Olivia Wilson Spotlights Rachel Jones

Olivia Wilson Spotlights Rachel Jones

Olivia Wilson

Friday 14, January 2022

Rachel Jones, SMIIILLLLEEEE at Thaddaeus Ropac, until February 5th


In a bold, enigmatic new series of large-scale canvases, Rachel Jones investigates a sense of self as a visual, visceral experience, through motifs of mouths and teeth, which suggest inner landscapes. Jones is interested in exploring the complexities surrounding society’s reading of the black body – how it is understood, how it is culturally reproduced, and the potential role these representations play in dismantling existing power structures. In light of this, Jones’s imagery of teeth and mouths construct images that explore the Black Interior, the depth of her own interiority, and how, as a black woman, it consists of an autonomous and multiplicitous experience.


Jones continuously grapples with the challenges of finding visual means to convey abstract, existential concepts in her work. In depicting the psychological truths of being and the emotions these engender, abstraction becomes a conduit through which the artist can express the intangible.



Rachel Jones, SMIIILLLLEEEE, 2021. Oil pastel, oil stick on canvas. 151 x 261 cm.

Working primarily in oil stick, Jones’s process is physical; the resulting forms gestural and instinctive. Jones repeats motifs and symbols throughout her work, creating associative, familial relations between canvases. Colour is equally pivotal in her communication of ideas concerning the interiority of black bodies and their lived experience. In this sense, Jones’s expressive use of color becomes a way of communicating with or provoking the viewer, whose individual lived experiences and cultural backgrounds affect their interpretation of her work. About this, Jones states: “it is about allowing the viewer to dictate for themselves what it is that they see or what they experience.”


Rachel Jones, SMIIILLLLEEEE, 2021. Oil pastel, oil stick on canvas. 250 x 160 cm.

The exhibition’s title, SMIIILLLLEEEE, is inspired by Jones’s abstracted, tombstone-like teeth, often adorned with flowers. The mouth is a liminal space: a gateway between the interior and exterior. Yet, despite this recognizable motif recurring throughout the exhibition, Jones’s paintings are rooted in the sheer joy of abstract forms and various possible interactions between colors. This stems from Jones’s interest in the Abstract Expressionists; their distinctiveness and ability to incite emotive responses within the viewer without recourse to explicit explanation. The smile motif also carries heavier connotations for the artist. It conjures associations with, for instance, the fetishization of black people’s mouths and with the slave trade, when teeth were examined as a sign of strength. Yet, as Jones intends her work to act as an access point for all, she aims to make space for other people to find meanings that may relate to their subjective experiences. Jones achieves this by drawing on the language and symbolism of color.

Rachel Jones, SMIIILLLLEEEE, 2021. Installation view.

Walking through the exhibition space at Thaddaeus Ropac, there are additional site-specific elements, which prompt one to contemplate the works in a new light. Painted on a wall in the upper gallery are the words ‘SON SHINE’, which provoke a reconsideration of the works. Vinyl stickers are applied to the floor throughout, in dialogue with the paintings they mimic. These additional elements create a shift in scale, materiality, and viewing experience, as one peers down to the floor and treads more cautiously.

Rachel Jones, SMIIILLLLEEEE, 2021. Installation view.

Indeed, words hold great importance to Jones who confesses she reads more than she looks at art. Jones regards titles as an opportunity to provide an access point for the viewer without being too literal, whilst also painting another picture within their mind’s eye.

The recent clamor to display and acquire Jones’s work is unsurprising.

One of the youngest artists in the Hayward Gallery’s recent exhibition Mixing It Up: Painting Today, Jones’s large-scale work displayed there was arguably the most arresting. Having signed with Thaddaeus Ropac last year, Jones has a solo show opening at the Chisenhale Gallery this March, which will be the artist’s first institutional solo show. Despite this excitement and mounting attention, Jones remains focused on how her artistic narrative will develop from one body of work to the next, and how she can forge lasting relationships through her expanding practice. Jones’s name will certainly be on everyone’s lips for some time.


Rachel Jones, SMIIILLLLEEEE, 2021. Oil pastel, oil stick on canvas. 160 x 250 cm.



About Olivia Wilson

Ⓒ Olivia Wilson is a recent Master’s graduate from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, where she studied Art Business. She is a Freelance Writer, and Art Market Specialist, with a focus on Contemporary Art.
Categories: Exhibition Review
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