Colour-drenched canvas at Chisenhale Gallery: Rachel Jones say cheeeeese review

The London artist’s first solo show at the East-London exhibition space uses her signature splashes of colour to create an immersive experience.

Wander a little off of Roman Road and down Vivian Road, a serene residential street dotted with Victorian terraced houses, and you’ll come across Chisenhale Gallery, an exhibition space renowned for championing emerging UK and international artists. 

Housed on the ground floor of a former 1930s veneer factory, a group of artists took notice of its potential in the 1980s and renovated the space. Tucked away on a quiet street near Victoria Park, the cool quiet of the exhibition space starkly contrasts with the bustle of the nearby picnics and pubs. 

And it’s in this former factory that the gallery’s grey industrial interior juxtaposes starkly with the vivid, colourful canvases of its current exhibition.

Photo courtesy of Andy Keate

Rachel Jones’ first solo exhibition, say cheeeeese, comprises varying sized works, including an earthy textured arrangement not much bigger than a postcard, to expansive, freestanding canvases that are best viewed from 10 paces away.

All the works feature glorious composition of colours, with long dashes of yellows, pinks, whites and reds suggesting the teeth encased in the suggested smiles of her subjects. The colours and their arrangements appear to have been chosen to raise the endorphins of the audience. Sunshine yellows and fiery reds are splashed alongside nettle greens and browns to create compositions that are both pleasing and intriguing.

Jones’ work warrants an extended gaze to allow hidden shapes to emerge and take a more rigid form. Sandy brown streaks create the outline of a beached whale, mouth agape and gasping for air atop a beach of black and white zig-zags. Splashes of greens and browns start to resemble a pastoral countryside landscape and sinewy strokes of yellows suggest a seabed of anemones. Colours that, at first, seem distinct and separate start to merge and morph and at points suggest mouths trying to consume each other.

The sheer scale of some of the pieces that tower over the tallest of patrons gives the feeling of being engulfed in Jones’ pastels, while the smaller sized works draw you in by requiring a closer look to appreciate their intricate detail. The size of the work combined with the vibrancy of the pieces encourages the immersive experience of the collection; a technique that Jones has used in previous exhibitions.     

Jones was born in Whitechapel and studied Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Academy of Art. Early on in her career, the 31-year-old drew abstract body parts including a series of drawings with eyes. She explained in an interview that this focus on eyes came from her experience of being stared at as a black woman and the sense of hyper-visibility and sensitivity that it created. Her other most recent exhibitions, SMIIILLLLEEEE at Ely House in Mayfair and A Sovereign Mouth at Gallery 12.26 based in Dallas, Texas, also explored using images of teeth and mouths to explore inner worlds and complex emotions that are sometimes hard to verbalise. 

Photo courtesy of Andy Keate.

The attraction to drawing mouths came from her interest in the universality of our mouths being a source of both pleasure and pain, which people experience differently depending on their cultural history, race or gender.  Although say cheeeeese uses her signature explosive palette of colour, there appear to be fewer distinct shapes compared to previous exhibitions, Instead, blocks of colour freely flow into one another.  

Currently in its 39th year, Chisenhale Gallery has become renowned for working with and supporting artists that create innovative and exciting work. The open plan space is adapted to suit each exhibition, and the gallery team collaborate closely with each artist to develop their work. The gallery also hosts events and opportunities for the community to interact with the art and the creative process. In recent years, these have included creative careers days for local schools, where students could discover how to pursue a career in the creative industries and art activity days for families.

The joy of an exhibition like say cheeeeese is finding out how other people interpret the work. What do they experience from spending time with the art? What shapes and motifs start to form for them over time? It may be that it’s difficult to articulate exactly how a piece in the collection makes you feel, as Jones’ has said of her work: ‘You can use colour and shape and form to speak to people in a way that isn’t about a spoken language. It’s about emotion and inciting feelings that don’t have to be explained or expressed.’

Whether you’re inclined to vocalise your experience with the works or prefer to keep them private, it’s likely that you’ll leave say cheeeeese with a smile.

If you enjoyed this, then read our piece on The Line Art Walk.


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