recent & current

text: leonhard emmerling

déjà vu
transcript of gallery talk
kunsthalle servas, rodalben, germany
march 1998

Behind me you see the earliest work in this exhibition, the large format Ritual Exchange put together from several single parts and various materials. The title derives from the title of a book by Jean Baudrillard 'Symbolic Exchange and Death' albeit as an ironic play on words. However, the title of the picture correlates strikingly with that of the book. The artificial flowers as well as the overall dark colouring invoke associations of cemetery ornaments, of death and memorial places. The hanging carpet, which is used by removal firms for packing furniture or in a vehicle workshop, evokes a shawl and hence naturally also its possible, now absent, wearer.

Exchange takes place between the substitute of a possible, now absent, past existence and the flowers which symbolize its real past, its death. This is only one interpretation which is, moreover, placed in a purely narrative plane. There are further planes which exist in the mode of plurality, if not of conflict and contradiction. The whole work is assembled from several parts, which in the materials, colour and tonal qualities are sometimes the same and sometimes completely different.

For example, several panels show a richly modulated application of paint that, however, is oriented to a starting colour. This is reminiscent of colour-field painting. On the other hand, other parts call to mind the works of Cy Twombly. All-over structures, centralised in themselves, contrast with fields that show simultaneously definite, dynamic elements. Additionally, the way that paint has been applied, by sponge, roller and squeegee, results in extremely delicate surface and colour. Further, parts such as the hanging carpet, the flowers and the two steel stelae extend the picture to a three dimensional object, a sculpture. The glass plate that imparts transparency and allows the gaze to pass through corresponds to this moment of opening, but at the same time closes the field of the picture underneath it from the haptic grasp. The moments of opening and closing, transparency and sealing are simultaneously manifest in the glass plate.

Allow me to continue the game with the moment of contrasts further: the figure alluded to by the hanging carpet has the function which approaches the classic rear-view figure in painting: to be the accomplice and the companion of the viewer on his way into the picture. On the other hand the two stelae work against this function. They define the distance of the viewer to the work and at the same time underline the memorial character of the whole work. On a further level Christopher Jones adds opposites of style to this multiplicity of contradictions: the contrast between a delicate subtlety of the application of the paint, of felicitous art, and the cheapness of the attached bouquet of plastic flowers, of the tawdriness.

Excuse me for speaking in such detail about this one work. However, what this work exemplifies is valid in a similar fashion also for other works in this exhibition. This is the case for the examples from the Palace & Prison print series in which Jones works with the contrasts of surface and line; of the shapes which lead into the depths; of the shapes which lock up the picture; of gesturally moved brushstroke; and brushstroke which is neutral - non subjective. The medium in general, in which disparate starting material is brought to a pictorial unity is collage. One can understand all the works in the exhibition from the point of view of collage-making. the bringing together of heterogeneous materials, but Jones extends the process to assemblage in that his works show strongly three dimensional, sculptural qualities.

This is especially the case for the most recent of the large paintings, composed from several parts and in which canvas has been stretched over shaped wooden slats to form an undulating, three dimensional surface. In addition, in a piece such as Lexicon, rows of image “patches”, ascending serpent-like one after the other, have been attached in shallow relief to the canvas. The left part of the picture is composed of stripes, set against which are small round discs with mortar-like structures, again attached to the surface of the canvas as if floating a half centimetre in front of it.

In the series of collages titled, Hoovering the Vacuum, Jones carries out the principle of collage in its more classical form, and this group of works also sees him turning aside from the large format that has preoccupied in his monumental painted assesmblages. The drawings on the opposite wall, from the Ether series, correspond to this series of collages. Jones made the collages as a source to draw from: drawings that now imitate and copy collage, as in a ritual. Each day a collage, everyday a drawing regardless of whether he needs two or ten hours to do this. His Index series of 12 x 12 cm square photo-collages arose in a similar way: a daily exercise working with his immediate studio surrounding, its objects, light and surfaces. An exercise in limitation, in concentration and artistic reflection. Back to the principle of collage: with Jones this principle is not a purely formal or technical process but has far-reaching relation to content. When discussing Ritual Exchange I already mentioned memorial places. In a certain way, however, not only this work but all Jones' works concern work of remembrance; of movements of thought; of lack of unity and discontinuity.