Etchings and Lithographs catalogue forward by Michael Kempson

Australian artist Alan Jones at Cicada Press

Alan Jones Prints

I’ve long admired the art of Alan Jones – honest, rigorously engaging and technically intriguing. There was great anticipation when Jones, as the recipient of the Paddington Art Prize’s UNSW Art & Design award, agreed to take up the opportunity to explore the exciting potential of printmaking with students in our Paddington campus. In an industry rife with posture and hubris, it is a pleasure to collaborate with someone who exudes openness while embracing the challenge of something new. Most inspiring was seeing how he deploys good old-fashioned hard work, along with more than a modicum of talent, in the realisation of his artistic intentions. 

The etchings and lithographs produced by Jones at Cicada Press are an introduction to the working routines of two mediums from a broader suite of related disciplines. Printmaking encompasses many beguiling features, none more prominent than its unique expressive range: the tactility recorded in a traditional print; the haptic manipulation of layering, scraping or cutting that together provides a record of an individual’s creative process. A painter is able to make a mark and respond to it immediately, but when a printmaker does so on a metal plate or stone it must then be processed through several crucial stages before seeing the result. This challenging change of pace encountered when embracing the arcane rituals of superseded print processes can be difficult, for the resultant print is also the mirror image of what is drawn. 

When deconstructing Jones’ painting methodology, you quickly realise it is an approach that is not conventional, for his ideas are conceptually layered and applied in a unique technically procedural way of working. Using drawing as a starting point, these prints depict locations from his childhood suburb of Cherrybrook in Sydney’s sprawling north-west. Jones has clear intentions for an image, knowing exactly what he wants. He seeks a duality by revisiting the distant memory of lived experience only to sync those experiences with a depiction of what is current. It is not a literal description, but there is enough of a resonance of the familiar to provide a scaffold so that he can do what he does best – a focussed immersion into fundamental creative concerns, so crucial in the practical business of making.

Like many who have preceded him, Jones has sought to engage with printmaking because it is a tangible and intimate link to the hand of an artist that spans generations, attesting to the wonders of human ingenuity found in the phenomenal engineering achievement of print technology – along with the science of how we combine pigment, oil, water and paper under pressure to package and broadly circulate innovative images and ideas. The outcomes of his labour at Cicada Press have all the qualities that normally distinguish his work, and more. There is clarity and freshness in their execution, nuance in its kinaesthetic scope and a confidence that belies someone so new to the medium. He is also a person, like those rare individuals found in the many facets of the dynamic of human endeavour, with the uncanny ability to make the profoundly difficult look easy.

Michael Kempson
Senior Lecturer and Director of Cicada Press
UNSW Art & Design

‘Etchings and Lithographs’
7-23 November 2019
Olsen Gallery, Sydney

Figure and Landscape catalogue forward by Tim Olsen

Painting by Australian artist Alan Jones.

Alan Jones

It might sound odd, but I think of Alan Jones as a kind of young  Dutch master of the Australian landscape. His work, with it’s bleached, austere palette and fixation on the raised horizon, sometimes reminds me of Vermeer. Not because the surfaces are glassy and heightened in detail, but for the quality of stillness and introspection his work inspires. His skies possess a delicacy of touch just as his brushy bushy foliage, that always seems true, whilst pushing a tough aesthetic, accurate to the shifting conditions of light.

Jones can tramp out in to the empty flats of Gunnedah,  and still find something pertinent in that dry earth and those pale sun drenched clouds. His work confronts the viewer to face their own isolation and solitude,  just as it creates an immediate connection with the places we drive by or fly over. His painting is very restrained but sometimes it can burst forth with a flash of eccentricity. The large scale (almost life sized) nudes he showed with us last year and, Painting 131 (North Coogee), the work that won the Mosman art prize,  revealed a nervous, slightly crazed line that can only be his. His bold characteristics as a draftsman show the spontaneity that can comes from mastering his medium. And there is also something infinitely patient and solid about his practice. Like Fred Williams, he isn’t scared of silence or the slow steps of time. His self portraits have psychological self effacing depth because they reveal doubt and it’s the doubt of the everyman, not just the young artist. A paradox where uncertainty is overtaken by modest confidence. 

In a subtle way, Jones has experimented with and expanded his subject. When he made landscape from the ancient carpenter’s art of marquetry the forms were wedged together like a jigsaw puzzle. So in each scene you were dealing with a two dimensional surface reflecting a vanishing point perspective. It was the moment when his painting’s took on the quality of a Trompe L’oeil, challenging our sense of surface, contour and depth of reality. Here we see that craftsmanship belongs to high art. 

When you are surrounded by a broad range of landscape painting, you grow up soaked in those traditions,  it can make you a little more visually demanding, both as a dealer and a collector. Yet because landscape is the genre that continues to dominate our museums and gallery walls,  it’s very important that we continue to challenge young contemporary painters to tackle such traditional turf. In the past century I think Australian art has had the tendency to either romanticise the landscape into a realm of fertile myth or, conversely, to strip it back to the rough justice of the drought. Visually, it’s either feast or famine. The subtle power of Alan Jones as a painter is that he hovers somewhere in between these extremes. His coastal scenes exude exactly that feeling of wind and water with the sparest of means. His suburban streets hold the tension of sentiment and memory. The urbane ordinariness of the subject, do not prejudice that these are thinking environments, where it’s occupants are anything but ordinary. These homes are places of powerful memory. His paddocks and mountains have the sculptural heft of someone who has probably been looking at Cezanne a little too long. The work is tough. It doesn’t ask the eye simply to drift and dream, to me it seems to place you in the heart of a landscape, and then suggest deeper questions. It’s as if the view is just the beginning, and that is what I want from a picture. A place and destination point I can return to again and again.

Tim Olsen

‘Figure and Landscape’
15 September 2018 – 15 February 2019
Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Sydney (in association with 3:33 Art Projects and Olsen Gallery)