During its last week on show I manage at last to get a long to Lucy Jones exhibition Looking Out, Looking In at the University Gallery Northumbria University, of what are mostly recent paintings . I haven’t come across Lucy Jones paintings before, though perhaps that’s not too surprising. According to a review in the Financial Times, Jones along with other British painters of her generation were just coming into the notice of the art world when they were pushed aside by the noise and hoot of the YBAs.
This turn of events however hasn’t deflected Jones from painting and like the vast majority of artists she has continued to find a way to work outside of the glare of the art market. Jones’ achievement is impressive several times over. At a time when visual artists average earnings are no more than £10,000 per year, to simply continue making making stuff deserves to be acknowledged, but as a woman Jones is likely to have had to work harder to gain recognition. Add to that, Jones was born with cerebral palsy and has suffered periods of depression. Apart from two easel pictures painted in the early nineties, the paintings on show are all large, requiring great energy and concentration in their making. The demands of painting on this scale would sap the resources of any young tyro straight out of art college, never mind an artists in her late fifties who finds difficulty standing and walking.
People in Britain with disabilities do not get a fair settlement. If they did the government would not have had to introduce the Equalities Act to make sure people with disabilities or people who have other ‘characteristics’ (such as sexual orientation, age and race) are treated with fairness and respect. Looking back, the London 2012 Paralympics was a moment of national recognition and celebration of the talent of disabled sports men and women. But it was also one of national hypocrisy taking place against a background of increasing abuse and slander of disabled people, who were being stereotyped by government ministers and their media supporters, as benefit scroungers. Jones’ self portraits give some account of the challenge of being disabled in Britain.
Back to the paintings, they are divided in to two subject areas; landscape and self-portraits. I found the landscapes more consistently successful. The gallery blurb refers to Bonnard like appreciation of tone and colour, but it was Dufy who sprung more readily to mind. Not necessarily in the brightness or intensity of colour, Jones after all is painting British landscapes and so South of France colours would strike a false note. Her hues can be intense though and are often far from local colour. Where the connection with Dufy rests is the way in which her paint sits on the surface of the picture plane. The gallery blurb also refers to Auerbach and Kossoff, both of whom were visiting tutors at Camberwell when Jones was a student there. However whilst there is some expressionist affinity between these three artists, compare Jones ‘Overhanging Trees’ with Kossoff’s series of paintings of a collapsed cherry tree in a London garden. With Kossoff the paint becomes a scaffolding which grips and holds the dense image to the board. Without those whips of paint that lash across the surface of Kossoff’s paintings, they risk becoming deadening matter. By contrast, Jones trees are barely there. They have the directness and naivety of children’s paintings where nothing existing beneath the surface. This is not a criticism. And passages of Jones paintings seem to reach back further into simple (though in fact quite sophisticated and clearly based on observation) mark making, pinning down the landscape in a series of squiggles or slash of lines. At her best, Jones is primal, pushing the paint across the canvas in rhythms and gestures that say ‘I’m here’.