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Sunday, 23 August 2015

David Jones: Vision and Memory

David Jones: Vision and Memory will be on show at the Pallant House Gallery from 24 October 2015 - 21 February 2016. A concurrent exhibition The Animals of David Jones will be on show at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft from 24 October 2015 – 6 March 2016.

'David Jones (1895-1974) was a painter, engraver, poet and maker of inscriptions. A lyrical draughtsman, he responded with delight to the visual world, yet his vision was informed by memory reaching back into the depths of time and history. This major exhibition, taking place during the centenary of the First World War, will display some 80 works from throughout Jones's life in a timely reassessment of one of the most imaginative artists of his era.'

Rowan Williams wrote in 'Grace and Necessity' that: 'Jones’ exposure to [Jacques] Maritain came through his participation in [Eric] Gill’s project. After demobilization in 1919, Jones studied first at the Westminster School of Art, where it appears that a catholic friend introduced him to Fr. John O’Connor. He became a Roman Catholic in 1921 and, prompted by O’Connor, joined Gill at Ditchling later that year … Thus, he was alongside Gill and Gill’s colleagues … during the crucial period during which they were all reading Maritain; and it is very clear that for Jones … this made sense of what he had assimilated at the Westminster School of Art.'

As Rene Hague later wrote, ‘the Post-Impressionist attitude to the arts fitted in very well with Maritain and Thomism’. Jonathan Miles and Derek Shiel write in 'The Maker Unmade' that: 'The philosophy of Maritain explored two related questions that are of importance for David Jones: signification and epiphany. By rigorous habit, the artist would not only be able to reveal this or that object under the form of paint but also make an epiphany, make the universal shine out from the particular. Thus, what is re-presented also becomes a sign of something else and if that something else is significant of something divine, then the art can claim to have a sacred character or function, a sacramental vitality.'

Similarly, Williams argues that what preoccupies Jones from the beginning is 'precisely what so concerns Maritain, the showing of the excess that pervades appearances.' As his work develops, Jones comes to see that you paint ‘excess’ by: 'the delicate superimposing of nets of visual material in a way that teases constantly by simultaneously refusing a third dimension and insisting that there is no way of reading the one surface at once. As in the Byzantine icon, visual depth gives way to the time taken to ‘read’ a surface: you cannot construct a single consistent illusion of depth as you look, and so you are obliged to trace and re-trace the intersecting linear patterns.'

Jones said that he regarded his poem, The Anathemata: "as a series of fragments, fragmented bits, chance scraps really, of records of things, vestiges of sorts and kinds of disciplinae, that have come my way by this channel or that influence. Pieces of stuffs that happen to mean something to me and which I see as perhaps making a kind of coat of many colours, such as belonged to 'that dreamer' in the Hebrew myth."

Jones believed that objects, images and words accrue meanings over the years that are more than the object as object or image as image. Therefore all things are signs re-presenting something else in another form. Recessive signs which re-present multiple signification are what Jones aims to create in works such as The Anathemata and Aphrodite in AulisJacques Maritain suggested that such multiple signification is what creates joy or delight in a work of art as “the more the work of art is laden with significance … the vaster and the richer and the higher will be the possibility of joy and beauty”.

Aphrodite in Aulis
 is full of Jones’ preoccupations: “the Grail, the Lamb, the soldiers (Greek and Roman, Tommy and Jerry), Doric, Ionic and Corinthian architecture, the moon, the stars and the dove.” These disparate ideas and images are held together firstly by Jones’ composition with the whole painting revolving around the central figure of Aphrodite and secondly by his line which meanders over the whole composition literally linking every image. By holding these images and what they signify together in this way, Jones is able to create an image that both laments the way in which love is sacrificed by the violence and aggression of macho civilisations and also, through his crucifixion imagery, to hold out the hope that love may overcome that same violence and aggression.

For Jones such signification is the essence of a Christianity, which has, at its heart, the re-presenting of Christ under the form of bread and wine. When the sign is the thing signified what you have is incarnation, the union of the natural and the supernatural.

Williams notes that in several respects Jones takes Maritain a stage further. Firstly, in that 'the half-apprehended consonances of impressions out of which an artwork grows has to be realized in the process of actually creating significant forms which, in the process of their embodiment, in stone, words, or pigment, uncover other resonances, so that what finally emerges is more than just a setting down of what was first grasped.'

Secondly, in 'the way in which a life may become a significant form – as, decisively and uniquely; in the life of Christ.' He: 'illustrates a point Maritain does not quite get to. Jones implies that the life of ‘prudence’, a life lived in a consciously moral context, however exactly understood, is itself an act of gratuitous sign-making; moral behavior is the construction of a life that can be ‘read’, that reveals something in the world and uncovers mystery.'

Both are exemplified by Jones’ life and practice as he turns away 'from one mode of representation in which he excelled in order to include more and more of the interwoven simultaneous lines of signification and allusion' in 'an attempt to embody a more radical love in what he produces, a love that attends to all the boundary-crossing echoes that characterize the real, which is also the good.'


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