26 May - 3 June 2017
Private view: Friday 26 May, 6-8pm
An exhibition of new paintings by Jonathan S Hooper opened on a warm evening to a receptive crowd at Hay Studio. The exhibition (co-curated by Susan Hay and Jonathan S Hooper) was built around the theme of 'Transition' as Hay Studio prepares for a move away from Cornwall and Hooper sets about challenging the boundaries of his chosen subject: Pentire Head; a prominent, wind-blown rocky outcrop on Cornwall's north Atlantic coast.
Susan and Jonathan share a sensitivity to environment and the physical experience of being in a place, and the walls at Hay Studio were enveloped by Hooper's large, abstracted landscapes, Polaroid photographs, a short film, found ephemera and a neon.
Words on the exhibition by Jonathan S Hooper:
This collection of work comes from a life-long relationship with the Pentire peninsula a small section of the North Cornwall coast. Few environments encapsulate the forces and symbols of transition with greater vigour than Cornwall's Atlantic coast. It is easy to see the landmarks and features of places like this as being imbued with an unchallengeable sense of permanence and immutability, these qualities are, however, just illusions. There is no stasis, all here is change; all is in a state of transition.
As with uncertainty, transition is a universal constant. Despite this, and to the extent that we register these phenomena, we can approach them with reluctance, viewing both as fraught and discomfiting. Our preferred strategy being to mitigate against transition and uncertainty or, if that fails, to negotiate them into the relative sanctuary of the unconscious.
Given their ubiquity our innate response to these twin pillars is, arguably, counter-intuitive; counter-productive, even. These paintings, through their abstraction of the familiar, attempt to make the case for a different approach. They use landscape as a cipher for the acceptance of uncertainty; to make the positive case for transition.
Transition is, arguably, the only reliable constant and the evidence of it, of metamorphosis, is all around. In the immediate, transition is revealed in ever-shifting light patterns; the developing and disappearing cloud formations; the advancing weather systems; the “noise” of the ocean surface. On an epochal timescale transition exists in the upheavals of geological process and the resulting landforms; over shorter periods the agency of erosion modifies and sculpts these forms and this process is ceaseless. Seasonal progressions are registered in the flora and fauna and changing land use.
Time is the force that drives transition, and its consequences. Time is relentless and remorseless. Its irresistible and irreversible progression is woven into the fabric of this, and every, landscape. Time is registered in the layers of rock exposed at the cliff edge. Time is beaten out in the rhythm and echoes of the sinusoidal waves and swells of the Atlantic. The Gulf Stream ,a mass-transit system linking unseeable lands with Cornwall's north shore, deposits exotica in strand-lines that advance and retreat, synchronised with lunar time.
Human history is etched into the land's surface by pathways and tracks that encircle and criss-cross the peninsula, the memories of their original purpose now largely lost to time. The over-looked remnants of human enterprise and endeavour gradually pulled back into the land by entropic decay. Abandoned mine workings unseen, by-gone; the adits and “coffin” drives with tool-marked walls stained by leaching minerals, yet to be rediscovered by the interested few. The echoes of the past bridging the divide between then and now.
Transition also exists in the boundaries between land and sea, sea and air, air and land; the space between headland and island. These elemental phase changes seem definite and abrupt; no graduation, just a sudden transition from one to the other. In reality, and albeit at a largely imperceptible level, these liminal interfaces are mix-zones, regions of activity and inter-play.
These paintings attach themselves to the motifs of transition. Pathways and vectors arc and scythe across the painting plane; wave forms sweep and swell; multiple horizons section and divide space. The layering of pigment alludes to both the laying down of rock and memory alike; the layers "blurred", mixed and abraded as an extension of this allusion. The transitory and temporal colours of Gorse and Thrift; the coruscations of reflected light; the buffeting, granular sea-breezes and gales and the vertiginous cliffs that shape and direct them. The landmarks obscured by a blizzard of minute detail; briefly glimpsed; half remembered; imagined, fugitive.
By not being confined to a momentary actuality, a fixed “view” of landscape, these paintings attempt to represent something beyond the purely visible. They seek to coalesce multiple views, where the variable is time, and to compress this onto the painting surface. They are structured on grids and tethered to landmarks but become complexity maps as other experiential elements overlay the more prosaic or recognisable forms. They are intended to be looked into rather than at; to find “moments” and relationships in the layers of paint that stimulate the individual imagination, the individual memory.
In this approach the role of the painter is not depiction; not merely to record a world from which he stands apart. Rather it is to convey the experience of being part of the world, the phenomenology of being in landscape “among the trees and rocks” [ref William Carlos Williams and “the poets of reality”]. This sense of being is compensation for the renunciation of the privileged status of the agent of consciousness as a separate identity, an ego. In its turn this allows painting to free itself from the gravitational pull of reference; paint is freed to be the material that it is; “paint is paint”.
Paintings, particularly those that lean toward depiction, can act as mirrors that reflect back our prejudices, our predispositions, our innate sensibilities. To fully embrace transition requires a leap of faith, perhaps a trust in something transcendent; we need to “get out of the way” of our initial thoughts; these prejudices and predispositions. We need to reject the purely rational and allow the sublime, the subliminal to seep in. We need to engage with the “spaces in between”; the transitional spaces.
Transition defines landscape and defines our place in landscape. Transition is the matrix in which all that we see and experience exists. Transition is progression; transition is progress.
Transition carries us forward into an uncertain future and, perhaps, this might bring with it a certain trepidation. Uncertainty is, however, the incubator of the imagination; a vessel in which ideas can grow and flourish; a place where discovery is made.
The only certainty in these paintings is the starting point; a blank canvas and an idea. The rest is about process; a transitional experience loaded with contingency; the end point, a negotiation.
JSH May 2017