Ever since I saw Patrick Jones’ small white painting at the Royal Academy exhibition last summer I have been angling for a visit to his studio. I liked the painting a lot, though it was poorly displayed among a wall of other small paintings. But Patrick had been quite dismissive, it wasn’t one of the better ones, he had insisted, not one he wouldn’t have chosen himself. I was intrigued – I knew it was typical in one sense in that it was painted in wax; I understood they were normally far larger; I googled – using his full name of Patrick Adam Jones by which he signs his work, but there seemed to be remarkably few images. I wanted to know more.
Patrick is head of course for the FDA Fine Art Contemporary Practice at Sussex Coast College but tends to avoid showing his work to students for entirely understandable reasons – the first he did not express but can be surmised – he works far too hard anyway and wants to get on with his painting in peace. He is also afraid of influencing students’ style. “It has happened,” he said, “it is flattering in a way but I don’t want to create a whole load of mini mees – one is enough.” I could relate to that one – when I was at school I always got excellent marks for RE by imitating the syntax of my sanctimonious RE teacher. It read like a parody but she never twigged. It worked with RE but you don’t want it in art.
Last week, I finally wangled an invitation. The studio in St Leonards is almost exactly what a Hollywood Director would call for if making a film about an artist. That is to say it was perfect – a large room on the first floor it was stacked everywhere with paintings, there were paintings on the floor, in racks, leaning several deep against the wall; on every surface there were sketches and experiments and bits of things, cut outs of hands, of animals, of deconstructed trees and plenty of maps sometimes used as a base for paintings.
In the plan chests there were leaf plates from a residency in India, and wonderful notebooks with drawings and ideas that one day may be expanded. It looks as though nothing is thrown away; it is all there waiting to be transformed or rediscovered. “Careful, the floor is slippery, “he warned me. I wasn’t worried about falling over and hurting myself, but I was seriously worried about stepping backwards and putting my foot through something.
Many works were in the course of construction. It is a long process; any single painting can take five or more years to create. They are built up over time by layers of wax – he uses a special recipe: damar varnish is mixed with refined linseed oil, wax and paint or pigment and is cooked up over a little two ring stove. The wax is applied hot, straight from the melting pan. The canvas or paper has to be kept horizontal as the wax would otherwise run. Each brush stroke is made separately and carefully and in a specific direction but may then be partially scraped off again, so the canvases tend not to exceed 4ft square as that is the largest surface he can work on and be sure of reaching the centre. When the wax finally sets it is quite hard and stays put even if the picture is placed in a hot room in the sun. “The bending over is really hard on my back,” he tells me and I can believe it. In the middle of it all there are a couple of easy chairs in which to recover when it all becomes too much.
Although Patrick uses brushes, the effect is very different from what it would have been had he used traditional paint. There is always an element of white in wax, so when pigments are added the colours are necessarily muted. Wax is translucent and reflects light quite differently from paint and depending on the a angle in which the light is cast reveal s different aspects of what lies beneath. Many of the works are geometric and suggest perhaps some kind of building or just the corner of a room; there is a deceptive simplicity to them. The way the brush strokes are applied to the planes in different directions creates strange three dimensional effects
Patrick is particularly concerned with words and how they limit communication and understanding by labelling an object and in so doing allowing people to avoid thinking about its nature. One painting bears the words – measure to avoid. I think he meant that by measuring something, people feel they have its nature somehow sown up. There is superficiality to the precision of measurement.
Many of the paintings appear to allude to possibilities of an alternative existence, “ I could have been a farmer” “I could have been an architect” These were not personal unfulfilled fantasies but deliberate stereotypes; anybody could have been anything. The words nearly hidden lead the viewer to consider what might have been and the way that possibilities become closed down.
Alongside one wall there is a series of some 20 square white paintings designed to hang together. They are each done on paper; you can barely make out what they say; you move your head side to side so the light catches the letters in different ways. They are not paintings that you can take in immediately; they reward study. If hung in a room, the natural variation in light might reveal a shape or a shadow you had not noticed before. There seems to be a significance in the way that so much is concealed beneath layers and suggest a far more introspective side to him than might be expected from the cheerful, bossy extrovert exterior that Patrick uses to chivvy students to turn up on time, and generally get on and produce .
Among the pale and textured wax based paintings there were also some more highly coloured works done in conventional paint, the deconstructed trees , which I personally did not like so much, so I was relieved to see just beginning a new wax painting – there was hardly anything there – a shape, a stain of linseed oil and a few marks of wax. In another five years or so it should be fantastic.
For the last two years Patrick has been concentrating on his role at the college; he only took over as head of course in 2010; there has been no time to put on an exhibition. This will change; next year he is having a show with University of Brighton lecturer and artist Tom Hammick. The idea is to arrange the work as a dialogue and it will be interesting to see how that turns out as they have radically different styles. It will certainly be difficult for Patrick to choose which pieces to include. As he admitted, he has amassed enough work for at least three exhibitions. Patrick, why not have three exhibitions? The series of square white paintings on paper would be perfect by themselves; I think I might do some chivvying myself – they deserve to be more widely seen.