Studio visit: Patrick Adam Jones

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.

Patrick Adam Jones in his studio

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.

The process starts on a start two ring stove

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.

Patrick Adam Jones:wax painting showing the three dimensional effect
The same picture showing how the layers are built up

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

Many of Patrick Adam Jones paintings are white but when wax is used the colours are necessarily muted

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.

Text is important but is often partly obscured

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.

Along the side of one wall are a number of square white paintings

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.

The first strokes of a new painting

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.

Gary Hume – Flashback at the Jerwood

 

In a former lifetime when I was a civil servant, for a short time I had a management coach. Everybody was supposed to have so many days of training a year and they were the vogue at the time. So this bloke would turn up once a fortnight  I would moan about whatever it was that was bugging me at the time and he would always say ‘what could you possibly do?’ In the end it became internalised and was actually rather useful because listing everything you might possibly do to solve a problem occasionally brings up something you haven’t thought of, or, more often, makes you realize that every option is bad and it’s a matter of choosing the least dreadful and that at least stops you beating yourself up about it.

I have thought about him several times since starting the art course at Hastings College because the Head of Course, Patrick Jones, has a way of saying  – ‘what are you trying to say?’ or simply ‘why?’ and it is becoming internalized in the same way. It not just in me but with other students as well. Saying ‘well I thought it was a good idea’ or ‘why not?’ never seems a very satisfactory answer.

Having visited the latest Jerwood Exhibition which is showing Gary Hume, I have been thinking that perhaps – ‘I just thought it was quite cool’ might be legitimate after all. Why do we demand that artists not only create art but also tell us their innermost thoughts? Why should artworks communicate something rather than just be?

Six or seven hundred years ago it is unlikely you would have asked a medieval painter  ‘why?’ – the answer would have been self-evident:  the glory of God, or because his patron had commissioned  a portrait. But at that time there would have been a consensus about what constituted art and to a certain extent the standard to which artists should aim. Now with no real consensus about what constitutes good we demand something different – originality for sure, but  also that art is created in good faith.  There is something of a collective fear among non art aficionados  and collectors alike that when art can comprise a dead shark or the cast  of  a urine stream, that were it not created in good faith, we would be taken for fools.  Artist statements and the blurb that artists write about their work is all evidence that the art is, so as to speak, the genuine article.

Bird with a pink beak

Refreshingly, this is a game which Gary Hume refuses to play. “My paintings do not mean that or this. They don’t mean anything.”  He does not pander to our insecurities.  His pictures are what they are. Hume was one of the Young British Artists and exhibited  at the Freeze exhibition. His early success was of doors painted in gloss paint. His doors are doors – not gateways, not symbols but doors.  But the gloss is important – gloss paint reflects light. It is also utilitarian; it is not painterly. All his work glimmers; the Jerwood, with its wonderful natural light, shows them to advantage.

Four feet in the garden

In the  exhibition at the Jerwood there was a painting I particularly liked – Four Feet in the Garden. Though there seemed to be eight, it is still a painting of feet. But if there is no message, it remains an extraordinarily clever work.

At first you do not see the feet at all but the black space between the feet. Why called four feet if there are eight– have the feet moved? Then there is bird with a pink beak – that is what it is – it is complete in its birdiness. It is nothing else. But it easily passes the “I want one test.”

In a  fascinating video Hume  describes his technique in constructing his work. Often the images are found in books or other paintings or digital images. He spots a small part that he believes will make a picture. That is how he describes himself, as a picture maker. He explains how he found a sense of liberation in the realisation that after the work on the doors “I was unable to come up with a second signature piece; I had to accept the embarrassment of my intellectual failure. Embarrassment was what I was painting.”

American Tan

His sculptures show a similar simplicity. In the exhibition there is one of his snowmen ; they are quite extraordinarily tactile. The video showed larger examples; people were drawn to to them and and ran their hands over them. You long to do the same. They are featureless; each of them portrays not the front of a snowman but as it would appear from the back but there is a completeness which is deeply satisfying.  It would be nice to stroke the one in the Jerwood but Myles Calvert is there; he tells me he how he  had to struggle to prevent one woman touching it; I decide not to cause trouble but we both try blowing on American Tan; it faintly quivers.

Along one wall is a splendid painting comprising four panels; there is no explanation of what it is about. There are hands undoubtedly and possibly, or possibly not, snowflakes. In view of the snowmen, I’m pretty sure they are snowflakes but  you know it doesn’t matter.

Four panels and a snowman