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 This challenging change of pace encountered when embracing the arcane rituals of superseded print processes can be difficult, for the resultant print is also the mirror image of what is drawn.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)

Butt Naked Salon: art, music and nudity collide in deeply moving performance

‘The night is a blank canvas – anything can go,’ says artist Alan Jones. Photograph: Barnaby Wilshier

A string quartet plays and a nude model poses as an artist paints the walls, in an ephemeral happening in Sydney inspired by the Parisian Belle Époque

Alan Jones – the artist, not the shock jock – squeezes paint out of a tube, mixes it with water, and lifts a fat, unwieldy brush to the wall. We are in Potts Point, Sydney, and Jones is making a mural inside the hallowed Yellow House.

He is not alone. Generating music that feeds his rhythm is a live quartet; watching him is a small audience; and, arched over a black plinth, long dark hair cascading down her bare back, is a naked muse.

I am at the opening night of the Sydney Art Quartet’s Butt Naked Salon II, a re-working of the same concept first launched last year, inspired by the salons in the Belle Époque period in Paris.

While 2016’s performance explored avant-garde bohemia, this time was all about native roots: an attempt, in the words of artistic director James Beck, to “get closer to the soul of Australian art, music and landscape”.

As the musicians – Beck on cello, Alina Zamfir on viola, Anna Albert on violin and Emma Jardine on guest violin – first strike a chord, Greek-Australian Yolanda Frost walks into the room. She slips her silk dressing gown to the floor, revealing olive skin, a silver nipple ring and unshaved armpits. Although she is nude, she wears moon-like silver earrings and maroon lipstick. Jones takes a moment. He looks at her carefully, assessing her form, narrows his eyes, and begins to paint.

Nakedness here is not used as a novelty or for shock value. Instead, the female body is rendered earthy, beautiful and strong, reflecting back on Australia itself. Frost – a performance artist, composer, drummer, and queer rights activist – simmers with presence, unashamed and unembarrassed, reminiscent of a young Frida Kahlo.

‘The female body is rendered earthy, beautiful and strong, reflecting back on Australia itself’: Yolanda Frost poses as Alan Jones paints. Photograph: Barnaby Wilshier
‘The female body is rendered earthy, beautiful and strong, reflecting back on Australia itself’: Yolanda Frost poses as Alan Jones paints. Photograph: Barnaby Wilshier

Important for Jones was the ability to be creative within a familiar setting. His backdrop for the mural is also his home, the Coogee headlands, which he pre-painted earlier this week. “I wanted to start here. I wanted to stand in front of an orchestra and audience and feel comfortable,” he tells me.

That matters under pressure. Watching Jones at work feels like witnessing a physical act of exertion. Under the gaze of dozens of eyes, and to quick, stirring music, Jones must try and render Frost in real time, finishing his sketches before the quartet stops playing. As he does, he sweats profusely, scarring the wall in feverish strokes. Sometimes inspiration comes to Jones easily: at other points he struggles, scrubbing over his own images, smudging lines, starting again and, later in the evening, erasing a figure entirely under a sludge of thick green paint.

Heightening the drama is the opening music, Peter Sculthorpe’s String Quartet No. 11, Jabiru Dreaming (a heartbreaking piece by Gerald Finzi and, in the second half, more upbeat Schubert follow). Created by the Australian composer in 1990, Jabiru Dreaming is a heady, throbbing piece, inspired by the shrieks and pulse of the bush.

The artwork itself is unplanned, an impulsive reaction to the melody, insists Jones. “The excitement and the lights and the music … you’ve got to just go with your gut.”

The end result is less important then the process; or, in Jones’ words: “We want there to be an element of surprise. The night is a blank canvas – anything can go.”

Questions over representation – namely, how identity is both created, and warped, through art – are also raised. Frost not only stands in front of us; her figure also comes alive before our very eyes on the wall. In a third twist, reflecting her back like fairground mirrors, are a series of finished nude portraits, also of Frost, which hang around the performance.

While the mural is rough and ready, and often clumsily rendered, the paintings, prepared over the last three months and shown here for the first time, are more intricate and delicate. Thick lines of acrylic, shot out of a corking gun, form the background like thousands of multi-coloured strings: indented in this is the female form rendered in oil paint.

