Josie Jenkins: Assembled WorldsThe Bluecoat
Sitting quietly in the Bluecoat’s upstairs gallery is a collection of work from the past eight years by local artist JOSIE JENKINS, under the title Assembled Worlds. The paintings, three landscapes and two interior scenes, are spacious and immersive, piecing together art history references and contemporary objects to result in compositions that are as disparate as they are cohesive.
In this body of work, Jenkins shifts the scale of everyday objects until they become monuments within strange and liminal worlds, and with each canvas suggesting a mutability between natural forms and artificial shapes, the exhibition holds an unspoken cohesion, weaving a sparse narrative that is left to the viewer to flesh out.
The first and most recent painting is After Turner with Lego (2020), in which a foggy and fluid landscape is populated with a Lego house, flower patch, boat and junk yard, contrasting subtle painterly space with more constructed and assembled forms. Jenkins is inspired by Romantic painters, but perhaps subverts their seriousness, as the use of children’s toys grounds the paintings instead in experiment and play.
Another work, After Thomas Cole with Building Blocks (2018), is similar in its approach, distorting the size of children’s building blocks to the scale of actual buildings within a stormy terrain. Jenkins plays with this displacement to construct new worlds that linger just outside of our own, resulting in paintings that are almost theatrical in size and scope. To some degree, the landscapes that overlay bleak, marshy environments with the solid forms of children’s toys feel torn from the pages of a science fiction novel, distant and alien in nature. In other ways, they feel oddly familiar and personal, confronting the viewer with recognisable and inviting objects that are detached from their usual contexts and transplanted into new ones.
While the assemblage of building blocks is a construction, the painting is too; in making reference to other artists, notably Turner and Cole, the scaffolds of the paintings and their histories are exposed. This is particularly apparent in Geograph Collage with Paper Clips (2012), a piece in which the perspective grid composition underpinning any landscape painting is visible, dissolving beneath swampy grass. This reminds us that the painting itself is a fiction, a constructed object, rather than a referential illusion. Revealing the rules of perspective and scale before promptly contradicting them by scattering the scene with oversized paper clips, Jenkins’ paintings grapple with realism and surrealism in equal measure.
Accompanying these landscape paintings are a pair of interior scenes, Willow Pattern Stories – Finest of Treasures (2017) and Willow Pattern Stories – Rewrite History (2017). The landscapes’ use of drip technique to evoke an energetic, weathered scene is here mirrored in the first painting’s rug, suggesting a reciprocation and continuity between the landscapes and the interiors. But the interiors feel less concerned with large-scale Romanticism and more in tune with the intricate restraint of the decorative arts, as delicate patterns inhabit walls, carpets and ceramics. In Finest of Treasures, the ornamental forms of Chinese porcelain sit, contained, on the shelves, but in Rewrite History, they sprawl from the boundaries of the canvas like overgrown houseplants, the size of furniture but without the function. It is the house depicted in Finest of Treasures that perhaps best embodies Jenkins’ strive for re-representation through re-contextualisation. Situated within one of the artist’s expansive landscapes, this house would have signalled civilisation, perhaps hinting that these worlds are not as uninhabited as they seem. But within an interior, it is Jenkins’ strong sense of playfulness that persists; the house becomes a doll’s house and, much like the landscapes, these interiors remain figureless, transitional spaces.
Playing with context, shape and composition, Assembled Worlds carves out new, unfamiliar, decorative worlds within recognisable scenes, suggesting eerie narratives that open themselves up the longer the viewer stays with them.