Jeffrey Cortland Jones: Recent Paintings, Some Walls, Oakland, CA


Installation view

September 10 – October 31, 2009

Some Walls is a new curatorial and writing art project located in a private home in Oakland, California. For the inaugural exhibition, Some Walls presents “Jeffrey Cortland Jones: Recent Paintings,” from September 10 – October 31, 2009. Images and an essay about the exhibition are at Some Walls.

Jeffrey Cortland Jones is Associate Professor at University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. A painter as well as a curator, he is much admired by peers for his lush and serious work, disciplined and productive practice, broad and active exhibition schedule, and friendly and generous spirit.

Some Walls will show four small recent paintings made with enamel on acrylic panels. Known for his use of industrial materials, institutional colors, complex layering, and vigorous mark-making, Jones had in the recent past used a more wild and vibrant palette. The four paintings in this exhibition head in a slightly different direction, however. Returning to his previous use of green and white, Jones has quickened, reduced, and softened his paint application, resulting in images that, though abstractions with a strong physical presence and object quality, with their vertical format and horizontal spatial divisions hint at the wintery-like atmospheric image of haze just as the sun is about to burst through.

Jeffrey Cortland Jones: Recent Paintings at Some Walls, 2009
Long known for his use of industrial materials, various kinds of paint, institutional colors, and a complex layering of transparent and opaque paint akin to glazing, Jeffrey Cortland Jones had gradually shifted towards a brilliant, vibrant palette, and a vigorous, painterly, graffiti-like approach to mark-making. Recently, however, he returned to his former more subdued color set, and radically reduced and refined the materials used in order to make a large and continuing series of new small paintings, each enamel on 10 x 8 inch acrylic panels. The resulting flat fields, smeared strokes, close contrast, and horizontal divisions, while appearing initially and deceptively simpler than previous work, are confidently abstract, visually evocative and associative, and, despite their size, surprisingly monumental.

In this new work Jones’ painting is quick, soft, flat, and deft. The speed at which Jones makes and completes each painting is rapid and decisive, without hesitation and worry. The four paintings exhibited at Some Walls, all basically green and white, evidence play with paint and ground. Surprisingly, for such small work, the paint is often rapidly applied with large brushes, spread, smoothed, or scrubbed, and sometimes wiped and buffed to expose the clear acrylic ground. In areas where no paint appears on the front, the backside of the acrylic is often painted, adding depth to the frontal plane and changing the color of the side of the panel. The edges and corners of each panel’s front are handled differently: fully covered with paint; or exposed by strokes that pull away from the edge; or built up where a dragged brush spills paint over the edge to form a small lip. When hung, small spacers on the back of each panel push them off the wall one eighth inch or so, adding depth and heft. These small differences, immense to a painter, become significant to the carefully observant viewer. The resulting paintings, intentionally created objects, have a sensitive, physical presence, and are containers of human activity, seeing, and thinking; their presence is a sign of recognition and resolution.

Jones’ approach—the large strokes, the broad effects, working with and incorporating the surface—make the paintings feel larger than they are. Because the objects are painted and physical, and despite a photographic quality, in terms of size and surface, it’s possible to feel that not only one is looking at an image, but that one is also a part of or inside the image. Size is one thing, and scale quite another. Looking at a painting, feeling our body in relation to the object, is one sense of scale, but being inside the image is something else, a more psychological and emotional experience. A shift from seeing size to experiencing scale is why these paintings feel monumental; this is difficult to achieve, especially in a kind of abstract painting where no other form, line, or spatial devices tells the viewer the scale of the image being viewed.

Associative aspects of paintings are useful ways of describing visual and emotional experience. In these paintings the vertical format, horizontal divisions, and cool color hint at the wintery-like atmospherics of haze over a landscape just as the sun is about to burst through. This feeling of faintly seeing into a distance, of wanting to see what is beyond the haze, and the effect of light and atmosphere, is a kind of abstraction, a covering over, of preventing our looking for and latching onto something “real.” It is time-based, keeping us present, watching, and wondering. Although each painting can stand absolutely and successfully alone, as installed here a few inches apart in a single row these paintings interact, like four views of the same place within minutes of each other, almost a time lapse sequence. This is one example of the narrative possibility of a abstract painting, however nonlinear and pre-lingual that narrative may be. But there is little outside of these paintings that can help us understand them more. Our understanding remains in the experience of looking.

In a recent essay, Matthew Collings commented about an exhibition of Robert Motherwell’s “Open,” series of paintings, “I like the way the ‘Opens’ simply refuse any possibility of looking up things in books,[1]” meaning, I take it, that the paintings are intensely visual and abstract, with no other agenda than painting, and are only accessible through observation and interaction. One has nowhere else to turn to figure them out. What Collings admires in Motherwell applies to Jones—the painting is itself.
Jones says, “This work is honestly only about the painting: how its applied; how is sits on the surface; how most of it is matte but then a few moments of gloss hang around the edges; the shift from a cool white to a warm white; its relationship to the wall; what happens with the space between the painting and the wall; etc.[2]” In an excerpt from a recent statement, he tells us, “Painting is simply obsessive, correcting, locating, apprehending, pigment, fog, field, continuous, resistance, painting.[3]” Jones confirms that his making paintings becomes for the viewer a process of participating, observing, and paying attention.

Chris Ashley
Oakland, California
September, 2009

[1] Collings, Matthew.”The Known Unknowns” Modern Painters. London. September 2009. Pages 24-26
[2] Email from the artist to the author, August 25, 2009.
[3] Email from the artist to the author, August 20, 2009.