WES JONES; SOME CURRENT WORK
ON VIEW Dec. 09 - Jan. 30
Jones Is known primarily as an architect, though he has also taught for most of his career and made art since even before everything else (his mom claims his first word was “pretty,” uttered while being shown flowers in the back yard). He grew up in Southern California but went to college back east, where he first trained as a soldier, and then as an architect, graduating with a professional degree from a fancy school out there and then going to work for the most famous New York architect not to win a Pritzker. After working on that architect’s break out building he moved to San Francisco to become design partner at a young office there, which went on to win a bunch of awards. He finally came back down to live and work in Los Angeles in the late ‘90s, where he’s been ever since.
He thinks of himself as a maker, and art as one venue for that activity. So everything is fair game for his craft—not only buildings and art, but also furniture and other household objects as well as the accoutrements that adorn the buildings he designs, like sunshading mechanisms and jukebox storage devices. He once designed a spaceship for George Lucas while in residence as a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. It looks a lot like some of those in Avatar thirty years later. Coincidence?
When Jones was a graduate architecture student back east he played a drinking game with a classmate who had been an art history major. It was called the art game. The game started with a shot and a sheet of paper on the wall; the two grad students would take turns making marks on the paper and taking shots. The game was a test of art references and counter references, with each mark recognizing the previous marks reference and then continuing it, reinforcing it, or cancelling it out to send the game off in a different direction. Between the alcohol and the visual contestation, the finished product never amounted to much—the decision of when it was done being itself an object of debate—but the process was hugely instructive to Jones with regards to the legibility of art. That there might be rules beyond verisimilitude, or that these rules could define a field of legible play, was something that has since guided both his art practice and architecture to this day.
This approach led naturally to his focus on mixed media in collage. The first step in this evolution occurred when he was returning to the states from his year in Rome, after luxuriating in the workspace assigned to him at the American Academy (larger by far than his entire apartment in NYC). In Rome he had celebrated the vastness by painting very large pieces with very large brushes on very large rolls of Fabriano paper. Since there was no way to fit any of these on the airplane, he cut them all up into 24x36 bits, thinking each could be a piece in itself. When he got back and unpacked them he realized they were much cooler recombined together, in unforeseen ways. These pieces became the sourdough starter that continues to seed his work today as he recycles these now forty year old bits from Rome into his work at all scales.
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Collage is always going to have more depth than painting, no matter how deep the painting’s impasto or convincing its verisimilitude. Even when the collaged materials are spliced and do not physically overlap, the collage exhibits a layering logic that says the juxtapositions are not next to or across from one another, but on top or below. There is always the sense that one thing came first and the other reacted to that somehow, contradicting it, amplifying it, or ignoring it. And in the latter case even that ignorance is motivated. Nothing is casual. Particularly the most seemingly random or accidental combinations.
Because of that element of time baked into collaged piece, it is present as a record of a conversation between the elements that is still ongoing. Though painting can also exhibit this featured legibility, the conversation it records is complete, history. The collaged conversation never ends. Because they are discreet, they still enjoy the seeming freedom to reposition themselves. They are alive in a way that a painting can only claim metaphorically.
Because the conversation is still live the emotion is as well. Sometimes its relaxed, sometimes violent. Sometimes it’s quiet, ruminative, or threatening to wander into meaningless small talk. But always in a way that allows the viewer to imagine there might be something deep behind those apparently innocent or trivial gestures.
Because that layering also means that each element brings something to the conversation from outside, and that something comes with baggage, extending the conversation beyond the work itself and beyond the history encoded in the art as its process or provenance: that bit came from somewhere else, it traveled to the party, it saw some things and wants to tell you.
And in this way, depth in art is more about time than space.
The conscious awareness of medium specificity has lately become a thing for judging art. Now that the game has been through enough seasons to have worn out the possibilities for novelty (which has always been a treasured value, but the frenzy of the NEW! since the advent of modernism and the romance of the avant-garde has pushed the quest for novelty into laughable aporia) judgement must consider the thing in itself, rather than its difference from other things. This is a new idea to critics, but has always been there for the artist.
Different media have different rules. Established media have established rules, while newer media may still be figuring out its game. The game framework and the explosion of new media have expanded the relationship to the rules beyond the traditional interest in mastery. Now work may also be judged by different attitudes towards those rules than just seeing them as a means to excellence, and the critic’s perspective comes into play in art production. In fact, excellence itself has lost its luster and its now possible to prefer crappiness and to strive for clumsiness in making art. For some this might paradoxically be a sign of authenticity, for others just a critique of repressive ideals.
Mixed media is one way that this non-excellent manner has moved into the game. Mixed media is already a critical practice, since each medium wants to remain in its own lane, framed and pure, its discipline intact. And that disciplinary identity is fixed to a canon of exemplary precedents. In mixed media the crappy thing can be accepted and excepted, introduced to the mix without compromising the subject medium’s standards of recognizability and contrasting meaningfully with the otherwise exceptional stuff around it.
Mixed media mixes media, not their rules. Mixed media collage makes this more obvious, since the different media come to the party intact, and the mixing occurs among physically discreet elements. Collage removes the temptation to blend or smear which preserves the integrity of medium when clumsiness is introduced. In mixed media work there is always a dominant medium that underlies and frames the effects of the other players, sometimes literally, defining the playing field so that the other media can be as clumsy or wrong as critically necessary to make the point.
As an object, sculpture is visibly subject to the physical forces in the environment: like the viewer it feels gravity, the play of light, an invitation to touch. Our relation to even non-figurative sculpture is first empathetic. We first understand it in relation to our self, or to its maker’s self.
In both cases, non-figurative sculpture is also judged in relation to a sense of purposefulness. It doesn’t just happen. It is made. And it wears that fact about itself as something remarkable, to paraphrase Heidegger. Because it was brought into existence, it necessarily raises the questions what and why? What is it? what is it doing? and why is it there, doing that? It’s remarkable presence, there, is never mute: it always means something and invites the viewer to wonder what that is.
For this reason, the viewer’s relationship to a sculpture cannot be passive, unlike with other media like painting. While both painting and sculpture are looked at, contemplated, appreciated, the painting essentially occupies a different dimension than the viewer, so the viewer’s experience is insulated from the necessary sense of purposefulness that comes from something unnatural sharing space. Even if the viewer walks back and forth in front of a painting and views it from different angles, the painting is still in a separate world, fixed to the wall. The sculpture, on the other hand, is part of the viewer’s world, and its purposefulness is a foundation for engagement.
Object oriented ontology is an expression of our kinship with things, and a wish that we could set them free from our familial expectations. Sculpture explores these possibilities, while ignoring the necessary personification that makes this philosophy slightly absurd (encouraging it to retreat to the more accurate title “speculative realism”). Sculpture is understood through the perspectival traverse of the space it occupies, as the eye leads the viewer around and through it, rather than as a passive awareness of the space it contains or demarcates. OOO would call this a mystery dance.
Because it occupies the same space as the viewer, and the viewer enjoys the freedom of movement within that space, the sculptor cannot dictate fully the terms of engagement. Instead, the piece itself takes on that responsibility. Though the maker’s hand may be emphatically visible in the work, the work wears that evidence as its own presence, rather than something imposed on it. The absent maker is not there as a middleman presenting the work or haunting the interaction with distracting hints of other possibilities. The work is there, all there, itself, and that’s it.