Jay Isaac

24 October 2002 - 30 November 2002
Opening Reception 24 October 2002 8pm

Front Gallery:

The Matlock Juxtapoze

For The Matlock Juxtapoze, Jay Isaac brings together both painting and sculpture in an amalgamation of styles and genres. High and low art are flipped reversibly. Kitch is not only celebrated in its own language, but also translated using the tropes of art historical styles. With expressionist sincerity, surrealist play, futurist dynamics, and cubist dexterity, Isaac brings us the mother and child and love under a rainbow.

Brochure Text, Confusion is Fresh by Rosemary Heather

As a painter, Jay Isaac plies a trade that frequently finds itself in need of an alibi. In the world of the mass-produced object and virtual communication, painting is compromised – by its connection with the past, by its association with touch, and by the dubious merits of its capacity for expression. What’s worse is that painting is the author of its own fate. The most self-conscious of all the arts, it fights a rearguard battle against knowledge of its past accomplishments, and must defend itself up front against the suspicion that its repertoire of effects are merely that, a conglomeration of empty gesture.

Art – and its collaborators: artists, critics, curators, historians and people who care to find out – know the reasons why a prohibition has been placed on the values of tradition, touch and expression to which painting is so clearly suited. Separated from the context of contemporary art, these qualities thrive by giving meaning and adding texture and the colour of emotion to everyday life. That they should have such a fraught relationship with a medium as venerable as painting tells us that the present day painter faces a perennial problem: history changes everything.

Faced with this burden of ambivalence, Isaac, like many of his contemporaries, feels the need to backtrack. Casting his own artistic practice in the harsh light of circumspection, he enumerates the guilty pleasures associated with his craft – painting’s ardour, its penchant for grandeur, beauty and emotion – and so finds an alibi for his art.

Isaac identifies himself as an enthusiast of visual stimulus, and painting, in spite of everything, remains a good forum to exercise this proclivity. He complicates his task, however, by making works that delve into areas normally shunned by the dictates of good taste – that moving target of aesthetic value that the institution of art works constantly to redefine. Because good paintings are not good enough and bad paintings are too obvious, he endeavours to explore the liminal space in between. Liminality is the alibi that allows the artist to keep moving, to keep all the figurative balls of his practice in the air, so to speak, the better to show you the range of his facility and question where exactly the true object of his artistic fidelity lies.

In The Matlock Juxtapoze, Isaac offers paintings – and sculptures – that query his style’s components, by presenting works that break down that style into a range of possible permutations. In previous work Isaac made still lifes of unknown genus set in landscapes of unknown location. Heavily painted with a palette both loud and iridescent, the works stand firm in the foundation of Isaac’s stylistic convictions, and are atmospheric with only a tenuous relationship to the natural world. In order to demonstrate the coherence of this world – and its insularity as it refers to painting – Isaac’s new work extends his practice out to the utmost reaches of credulity. It is as if he understood that with the excess paint, the paint that sat on the surface of his previous work, he could make a hundred more paintings, and so set out to do just that. As a consequence, aside from those works that look like close descendents of their predecessors, the thickly painted still lifes, the paintings look drier, almost dusty. Painted with a muted range of pastel hues, they offer a subdued histrionics of painting style as it is remembered through the history of artifice and cliché.

In the process, Isaac exposes the secrets of his artistic infatuations. The result is traditional looking paintings that aren’t quite right. By amalgamating styles, genres, eras, and high and low art, he reveals unexpected affinities: cubism takes on surrealist overtones; fantasy art corrupts nineteenth century romanticism; modernist-type primitivism deteriorates into lonely outsider figuration. By placing kitsch forms – like the rainbow – alongside their exalted counterparts, Isaac manages to elevate the former. Dissolving the boundaries between high and low in paint, he also collapses the ironic distance with which the lower forms are normally regarded. Intermingling the reverence normally reserved for traditionally defined art movements with sincerity and sentiment, he arrives at a fresh confusion. Like one of the figures from The Matlock Juxtapoze trapped in a dilapidated fantasy modernist landscape, staring out at you with plaintive eyes, you both recognize what you see and do not understand. In the process, painting becomes alive again, animated, an emissary of feeling, transmitted to the present day via the artist and its own dimension in time.

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