Inclusivity vs. exclusivity and talent vs. elitism are some of the core values of The Unit London Gallery, located on the trendy Wardour Street. Continuing with their goal of bringing real talents closer to the public, the gallery is proudly presenting the first major London exhibition of Jake Wood-Evans, a Hastings-based artist whose works evoke faded memories and spectres of a past time, and often depict disintegrating and dissolving entities.
Born in Devon in 1980, Wood-Evans studied Fine Art at Falmouth University and was subsequently awarded a scholarship from the Royal Academy to study at the Prado Museum in Madrid. Previously based in Brighton, he currently lives and works in Hastings. Very attached to the paintings that inspire him, Wood-Evans does consider himself a figurative painter, and I would also call him an educator.
This exhibition, entitled Subjection & Discipline, not only introduces Wood-Evans’ work, but also that of the two painters who inspire it: Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and Henry Raeburn (1756-1832). Taking inspiration from 18th-century painters, Wood-Evans’ unique, historically ambiguous style produces images that are both unsettling and beautiful. Stressing the complexity of the feelings that his referents arise in him, he adds a new layer of heavier sensations and understanding to those paintings. He blurs the boundaries of figurative painting and drawing, creating a sort of beautiful accident that has a framed purpose.
“Faces are defiled and figures appear as apparitions. Subjects range from a ghostly vision of a society lady to a fading portrait of a once proud general and grotesquely disfigured admiral. Viewed together, the body of work is eerily reminiscent of an art collection of a great estate in the early years of the British Empire, but while the haunting redactions of once-heroic subjects might suggest the correcting gaze of a postcolonial sensibility, Wood-Evans’ interest lies more with the original artists and process than with the specific subject.” (The Unit London)
As I slowly walked from the first to the last painting, I felt as if the past had been affected and infected with scratches of present time. The figures in the artworks seem to be fading under the surface, as if paint wanted to hide information from the human gaze. “Eighteenth Century Ship II” and “Eighteenth Century Ship III” are the only non-human figures invaded by a human tool. Perhaps because the sea carries the present and the past, without contradictions, just like art does.
“Portrait of a Woman in Red” almost transcends into reality and exudes the perfume of elegance, flesh, reality and oil paint. The past is alive and tangible in Wood-Evans’s paintings. My favorite was “Lady Bampfylde, after Joshua Reynolds”, but the one that most impressed me was “Lady Skipwith”, after a portrait by the same painter. Romanticism seemed macabre for a moment, and the present was, indeed, nothing but a scribble of the past.
By scrubbing, scratching and erasing certain areas while building up others, Wood-Evans’ paintings are physically pushed and pulled out of the canvas. Thick layers of paint contrast with saturated oil on canvas, often laying the grain bare. His powerful use of light emerges from a loose and instinctive application of paint. Each work bears the marks of his journey and are just as fascinating when viewed up close as they are when viewed in their entirety. Wood-Evans’ haunting works are both reminiscent of the pillaged originals while uncovering a psychological depth which encourages the viewer to look beyond the surface of the canvas and question the records of history.
Jake Wood-Evans. Subjection & Discipline. The Unit London Gallery. 19 August-11 September 2016. Monday-Sunday, from 11am to 7pm.