Reviews

Neal Jones at Southard Reid

London

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Neal Jones, Has Bean, 2013, acrylic on wood.

COURTESY SOUTHARD REID.

Neal Jones’s exhibitions involve a strong sense of what the artist describes as the “richly odd, occasionally ecstatic and respectful.” Jones works out of a rickety greenhouse studio on his allotment in north London, with whatever comes to hand. That this studio is located in the shadow of Alexandra Palace, site of the BBC’s first TV transmissions in 1935, is coincidental yet relevant. For what Jones produces is sort of counter-cultural. He creates and exhibits works fashioned from items found in dumpsters or from things left lying about—including scrap wood, old tins, and plastic buckets—and makes this stuff sit up and speak for itself.

The most obvious thing that he finds to do is paint faces—two eyes and a mouth (either “happy” or “sad”)—on log ends. It’s an act almost Paleolithic in its simplicity. He also constructs makeshift furniture—also basic, but more usefully so. And finally, he paints—scrappily and allusively, making each small piece express or proclaim something haunting, or plaintive, or simply comic. These works are not to be taken in at a glance, for they contain every variety of visual language short of photographic. Landscapes emerge, figures make themselves known, and feelings are expressed. Worms, toadstools, fingers, initials, and blazes of color all find their way into the fabric of Jones’s art.

Jones is an artist who ruminates mightily, but unpretentiously. It could be said that he has much in common with that great late-18th-century Londoner William Blake (who likewise famously worked his garden, embellished everything, and dealt in divine simplicities), but that would be to involve him in tiresome art-historical entanglements. As it is, Jones acts as a kind of allotment Robinson Crusoe, surrounding himself with defensive works, improvised messages, companion pieces, and narratives testifying to what’s been happening to him. Cumulatively (and taking into account a sharp wit), his work is heroic.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 109.

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