By Tom Wachunas
EXHIBIT: Climbing The Social Ladder – Illustrations by Jennifer Jones, at Main Hall Art Gallery, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, OH, THROUGH FEBRUARY 27, 2016 – Viewing Hours: Mondays – Fridays 11:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m. (Thursdays until 7:00 p.m.)
Jennifer Jones completed practically all of the 16 mixed media works here (charcoal, emulsion, and oil paint on paper) over only the past four months. Such a prolific outpouring is a remarkable accomplishment in its own right. More significantly, together these pieces constitute one of the most arresting and beautiful exhibits I’ve ever seen in this gallery.
In referring to them as “illustrations,” and combined with the show’s title, there would seem to be an implied narrative of specific thematic content. But then, upon examining the actual visual evidence before us, we’re presented with some intriguing questions as to how what we’re seeing connects with our definition of “climbing the social ladder.”
Keep in mind that words – whether as titles, descriptors, or labels – can cue certain expectations or assumptions. Climbing the “social” ladder? In what context, by what means, and toward what end? Maybe for Jones, her “climb” is as basic as the continuing commitment to her art and the ongoing endeavor to construct an enriching aesthetic and emotional experience for her viewers – something at which she is, I think, quite adept.
While her figural and scenic configurations in this stunning series borrow generously from Buddhist and/or Hindu iconography, and even as they sometimes suggest illuminated Tantric manuscripts, they’re not overt interpretations of a single culture’s religious dogmas. It’s more edifying to view them as open-ended, abstract allegories. We could then see the specific spiritual symbols that Jones employs here as sympathetic with the larger idea of oppositional forces poised in equilibrium, or seeking serenity amid clashing energies.
In keeping with this spiritual modality, most of the works depict palpable tensions of one sort or another, wherein shapes, linearities, and electrifying chromatic elements are suspended in varying states of balance and harmonization - metaphors, perhaps, for self-realization. Many of the amorphous backgrounds are fields of smeared and smudged blacks and greys , ambiguous and ghostly. From these, boldly drawn figures, intricate mandalas, or very ornate architectures in charcoal emerge like so many songs, accented by the staccato notes of saturated colors that signal jubilant changes of key, so to speak.
Indeed, it is a type of musicality that gives these works much of their lyrical or dramatic potency. Those brooding backgrounds bring to mind the dissonances of drone instruments - so present, interestingly enough, in the music of many non-Western cultures - against which percussive rhythms and melodies can soar in bright relief.
Consider these marvelous pieces, then, as dazzling odes to the process of journeying, discovery, and ascension.
PHOTOS, from top: Birth Rites; Blue Eyed; Presumptuous; Up Swing; The Toro’s Tantric