearity of the work’s installation is evocative of a modernist miniature city, a feeling perhaps heightened by the placement of the objects on the floor–its installation invites you to get down and associate with it, to imagine walking between the lilliputian buildings. The uncanny scale is disarming but works within Fitzmaurice’s wider visual language. The artist has continued producing these works for a quarter of a century, with some of the pieces’ remaining skeletal visual identity being testament to the work’s extended genealogy; the bold red, white and blue of the long passed ‘Tesco Value’ range enrobes one item, the associated colours still hold the brand’s immediate recognisability, and with it, all the publicised associations of shame and embarrassment that were attached to the distinct visual language, which lead to its eventual disappearance from our shelves. Through his interventions in the objects Fitzmaurice effectively highlights that notable impact that these brands and their products have within our lives: even in the physical removal of their identifiable information, their associations live on within our collective experience.

Installation shot, ‘Misconstructary’. Courtesy of The Sunday Painter and Leo Fitzmaurice. Photography: Ollie Hammick

Commanding the gallery’s back walls are two conjoined installations, Circumspectacle (Blueshift) and Circumspectacle (Redshift), created through a process of constellating different letter O’s salvaged from various signs collected by the artist. In a range of innumerable fonts and colours, sizes and depths, the letters cascade down the walls over both the upper and lower gallery floors, seemingly in a single amorphous movement. The all-encompassing repetition of the circular O form creates this uncanny visual spectacle. The strange plethora of severed letters each with their distinct graphic identities, removed from their signs and placed within the gallery, almost in direct contrast to the Misconstruction series, remain recognisable despite the artist’s intervention of recontextualising them within the gallery. Immediately I spy the familiar Co-op O, then Toys-R-Us and again Tesco. I’m not sure how specific these acknowledgements are to me and my personal histories, but it does suggest that each visitor encountering the work will bring with them their own specific subjectivities, finding different tangents and memories within the associative maze that Fitzmaurice presents. The collaged spread of letters and their formation across the walls in relief remains highly evocative of the corporate visual languages these objects have been removed from. In their multitude the collection of letters has mutated into a new, less direct, sign. Free from the shopfronts and stores yes, but this new collective symbol, resultant from the appropriative act of bringing all these diffuse elements together, pales in comparison to the weight that the some of these original brands have within our collective thought space. The contrast between the act of extraction within the Misconstruction series, and how it allows you to ruminate on the absence of these loaded names and their associations, in comparison with the placement or recontextualization of the letters within Circumspectacle (Blueshift) and Circumspectacle (Redshift), feels as a gesture, less impactful and more dispersed.

Leo Fitzmaurice, Misconstruction, 1999 - present, Cardboard packaging, 3 x 5 x 17 cm

Providing a thematic resolution between the other series of work on display, is a separate floor-based installation, The Reverse Being True, a work comprised of a selection of salvaged signs placed on the gallery floor in reverse, leaving the backs of the objects facing out to the viewer. Arranged in a Tetris like formation each individual element is devoid of any distinct information (apart from an included yellow reception sign, its thin plastic allowing a ghostly flipped apparition of the word to show through). Never intended to be seen, the shown surfaces are marked with age and traces of their original locations–bolt holes, magnet strips, blotches of glue come together to form an abstract painterly composition. Through his reversing of the signs, and their considered arrangement, Fitzmaurice finds a middle ground between both forms of intervention present within the Circumspectacle works and the Misconstructions series, the subtly inherent within the act of flipping the signage feels defiant. To look beyond the façade, through the object, achieves the clarity of expression that Fitzmaurice is searching for across the other works in exhibition.

Leo Fitzmaurice, Specific Gravity (Diet), 2023, Soda can debris, 80x 80 cm (framed)
Leo Fitzmaurice,Durr! (marlboro)I, 2023, Cigarette skin, 11.5 x 7cm. Courtesy of The Sunday Painter and Leo Fitzmaurice. Photography: Ollie Hammick