Gloss-Art is an unusual style of venue for a contemporary art gallery, taking up the ground floor of a grand terrace house in a Georgian crescent; three of the rooms had all the internal features including marble chimney pieces, dado rail, high ceilings, while the fourth gallery at the rear was a clear white space with no decoration but a lower ceiling, possibly an extension. The exhibition spanned two decades of work from the early nineties to the present day and included paintings on canvas and paper, prints and collages. It must have been a challenging hang, with pieces having to fit within the parameters of the height restrictions of dado rail and lighting rig, and also the various alcoves which determined the size of the paintings. The possible advantage of this ‘domestic style’ hang is that it might give a prospective buyer a sense of how a painting might hang in their home, but it did complicate matters.
Walking through the rooms in this show was like having access to the thoughts, feelings and process of the painter; there were themes, variations, series and one-off experiments and it is rare to see this openness in an exhibition. It felt more like a studio visit. Following the clarity of Galleries One and Two, in Gallery Three where some small canvases and works on paper were hung in clusters and columns, one was hit the vitality of Jones’ process as an artist; it was an almost overwhelming experience, with small groups of paintings, acrylics on paper, studies for larger paintings or prints, a group of etchings, some silkscreen prints… rather like walking into a place like the Pitt Rivers museum and having a vast choice of things to look at and study, but one has to make decisions and focus on a few at a time and come back again to open up to new finds.
Gallery Four was dominated by the large, landscape format Rainbow Bridge, (5ft by 8ft, 2008-9) on the back wall; taking up one wall was a notable trio of large, experimental woodblock monoprints from 2009, and on the other wall were clusters of works on paper. Either side of door were the smaller Night Waves, (2ft by 3ft, 2010) and No Pasaran (small), (2ft by 3ft, 2011). Running through all this is the presence of colour, a lot of it, as Jones put it, “high key”. Hence the title of the show, Pure Colour.
For this review it would be too much to try and cover all the works on canvas, paper and prints too; as a thread I’ll concentrate on a series of mainly ‘landscape’ format canvases that flowed out of the 1997 painting No Pasaran. It is perhaps worth mentioning that the original painting was inspired by Loach’s film Land and Freedom, and so forms, as Jones put it, “a sort of anti-fascist banner”. There are six variations of it in the show.
The paintings that followed No Parasan are based on a grid or series of blocks of colour with a vertical bar on the left edge and a horizontal band across the centre thus forming a sideways ‘T’; above and below this band are blocks of colour, each almost a painting in itself with wrecked angles and stripes of colour layered and overlapping. This internal structure that has been a persistent format over the years, in various sizes, weaving its way amongst other forms, including a series of tall canvasses between six and eight foot high by around a foot and a half wide. Shaft, one of the largest paintings in the show, structurally appears to be a No Pasaran upended. It has a similar format with what would be the horizontal band now vertical and thrown forward by the darkened colours of the ‘background’ - this central element appearing as a glowing column of red, white hot at the base.
The No Parasan format has served as a vehicle for Jones’ lively improvisation and experimentation through the intuitive application of colour, layering differing applications of paint onto the canvas. The variations allow for ongoing exploration of a theme, indeed of painting, in a meaningful way. One immediately notices that there is an upward slant to the structure as the middle band lifts up to the left, reflecting the kind of tectonic, emotional upheaval that goes into the paintings. This middle layer is also broken up with different kinds of mark making such as stains and pours and areas where the paint has crept and bled. With the acrylic worked wet on wet like watercolour this layer generally has a softer quality than the other more solid blocks of colour around it. In some of the paintings, Lighten Up and Delft (2ft by 3ft) from 2010, and No Pasaran (small) from 2011, one of the blocks is of unprimed canvas, ‘left as a breathing space’ amidst the intensity of the colour.
In Gallery Two there were three from the ongoing series; Azura, 2010, (6ft by 8ft), Delft and Deep Blue, 2011, (5ft by 7ft). In Delft one sees the shift in the block pattern quite clearly, where the right hand blocks of colour have been pushed upwards. Azura stands out as the one with the darkest colour, with the dense and thinned burnt umber swirling and flooding round the blue, yellow, oranges and reds of the surrounded blocks. Fluid intrusions of red and white and a patch of turquoise subdue the brown to some extent and add to the dynamic of the painting.
Interestingly the most recent painting, Above and Below, 2012, (4ft by 2ft), hung in Gallery Two, appears to have been a striped painting like Tideline that has been overpainted with soft blue/grey tones. It is divided horizontally into two unequal rectangles, with the remains of a yellow upright oval in the top half and a blue horizontal oval in the lower one, both with crosses scored into them. There are remains of red and black stripes across the top edge of the canvas and a green band divides the two main areas. In a conversation after visiting the gallery Jones told me the following story of its appearance:
As for Above and Below, after a big show of very high key paintings at Petroc college in Barnstable in 2010, I tried a series of monochrome or extremely muted works, culminating in a painting originally called Dresden and now called Trenchtown. I literally tried to deny the painting any of the oxygen I would normally use and see if it would survive. I just kept painting out any hints of optimism with neutral grey.
However, after this excursion, it now sounds like the oxygen is circulating again and pure colour (along with optimism?) has returned to Jones’s practice.
Pure Colour at Gloss Art closed on the 13th of October. Earlier this year Patrick Jones took part in an abstract critical sponsored discussion with Mel Gooding and Sam Cornish. You can read an interview with him here.