Colin Hambrook reviews Russell Jones' 'Unleashed' – an exhibition of paintings presented by Creative Future at Brighton Media Centre Gallery from 20 - 31 July 2009
I was excited by the promotional image sent with the publicity for Unleashed. Russ Jones paintings exceeded my expectations. Supported by Creative Future since 07 this was the first one-man show by the artist in many years. Russ or Ronelly or Russ Fey as he signs himself in different works, paints in a vivid, haunting style at turns beautiful and disturbing.
It is notable how frequently the ‘tree of life’ appears in the work of survivor artists. It was something we talked about a lot many years ago when putting together the Survivors Poetry anthology ‘Under the Asylum Tree.’ The symbol represents a yearning to find resolution and meaning in a world that constricts reality and denies the existence of parallel universes that sit alongside mundane day-to-day reality. The work took me back into that hallucinatory experience where everything sings with the mystery and wonder of life.
Unleashed embodies the same kind of experience William Blake was talking about in his ‘Auguries of Innocence’ - the ability ‘to see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.’ It is one of the positive sides to the experience of psychosis. It is little mentioned in medical textbooks other than those of the anti-psychiatrists of the 60s and 70s who have since been largely discredited. But remains in my experience as a valuable aspect of what can often be a traumatic and disabling impairment.
Russ Jones’ ‘trees of life’ rise up out of the ground in vibrant blues, greens and reds. The roots and branches reach out, bedecked with leafy jewels. They are often crowned with elemental forces, faces that stare out, wide-eyed, reflective. Sometimes sinister, sometimes jovial, sometimes with the heads of birds there is a persistent reference to the fecundity of nature – albeit in peril of disintegration. The roots of one tree are wrapped around the dead, decaying head of a young child - perhaps the most mournful of all the 19 paintings on show.
Jones’ work also depicts a variety of symbols from Pagan, Hindu and Judaic spiritual belief JPG: Aug09-Unleashedsystems. However these are personal representations of god and goddess, rather than the kind of tourist appropriation of these symbols that the artist Alan Davies has become famous for.
One painting that stood out in contrast was Jones’ painting Capitalism – a large canvas depicting a central image of a decaying, starved child, rising from a sea of skulls against a background of shimmering, dirty brown skyscrapers. Another - one of the few works in acrylic - provocatively titled ‘Watching a prick on tv’ was the only image held tightly within a square painted frame. It depicts a face quivering with emotional outrage. It was the one painting that made me laugh, mirroring how television often leaves me raging against the enigmatic, unresponsive screen.
Russ Jones’ colours are always vivid and reflect the oil palette of the surrealists and expressionists of the early 20th century. In his artists’ statement he name-checks influences from Ernst, Varo, Dali, Bacon, Fuchs, and the contemporary artist H.R. Giger. He achieves a powerful hypnotic effect, having mastered techniques of distending the paint to create form, stipling and often layering the paint using glazes.
Creative Futures based in Brighton can be highly commended for their support in enabling the artist in putting this together. I noticed that several of the paintings had been bought, so guess that the exhibition was well attended, even if the Media Centre where it was held was fairly difficult to find. There was also an opportunity to buy framed prints, signed by the artist, at £75 a picture.