Jake Wood-Evans: Relic
Relic is a new body of work by British artist Jake Wood-Evans, presented by the Hampshire Cultural Trust, in collaboration with Unit London, at the Discovery Centre, Winchester. Comprising 17 of his works, the show draws on themes of mortality, formation of memory, and religious experience. Wood-Evans cites a variety of influences from the European canon of art, including J.M.W Turner, Peter Paul Reubens, and Titian.
The paintings exhibited in Relic, predominantly oils of ecclesiastical scale, look as though they have been removed from a great European church. This tendency towards the ecclesiastics is enhanced by the shape of the canvases – the use of the arch frame – which draws on the imagery of the altar. In an ever-more disquieting age, these works harbor a sense of quiet reflection. While Wood-Evans alludes to specific religious altarpieces, directly citing the works of Old Masters, there other key elements at play here.
There is an archaeological side to pieces such as The Immaculate Conception in Prussian Blue, after Morello. Spending time with the image, one slowly discovers more about its construction: the painting begins to reveal itself, as if layers of paint are peeling back gracefully before our eyes. So too is there an ethereal quality to Wood-Evans use of marking-making and colour, reflective perhaps of the sublime experience – a concept expanded in the eighteenth century by philosopher Edmund Burke to include the aesthetics of ‘unfinished’ paintings. Paint is applied and scrubbed away, lending the paintings a sense of depth and patina. The eye is transfixed, drawn into a moment of absolute contemplation.
In conversation with the artist, he highlighted the organic nature of his technique, allowing each work to emerge intuitively. The Holy Family under the Apple Tree, after Reubens brings into question the relationship between the history of religious art and contemporary space. Wood-Evans’ process of abstraction – his removal of paint to create a timeline of layers, in which each layer becomes a signifier of that process – degrades the visual clarity of the image, giving the impression of a trace or relic of experience from some distant past.
The canvas is often richly textured: strong crimson hues mix with subtle earthy tones. Despite the diversity of colour, texture and tone, however, there is visual harmony that invites the viewer to reside within the work. His two part The Feast of Venus, after Reubens aptly captures a moment of emergence – a strong monotone palette, brightly lit figures emphasised in the foregrounded against the dark abyss. Recalling Reuben’s own painting, in form rather than palette (Reuben’s is a vibrant mix of greens, reds, blues, and golds), Wood-Evans’ monotone piece appears like a melancholic apparition. The form speaks to wider theme in the artist’s work: the interplay between figuration and abstraction.
One of the smaller works in the show, The Empire of Flora, after Poussin, interprets Poussin’s original allegorical masterwork, imbuing it with a subtlety that encourages new readings of the painting. With the ‘altarpiece’-style works, recalling the arches of the church, there is a move towards greater abstraction. Wood-Evans pushes the boundaries of this style in particular; these pieces explore the point at which the viewer can still recognise the human figure.
Many of the pieces in the show explore the iconography of the altarpiece and the potential for religious reading. It is particularly interesting to observe how the audience subconsciously responds to a given form and its setting, and how this may eﬀect the reception of the painting as a whole. The curation and lighting in the gallery greatly enhance the experience; the appropriately dim surroundings draw the eye towards the brightly lit surface. This luminosity, characteristic of Wood-Evans’ work, fosters a sense of divine sanctity, furthering the symbolism of the paintings.
Relic feels timeless. Wood-Evans captures the overwhelming poignancy of divine experience in a manner which feels wholly contemporary, while also remaining grounded, historically and aesthetically, in a system interwoven with artistic reference. The exhibition is a poignant reflection on iconography and memory, one that draws together tenets of art history, with contemporary painting methods. The artist’s abstractions lend new life to the works they invoke, as part of a process of on-going reinvention. While Wood-Evans draws on religious themes, the depictions do not evangelise; instead they create a contemplative atmosphere. Reproduction does not do justice to the entrancing reflective power of the works.
Words by Charles Dixon.
Jake Wood-Evans: Relic is on display at the Discovery Centre, Winchester, from 10th January – 29th March.
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