Gavin Jones (b.1971) graduated with a Master of Fine Arts, Elam, Auckland University, 2001.
He writes, ‘How paintings are made is an important part of the overall process, the framework I have in place for making these paintings is one that has evolved gradually out of my personal circumstances as a painter.
Making a painting can be a struggle. Part of the problem is the way in which paintings are made. Ideally, when making a painting the intention is to do the form painted as well as the material used a service. This is where problems usually begin and when things become unsettled. When you allow the paint to guide you, you relinquish a certain degree of control. Call it going off script or improvisation, this way of painting can often seem like a deviation enabling a situation whereby the paint has full autonomy. This type of scenario, which I frequently participate in, can yield some unexpected results some of which can work in the paintings favor. However in retrospect what is produced can appear to have been made involuntarily and irrespective of any intentions I may have had to begin with. It appears that wherever there is paint there will always be these problems, one such problem is how to articulate the shape that that struggle takes, this is why I require a system one that alleviates some of the anxiety around making decisions about painting while painting.
Printing offers such a system. The routine procedures that are part of printmaking are of particular importance to me whereby images are composed, processed, transferred and then duplicated. One particular printing technique I have used are rubbings, this is a rudimentary form of printing that is more immediate in its implementation compared to other printing methods and could be seen as being closer to drawing than it is to printing. Rubbings require a surface or texture these textures need to have a pronounced topography in order to be effective. The act of rubbing is akin to that of scanning, a type of skimming / pressing motion that gives a two dimensional visual form to surfaces it comes into contact with producing a transfer or graphic imprint. These can vary in detail depending on the amount of pressure administered, thickness of substrate and the consistency of paint used. These material considerations contribute to the final image and the incidents that occur during this process become part of the visual noise which functions as part of an illusion, albeit a pictorial conceit. Here the quality of the transfer is at risk of becoming compromised due to these material concerns posing a threat to the legibility and potential loss of recognition to the forms and structures used. Because of the variable nature that these rubbings present what emerges is a vulnerability of picturing in general, casting doubt over the forms used and their ability to depict.
How paintings are made can sometimes get in the way of what is represented, but then how a painting is constructed makes for an interesting subject as it manipulates the way we experience form as well as content. Painting is not without its flaws and the mere presence of labor only exacerbates the situation. This unpredictable way of painting allows me to exploit the material transgressions and accidents that can occur while working, this enables me to further explore how paintings can be made. Painting for me requires that there be a problem and that the system I have mentioned be used to process such problems concerning alternative material analogies, visual equivalents for a mediated experience couched in abstraction. Painting here is tasked with the job of testing the tolerance of these painted forms. For now, the problem remains one of depicting. How do you go about making such a painting that frames itself as its subject without relying on the usual signs and tropes that traditionally indicate that a struggle has occurred? ‘ Gavin Jones, 2021.
For Jones, being brought up in Castor Bay on Auckland’s North Shore meant that he never really thought about his Tongan, Welsh and Scottish ancestry when growing up.
“Anything brought back from Tonga seemed to get pushed to the background,” says Jones. “Objects like tapa cloth painting or carvings got stored away. Apart from my grandmother’s kitchen broom, there was never any sign of things Tongan that I can remember. It was as though it had all been whitewashed. But then again, neither did my grandmother on my mum’s side have any Scottish things around her house.”
It wasn’t until 1989 when Jones attended A.S.A (Auckland Society of Arts) in Ponsonby, that his cultural identity became something he felt the need to address. At the time Ponsonby had a diverse socio-economic and cultural mix – it had a feel about it – Sierra had just opened its first cafe and second hand book shops were worth visiting. But the cultural profile of Ponsonby was on the verge of big change and with that surfaced an expectation to engage in the discussion around cultural identity.
It is unclear exactly when he decided to dedicate his time to his art practice, but he remembers as a teenager he would bus into town after school to see exhibitions at galleries like RKS, Sue Crockford Gallery and Artspace. These visits gave him ideas about how to make art, rather than become an artist as such.
