J A K E W O O D - EV A N S
S U B J E CT I O N & D I S C I P L I N E
Through a glass, darkly...
Nothing truly beautiful is perfect. By looking through a glass, darkly, we see an unsettling or im- perfect vision of reality. This phrase originates from the writings of the Apostle Paul; where he explains that we do not now see clearly, but at the end of time, we will do so. But what is interesting, especially in regards to work of artist Jake Wood-Evans, is this idea of past and present mortality.
Wood-Evans poetically explores these bygone themes, as we view majestic paintings and drawings of eighteen-century-inspired portraits and panoramas of ships at sea. These works serve to investigate the enigmatic character of the histories being presented to us. He evokes and then twists, fragments of real and constructed history, through a post-colonial lens. The works of Wood-Evans renders us conscious of seeing, of really looking at, the status and authority of the portrait. For this solo exhibition Subjection and Discipline at Unit London, Jake Wood-Evans presents new oil paintings, drawings and a sculptural work. Thematically, this salient body of work is based on the crucial moment of uncovering a psychological tension. A tension, which conjures a feeling of our own existence.
Wood-Evans sumptuous works eulogize the great master-works and artists of the past. From Joshua Reynolds to Henry Raeburn, he also combines chiaroscuro techniques to achieve an arresting and cinematic use of the contrasts of light. Thick, heavy paint is applied studiously but is contrasted with other areas of the canvas laid bare, where even the grain is seen exposed, as he scrapes and scrubs away the oil paint. The effect of this, to see these ‘ aws’ is to see a ghostly humanity, at once, both beguiling and arresting.
Works such as Portrait of a Woman in a White Silk Dress, After Reynolds, 2016, displays the intricacies of her fine period dress. This is at odds with the face- elegantly distorted in a veil of black paint, rubbed and erased so the features are forever lost to us. This is reminiscent of a passage from the book, In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust; ‘He had always found a peculiar fascination in tracing in the paintings of the old masters not merely the general characteristics of the people whom he encountered in his daily life, but rather what seems least susceptible of generalizations, ’Here Proust writes of Monsieur Swann’s fascination with the paintings of the old masters. The bearing of the subjects in these portraits strikes him as familiar; they are very much like the people whom he encounters during the course of a day. Yet Swann also sees something in these paintings that is somehow at odds with this general impression. He sees in these old paintings the specific, isolated features of his acquaintances – as if they have roamed from the familiar surroundings of one face to occupy another. In this gallery of faces, Swann sees a transfigured present staring back at him. The past, if one continues to think along these lines, steps out of the depths of history to become something that is not linear but contemporaneous. We see some- thing of this understanding at play in the work of Evan-Woods, as he constructs the past in all its so-called glory, yet leaves blackness, a melancholic narrative.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Wood-Evans evocative works create a crackled tension, of place and unknown space on the canvas, blurring the distinctions between the past and the present. Swiftly, with his Proustian sensibility, Jake Evan-Wood catches the transience of past histories - its glories and frustrations; in his ‘search for lost time’, he reveals time’s depth, unveiling all its sublime pleasures and tainted legacies. Likewise, Leonard Cohen’s poetic lyrics urge us to see beyond the perfections of the world, to look anew at the aws, to be human. Wood-Evans works are replete with this message, like Cohen he is showing us the lesson in modesty, constantly checking the discerning capicity of our perception.
Is Jake Wood-Evans then a romanticist who unveils to us unredeemed occasions, shrouded in the astonishing opacity of the past? In a contemporary world, which finds itself in continual demand for attention and distraction, he is unerringly germane, magnificently mesmerizing.
Senior Curator: Head of Exhibitions
Irish Museum of Modern Art