On the respectability of materials

Google glow-in-the-dark art and you find that most of the works are aimed at kids: stars on the ceiling, grinning skulls that kind of thing, or they can be categorised as novelty paintings, featuring something like the Aurora Borealis or a waterfall that would not have looked out-of-place in a Chinese restaurant circa 1980. Jules Ward, who has a BA in Graphic Design from Liverpool University, has taken fluorescent paint and used this somewhat unpromising material for intricate works that are inspired by the aboriginal paintings she saw on a visit to Australia. In daylight, the patterns have a rhythmic and meditative quality but in the dark, under a black light, which emits ultraviolet, their character changes and they glow and become three-dimensional.

Finding them in a little pop-up gallery in Charlotte Road in Shoreditch, I was both drawn to them, and at the same time found myself wondering if glow-in-the-dark was quite respectable. I was surprised by my reaction. Abject materials, such as industrial dirt, rags and cardboard have become mainstream due to the Arte Povera movement, but should the serious artist use materials which are just a bit naff? I have a similar dilemma; I like working with aerosol insulating foam; I take a delight in watching the stuff grow and bobble up but I also have reservations about it and so, judging from their reaction, do some viewers, “is that insulating foam?” said in a Lady Bracknell type voice leaves you in no doubt that it is also considered not quite respectable, a material that should have been abandoned after Foundation Level.

Of course reason insists that all materials are in fact neutral and it is what you do with them that matters, but we all have our prejudices. I only came round to the possibilities of cardboard after seeing Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Labyrinth at Cent Quatre in Paris.

Looking at Ward’s work, the adult in me much preferred her sombre, intricate, black and white works such as Mindplay Lisa, though I believe these glow as well under black light.

Jules Ward: Mindplay Lisa

But downstairs in the gallery where it was dark, the inner child was delighted by the green glowing swirls of Mindplay Dream On.

Jules Ward: Mindplay, Dream On

I reflected that, unlike aerosol insulating foam which can never be disguised, the beauty of this kind of painting is that if you owned one and had a Lady Bracknell coming to tea, you could always turn off the ultraviolet light and she would never know that your taste was less than perfectly respectable.

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