Merlin Betts considers more of Jake Wood-Evans‘ abstract romance (small ‘r’, you critics)

You might remember Jake from our previous feature on his solo show Legacy & Disorder, at Unit London. He’s been a local resident for over six years now, having moved along the coast from Brighton to a warehouse studio (that’s a studio in one of the units of a working warehouse) well away from the traditional arts heartlands of Hastings: Norman Road and Old Town.

His latest exhibition, Relic, takes a different tack to the last. While he continues to collaborate with Unit London, Relic will be hosted at The Gallery in Winchester Discovery Centre, and features more than 20 new works, including 16 large scale paintings which explore enduring themes of mortality and history. Where Legacy & Disorder focussed on portraiture and the features of past arts and fashions that have bled through into our own time, Relic examines broader religious and mythological images and themes.

Jake Wood-Evans in studio with work, including items from the “Assumption” series

Perhaps because of this the new paintings are less readily recognised as manipulations of their original subject. They have become more like modern understandings of the ethereal: dark, spiralling, yet physical and present; knowable, and yet still somehow unknowable. The majesty of Rubens’ “the Assumption of Mary” becomes more like the majesty of a stellar constellation, though still – like in the original – we find hints of figures we’re more familiar with, we make characters out of the stars. It’s this kind of dialogue between past and present, immediate and distant, real and unreal that defines Jake’s work.

As discussed in my last review, he blurs the lines of representative and abstract, transforming the images produced by some of the great masters of painting. This time we see: Rubens, Van Dyck, Poussin, Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre. He seems to add age to the images or, in a sense, add life to them, as though perhaps they hadn’t been carefully maintained in great country houses and millionaire’s vaults. Instead the artworks have been forced through modernisation just like the rest of human society: sometimes sun-bleached in glory, sometimes lost in cramped boxes, relegated to damp and rusty garages, steadily smothered by slowly dripping turpentine, exchanged through mothballed charity shops, finally gathered, dusted off and presented to us now – only reminiscent of their past selves, and yet perhaps more capable of addressing a modern audience, more a part of our world. Jake calls this “a process of conflict with the ambiguous place between representation and abstraction”.

Jake Wood-Evans in studio with pictures from the “Assumption” series

I recall speaking to him last year, trying as a non-painter to better understand techniques and materials, and his methods seemed knowledgeable but instinctive, like a part of nature. It’s instinct in that old philosophical sense, more like intrinsic than animalistic. Plenty of painters don’t have that understanding of movement, and more keenly focus on the details of perfect and unreal solids: figures as objects, objects as motionless inevitability. Jake can see and depict the world as change: not as dead stillness.

Relic will be the first show to include large-scale curved canvases, which we can see in the aforementioned “Assumption” series, based on the commission for the Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp by Rubens. Joe Kennedy, Co-Director at Unit London said: “We’re really excited to be working with Jake Wood-Evans and the Hampshire Cultural Trust on this exciting new project and we couldn’t think of a more worthy platform to present this dynamic new body of work.”

Paul Sapwell, Chief Executive at Hampshire Cultural Trust, said: “We are thrilled to be working with an artist as gifted and accomplished as Jake Wood-Evans and to be able to provide visitors with the opportunity to view the sublime and hauntingly unnerving works in Relic.”

Study for The Triumph of Pan 2, after Poussin

Exhibition dates: Friday, 10 January – Sunday, 29 March

Venue Details: The Gallery, Winchester Discovery Centre, Jewry Street, Winchester, SO23 8RB
Monday – Friday, 10.00 am – 7.00 pm.
Saturday 10.00 am – 5.00 pm.
Sunday 11.00 am – 3.00 pm.

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