Andrea Medjesi-Jones’ recent paintings reveal both a highly personal project and a re-investigation of, or reinvestment in, the actual means of painting and its broader cultural ramifications. Works such as No More or Work or Riot show a concern with articulating – through the process itself – surface and depth, gesture, provisional structures, interruptions, breakages, and systems of flow and stoppage. In No More a loose set of floating blocks as a set of open framing devices; these act as an accompaniment to a set of circulating black gestures sometimes dense, congealing into a think uncontained ooze, while at other times petering out into a rubbed trace.
The relationship between brushed gestures, rollered marks, traced imprints, masking, and staining create a porous surface that breathes in different registers. This stop-go of temporal layers creates a sense of evolution, which none-the-less never quite resolves completely. Work or Riot is another example of this almost impossible balancing act of disturbed histories and organic flow; the anarchic carnivalesque celebration of these works is shadowed by something much darker (as might also be seen in the painting Public Image: a kind of sullied, dirtied Matissean Jazz). With its slogan-like text Work or Riot operates like a poster or an announcement, perhaps also suggesting the propagandistic aspect of all images including the vast image bank of painting. With such a text Medjesi-Jones also forms an allegiance to a (fictitious?) audience, an address that attempts to imply a long lost collective audience, one that somehow is self-sufficiently referenced or ingrained within the image itself (this might recall Adorno’s adage that all art is, in fact, a ‘message in a bottle’).
Work or Riot is in fact a slogan from the right to work march of 1908 and invokes historical political voices made present once more. Another aspect mentioned above is its poster-like quality (in particular recalling some of Asger Jorn’s street posters for the Paris revolts of 1968) another form of democratic address. Painting, as Medjesi-Jones’ project makes explicit, of course always looks outside of itself in order to find sustenance. This is also what makes painting often a depth-image (despite the modernist emphasis on surface); it is caught up with histories both locally and globally. This is partly her subject matter here. Yet one of the most unresolved and problematic areas of painting is the relationship between abstract painting and politics. We can point to Emilio Vedova in Europe (an influence for Medjesi-Jones) or, within Abstract Expressionism, the work of Spanish Civil war veteran Esteban Vicente or Robert Motherwell’s related Spanish paintings. What Medjesi-Jones attempts to recapture for herself is that tension between individualization and the environment that forms it; a historical tension between the individual and social/historical processes – its antagonisms glossed over by much recent art-making. If painting functions as this depth-image, then it is one that crisscrosses the treacherous terrain of the sedimentation of historical form and ‘self invention’.
Medjesi-Jones knows this more than most due to her own personal history, experiencing first hand the traumatic secessionist fall-out in her native Croatia in the early 1990s. And yet her painting avoids the pitfalls of the sentimentality or bravura fireworks of ‘pure’ expression, while attempting to retain something of the possibility of ‘registering’ external events albeit in a mediated sense. This processing of mark-making had its starting point within the painting process itself and later reinforced by a study of Vedova’s painting techniques, which are violent, ‘hands-on’ and yet detached (‘blind’ painting, forming paint through plastic intermediary films, etc.) as well as those of Christopher Wool. In this sense Medjesi-Jones operates on what might be seen as the obverse face of expression, the result being the effect of interruption or pre-planned construction undercutting spontaneity or tripping intentionality. This can also be seen in the smaller pieces, sometimes taking the form of a face (again, rather like Jorn’s early 60s formation of fantastic creatures conjured out of the painting process). But a face is also about being read – a façade that registers emotion and pain. Bette functions in such a way, and is an amalgam of fragments that add up to a monstrous head, complete with collaged lower half. In one sense the painting acts as a surrogate subject, a face registering its own history; its own formation as witness.
Andrea Medjesi-Jones asks questions as to what painting can be: What is this practice that produces not just objects but trajectories across them? A medium that is free from the photographic ‘that-has-been’ and which disrupts our clean-cut concepts of past and present? This is the deep sense of history that painting can possess. One of the most terrifying things I have ever heard is a field recording of a thirteen year old girl – possibly from Siberia – performing a shamanistic ritual. The voice was below male bass baritone, a growl almost inhuman. This was the girl ‘connecting with her ancestors’- the lost voices of the past: in a visceral and physical invocation. Stripped of any such ritual, painting can be a more matter-of-fact articulation of other voices, with the painter remaining consciously focused on the multivalent possibilities of the image.
Ventriloquism may well be a perfect metaphor for Medjesi-Jones’ surrogate subjects – a constructed vehicle that must project many voices and intertwine them in a new dialogue. Painting is a force-field of these projected voices and Medjesi-Jones bravely, in my opinion, takes up this challenge. © David Ryan June 2013
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