A challenge artists’ face when making art is to know when a painting is resolved and to over-work it, often presents little option but to discard the work or paint over it and start again. Jones was fortunate to find himself engaged in this very conversation at quite a young age. It was his first encounter with a real artist, Alistair Nisbet-Smith, who taught art as a guest teacher at the high school he attended.
I will always remember what he said to me, which was: ‘let the paint guide you’.
Because of my inexperience with the medium, I didn’t really understand this at the time. I now know it can be a difficult thing to let the paint guide you. “You want to be in control, so to listen to where the paint wants to go can be a frightening thing.”
He recalls a painting he made in 1993 where the rubbing technique used was much the same way he makes paintings today, but back then he relied more on ready-made surfaces.
“Basically what happened was the painting completed itself, explains Jones. This really bothered me at the time because to me it wasn’t finished. I was encouraged by Ian Jervis to leave it alone and go hang it up in the school cafeteria. This was a turning point for me. I’m glad I followed his advice as it may have been destroyed like a number of other works I made that year.”
For a long time Jones was reluctant to engage in printing techniques per se, however the process he elected to use is seen as a rudimentary form of surface printing, or rubbings, and unlike conventional printing, it is one that doesn’t require a press. He was yet to make the connection between this and the tradition of Tongan tapa cloth painting.
Jones says, “I had been making these works using rubbings for a few years, then one day by accident, I happened to catch the end of this short documentary and in it they spoke briefly about the process of Ngatu or tapa cloth painting.
“As a process, rubbings play an important role in Ngatu – they enable the transferral and duplication of motifs and designs and serve as a framework so that over painting can be done either by an individual or a group. I remember thinking that was what I had been doing only without the Tongan iconography. But if there was any reference to tapa cloth painting in my works it was not deliberate.”
More recently he has worked with printed structures using acrylic paint. To refer to or identify these works as paintings is a challenge he says. It casts doubt over these objects as to what they are because of the way they are made – after all, like printed works and as with Ngatu, they can be duplicated. Perhaps unique multiples would be a more appropriate explanation.
Recently someone said to him, in reference to his show at Lot23 in Eden Terrace, that his works are weird. “They meant that in a good way,” says Jones, “but I agree they are weird. That’s a good thing, as it makes you question what it is you’re looking at, and challenges your physiological relationship with the works because of the way they have been made.”
Jones has been described as a mid-career artist, although with a degree of humour he suggests that he is more conceivably an emerging mid-career artist. Regardless of where his career sits, like most artists, Jones has a full-time job. He is an art materials consultant at The French Art Shop on Taylors Road in Morningside, Mt Albert.
To know and understand the materials you use is an important part of being an artist.
“With my own practice, the thing I think about most in the way of materials is colour pigment. What colours are derived from and how they are manufactured, determines the way they can be used.”
His work at The French Art Shop means time spent in his studio is limited so he has to be organised. He keeps a studio log book where he writes lists, keeps track of works and records observations. For Jones, these self-learned systems and orderly structures enable the process and production of paintings to happen efficiently.
Sometimes he will intentionally restrict the amount of time spent. This helps him make decisions quickly especially while in the process of making the work. He always has more than one painting on the go at a time and has been known to store works away, only to bring them out again once he has forgotten what it was he was originally doing with them.
For Gavin Jones the goal is to continue to make art, to see where his style of painting leads him and if it relates to what he has in mind. Of course there is always a chance of improvisation and deviation. One thing is certain though, the structures and creative processes he currently uses, whether deliberate or not, have an agreeable element of connection to his cultural identity. Joanne Barrett, October 2017. Ray White, Engage with Identity, Blog.
Gavin Jones exhibited with Bergman Gallery at the Aotearoa Art Fair, Auckland, November 16-20, 2022.