MYoung people talk, chew, swallow and spit. They kiss and they sing. Teeth chatter, grind and decay. They hurt and they fall. Mouths, teeth and lips recur in the work of Rachel Jones. The artist also wants us to think about the interiority of the black body, and what it feels like to be observed in society. These are all parts of the artist’s narrative as she works on her paintings. Whatever Jones has in mind, his work is largely improvised; a kind of painting like performance. There are things in his paintings that I can’t experience and don’t have access to. Perhaps this is true of all art.
Most of the work in say cheeeeese at Chisenhale was completed in the gallery, as Jones worked on a group of small, irregular paintings and a large length of unstretched, irregularly shaped and wobbly canvas. Other works have been cut to size and nailed directly to both sides of a freestanding wall, and still more are stretched and hung in the usual way. For the first time in many years, the windows of the gallery were exposed, allowing daylight to enter. Usually, Chisenhale is a dark bunker with a concrete floor.
Jones enjoyed a rapid rise. She was born in 1991 and grew up in London. Since leaving college in 2019, she has been covered by international gallery Thaddaeus Ropac and was included in Hayward’s Mixing It Up show last year. These and other exhibitions mark a rapid evolution from his first solo exhibition at London’s DIY artist space. wood of jupiter only a few years ago.
Things are happening everywhere at once, let’s say cheeeeese; bigger things and smaller things, nothing quite complete but all merged into a kind of fractured integral composition. It’s familiar territory, but Jones takes it home. Every time I think I see a jumble of things coming together in a silhouette – a piece of a torso or a waist or an arm or a silhouette – it starts again, flees me. Is it a landscape with plants or a foliage-patterned shirt worn by someone walking through a flower market, or is it neither? Was it a lemon that just passed? Are they chip-colored knees and a piece of belly under a bare back? A patch of frayed brown design looks like a frayed pattern on a sweater. Then come the seismographic tremors, a green turban, a dog’s head, although I could imagine the dog. An area of fierce green crumbles against orange-red, warm ultramarine and cold cerulean blue, cartoon cells warp like the panels of a car after a collision.
I find myself anthropomorphizing and seeing images in half-finished forms. I am warned to look for teeth, lips, flowers. I find body parts where there might not be any and end up dismissing it all as my own projection. A little of this here, a little of that there. Fill in the corners or leave them alone? Ah, making decisions. Let the process do the talking, watch the way the pastel skims the knot of the primed canvas and gets all gritty, and how the oil stick – like a giant lip liner – skids and shifts. Warming up as it glides, the stick of oil lubricates its own course on the canvas. Then we leave, carried away by the lines of pastel and greasy sticks which rush and tremble, which sometimes look like impatient and indecipherable signatures, sometimes like repetitive marks beating a sort of rhythmic tattoo in a loop, through powdered roses and acid greens, flat color and layered color, shading and blending, scribbling and tearing, wallowing and scratching. Awkward passages lead to fluid exuberance, and the execution is quick and free-form, one thing leading to another, then another. Nearly solid areas of color fade to the edges or are outlined and reworked, the line wandering off to describe sprays of foliage or the surface of the water. Then we find ourselves in a sort of ravine, in a cemetery of tombstones.
The shift of positive and negative space and the dynamism and energy are palpable and contagious. If I’m not careful, I’ll soon want to grab a pencil and start doing it myself. But it’s a risky business to work like that. Go too hard and the whole thing could easily clog. Jones lets her hand lead the strokes of oil stick and pastel. The density and strength of the color of its materials have consistency across the surface, and there is very little respite. The big question must be knowing when to stop. How does she know when she’s finished? The overall effect is like watching an animation in which shapes and forms continue to mutate in a sort of haptic stream of consciousness. I can imagine Jones’ art redone as tapestries or hand-drawn animations.
All of this keeps coming to mind and it could go on forever. Maybe what they feel is the point. And you feel with your body, not just with your eyes. It feels like parts of one table could easily migrate to another, signaling some kind of inaccuracy. Again, all of the works here, big and small, have the same title, and they’re all part of the same improvised mashup. Less a painting show, more a DJ set, and that’s not a bad thing.