Despite its tongue-in-cheek title, Butt Naked Salon is deeply moving, partly because it is so fleeting. For the next two nights Frost will continue to pose; the quartet will play; and Jones will add to his mural. Erasing and painting, erasing and painting, before the entire thing is washed away and the wall is returned, as if nothing ever happened, to white.

  • Butt Naked Salon II is held for a final night on Friday 1 December at Yellow House, Sydney

Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, ‘Butt Naked Salon: art, music and nudity collide in deeply moving performance’, The Guardian, 1 December 2017.

Butt Naked Salon II

Sydney Art Quartet: Butt Naked Salon II with Alan Jones

The Sydney Art Quartet perform at Yellow House with guest artist Alan Jones

Butt Naked Salon was the Sydney Art Quartet’s must-see show of 2016 and it returns in 2017 with the highly awarded artist Alan Jones painting the walls of the historic Yellow House to the music of Schubert and Sculthorpe.

Restricted entry to 18+ due to nudity.

Franz Schubert: Quartet No. 13 in A minor – Rosamunde
Peter Sculthorpe: String Quartet

Butt Naked Salon II is a ticketed event and seats are strictly limited.

Butt Naked Salon II at the Yellow House is in association with Olsen Gallery.

Sydney Art Quartet teams up with artist Alan Jones in Butt Naked II

Artist Alan Jones (centre) with musician James Beck and model Yolanda Frost in Jones’ Alexandria studio. Picture: Tim Pascoe

Alan Jones invariably listens to music while he’s painting in his Alexandria studio.

But the artist has never painted in front of an audience to the accompaniment of a live quartet.

“If I think about it too much I break out in a cold sweat,” Jones admits.

The show, Sydney Art Quartet: Butt Naked Salon II, follows the first Butt Naked experience featuring artist Wendy Sharpe last year.

The venue is the Yellow House in Potts Point, which was cemented into Australian art mythology when it was used as a studio and gallery by Martin Sharp, George Gittoes, Brett Whiteley and many other artists in the 1960s and ‘70s avant garde.

Artist Alan Jones and model Yolanda Frost in Jones’ Alexandria studio. In the background are paintings Jones has prepared for live performances of art and music at the Yellow House in Potts Point. Picture: Tim Pascoe
Artist Alan Jones and model Yolanda Frost in Jones’ Alexandria studio. In the background are paintings Jones has prepared for live performances of art and music at the Yellow House in Potts Point. Picture: Tim Pascoe

In a similar spirit to the “happenings” that were once held at the Yellow House, Jones will paint straight on to an interior wall while life model Yolanda Frost poses for him.

“Part of the concept is it gets painted over and it remains part of the building, and I kind of liked that,” Jones says.

“It reminded me of live music. You play it and then it’s gone if you’re not recording it.”

For several months, Jones has been painting large portraits of Frost to hang at the Yellow House where they will become a backdrop for the performances.

Performance artist Clementine Robertson (left), Australian Art Quartet artistic director James Beck and artist Wendy Sharpe presented the first Butt Naked Salon at the Yellow House last year. Picture: John Appleyard
Performance artist Clementine Robertson (left), Australian Art Quartet artistic director James Beck and artist Wendy Sharpe presented the first Butt Naked Salon at the Yellow House last year. Picture: John Appleyard

“The whole thing will happen within a solo exhibition,” Jones says.

Jones lives in Coogee, and plans to prepare the walls by painting them with an evocation of the beachside landscape that he loves.

During the performances he will paint Frost into these landscapes.

But he doesn’t want to have too many fixed plans.

“It’s got to be such an intuitive thing,” he says.

Australian Art Quartet artistic director James Beck says the musicians will play compositions by Peter Sculthorpe, Gerald Finzi and Franz Schubert.

  • Alan Jones and the Australian Art Quartet: Butt Naked Salon II, Yellow House, 57-59 Macleay St, Potts Point; November 29 and 30, and December 1, adults only, $85 adults, $75 concessions, sydneyartquartet.com

Elizabeth Fortescue, ‘Sydney Art Quartet teams up with artist Alan Jones in Butt Naked II’, The Daily Telegraph, 24 November 2017.