JOY: recent works by Jessica Zoob
One of the great pleasures of walking into a solo show is to find yourself surrounded by not one but many works by the same artist. It’s a temporary ‘sacred space’, like a theatre; an experience of immersion different from looking at a single painting. We sometimes recognise the power of such shows by turning them into block-busters - usually a retrospective of someone very famous or dead – or both.
Walk into the double room of the Medici Gallery and you will be surrounded by paintings which are rich, subtle and very beautiful. You could even say they live up to the bold title of the current show:Joy.It’s Complicated 1 (in a series of two), is an abstract with recognisable landscape features, if you only stay and look at what’s there. The image cannot do justice to the soft background - at times langorous, at times spicy - or the visceral greens which are gloriously wet and squishy, a carpet of living moss and sea weed. If you walked on them you’d feel cool water oozing up between your toes.
But at the same time you know it’s no ordinary landscape. What we see are mysterious layers of paint, worked over, built up and scraped back over weeks and months. Zoob also uses materials such as gesso, sand and crushed glass to add texture. Parts of the canvas are free flowing, others are as intricate as a delicate miniature. The work is physicallly demanding and expensive. Zoob says that at times when working on a series you pull a colour (about £1000 worth of paint) and most of it ends up on the floor. 'You have to be prepared to lose huge amounts of what you have created in order to get the whole thing to work as one'..
But ‘I don’t want people to notice the method or technique’, says Zoob. ’What I am trying to do is create something that appears absolutely simple...I want people to feel rested when they look at my work – to wander through these worlds and explore the magic that is here’.
As you move around you begin to notice the extraordinary way in which Zoob paints the viewer into the picture. Sometime she places us high in the sky looking down like a bird on a mysterious terrain. Deep Water gives us another sensation, that of being plunged into something. It’s hard to believe we’re looking at a flat canvas, because the picture is full of vitality, its paint thick and opaque, alive with currents and trailing weeds and things we’ve never seen before. It’s how we imagine it might be if we could sink down, eyes open, and move around freely. It reminds me of some of Bill Viola's videos.
Freedom does the same with air.I don’t know how you can paint what is invisible, but Zoob does just that. She says she 'wants to create something massively energetic but also really quiet – sometimes it is the quietest person in the room that is the one most worth listening to'.
Some of her paintings are very large and impossible to reproduce here. Zoob admits that she under-rated the complexity of working on a grand scale. ‘Painting something twice as large as you have done before is not twice the work; it is about eight times as difficult... But when you feel you are winning, it is the most exciting feeling in the world’.
If you go to the Medici website, click on Zoob to see the catalogue of the show. Then go to her biography, because at the bottom of the page is a link to two interesting articles by Helen Chislett about Zoob's work published in Art of England.