What’s in a smile? A blissed-out revelation of teeth? A flirtatious curve unloosed from language? An arc of ambivalence drawn through a face? In Rachel Jones’s exhibition “SMIIILLLLEEEE,” the Essex, UK–based artist enjoined the viewer to read the mouth as a place where identities (racial, cultural) are spoken and silenced.
The opening room featured two large-scale canvases (each roughly five by eight feet) that exploded from the wall in monumental bouquets of intense color. Taking their name from the show’s title (as did all the pieces) and dated 2021, they were profusions of diffuse abstract shapes built up through layers of oil pastel and oil stick. In one, furious reds and volcanic oranges flowed into one another, their contours smoking away into black. Above, an island of indigo turned ink dark, wounded by a stripe of scarlet. The forms resembled a map of some weird internal landscape, as if to illustrate the mouth’s own liminal character—a threshold between inside and outside. As the eye tracked across the canvas, the lines became more urgent and roughly worked: clusters of yellow recalling the heads of marigolds shorn by the wind, blots of maroon leaking out into blue.