Detroit

Bradley Jones

Feigenson/Preston Gallery

Bradley Jones has been painting the figure for more than two decades. His early work often portrayed fantastic figures such as dog-faced men in business suits; in the ’70s he began crowding his pictures with the members of Detroit’s working class. These characters, while not necessarily having outsider status, still bore the mark of alienation. In the work here, they are contained within grids—some show multiple images of the same subject, others frame apparently unrelated scenes—in which each element stands as a picture in its own right. Whereas Jones’ previous works could be read as mere social-realist snapshots of urban living, the grid introduces a dialectical component which serves the dual function of index and narrator: the former in the way the grid serves as the repository of diverse elements occupying the same plane, and the latter through the sequence of events depicted, some of which follow one another in time, others of which do not.

Several of the panels within certain grids are crossed out with white X’s. This marking delineates the canvas surface at the same time that it refers to graffiti, which in Detroit is still an outlaw practice not yet rehabilitated into art. The repetition of poses by different figures posits the gesture as a sign system into which we insert ourselves. Many of the women are depicted in various stages of undress; a number have rubbed-out faces, reducing them to pure body. Layers of scumbling acknowledge the sensual nature of painting but also convey a sense of passing time.

The element of time, as it pertains to the grid, is central to Jones’ new paintings, in terms of both narrative and, in a larger sense, of history. The human figure, as limned by Jones, is a disaffected member of a post industrial population, seen engaging in social interactions and solitary pursuits. Nonetheless, however harsh this view may appear, its depiction serves more to document than to judge. Painting remains, for Jones, primarily a material practice. The esthetic counterpoint achieved through the structure of the grid, which allows each element to be at once both material effect and code-bearing gesture, allows Jones’ project to be shifted from the realm of simple sociology into that of art.

Vincent A. Carducci