Warmth seems to shimmer across Rachel Jones’ immense canvases. She is one of four artists exhibiting as part of A Focus on Painting, an exhibition taking place at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in London until October 21st. Curated by Julia Peyton-Jones, the show brings together painters from different walks of life who demonstrate the wide-ranging possibilities of painting today. Collectively, they traverse themes such as the formation of identity, the subjectivity of interpretation and a fascination with the human body. To witness these themes interrogated with such depth is a pleasure, as the artists’ attempts to make sense of our chaotic world offer solace that holds value far beyond the gallery’s walls.
Sharp lunges of paint are flung at Dona Nelson’s canvases, which revel in carefully considered colour. One work sees royal blues used to highlight loud oranges, while in another a gentle lilac provides a background to variations on red, blues, greens. The gridded frame of the canvases visually holds the more experimental pieces together; Nelson takes pride in allowing chance to influence her composition, and works on both sides of the canvas. The pieces are shown on stands rather than walls, and therefore straddle the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Combining a multimodal approach to materials with a strikingly energetic approach to making, these works are at once both fiercely detailed and monumental in their effect.
Alvaro Barrington’s studies of colour (which in terms of size, are minute by comparison), provide a much-needed contrast to the substantial canvases of the other three painters. His works utilise simplified palettes, exploring the expressive potential of bold brushstrokes. Barrington has said that to look at his paintings is to encounter parts of his identity; born to Grenadian and Haitian parents, he was raised between the Caribbean and New York. “I grew up in a culture where it was really about erasing hierarchies, where we’re all participating in cultural production.” The motif of the drawn line is a running theme throughout the show, occurring in Barrington’s work through the strands of weaving, and reappearing in Mandy El-Sayegh’s paintings as a disorientating pattern, serving to imprison and conceal that which is underneath.
“The artists’ attempts to make sense of our chaotic world offers solace that holds value far beyond the gallery’s walls”
El-Sayegh’s work showcases shadows of figures, mired in these imperfect gridlines and immersed in dreamy clouds of hues which travel from blue, to yellow, to red. As part of the process of production, a thick, material rug is placed on the floor of the gallery by the artist, comprising layers of found images and text. They are trampled with paint in order to only be partly visible, weaving together disparate remnants of memory, history and discourse. El-Sayegh explains that she is “interested in the erasure of meaning, or the accumulations of meaning through a layering system.” The fragments of image and text collage together pages from the Financial Times with calligraphy borrowed from her father’s artistic practice.
Finally, Rachel Jones’ work unite textures that vary from urgent squiggles to indulgent expanses, resulting in a glorious concoction of colour. Despite eliminating literal depictions of the body, Jones’ work explores form through the expression of abstract concepts. Explaining that she uses colour to describe Black bodies, Jones says; “I want to translate all that lust for self-expression into a language that exists outside of words, and instead relates to seeing and feeling with your eyes.” This is painting at its finest—energy, melancholy and sumptuousness all wrapped up in one fantastical package. It is a welcome respite from the grey autumnal weather. Replete with lyrical abstraction, I would wish to hang one of Jones’ canvases on my wall to greet me every morning, and sing me to sleep at night.
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