Fay Jones

Whatcom Museum

Fay Jones is known for her daydreamy montages of paper doll-like figures. In an early work in this miniretrospective, entitled Quartet, 1987, four figures lean in together as if for a photograph. Three sailors—one dressed in black, one in white, and a third in his ruddy bare skin—are grouped around a woman clothed in Chinese gold. Areas of opaque color with little internal variation in value and hue are bunched together; figures abut or are positioned against cool blue water or opaque sunset skies, and their adjacent vibrations emotionally pull us in. Though the colors remain opaque, at times Jones violates this flat medieval-style in favor of a deeper spatial illusion and psychological resonance. This is the case in the dreamlike Light Sleep, 1987; in Man in New Wood Suit, 1986, with its fish-eyed perspective; and even in Sailor’s Yarn, 1986, where a visual superimposition of planes is attempted.

In her recent work, Jones seems to realize that developing a sophisticated visual syntax involves more than setting up emotionally-charged contiguities. In Mistral, 1989, the colors have become translucent. A woman rises, large and bare-breasted, against a sea and swirling sky. Other images appear and vanish like movie dissolves: pears, glasses, toy animals, a beach hat, a whirlwind, upside-down faces (one of which is a mask), the puppet-sized blue silhouette of a sailor saluting. When we zoom in, a face appears in the blue shape that defines her right shoulder. When our eye moves from the red of her nipple and the yellow contours of her breast, the blur of color becomes the sunset out to sea behind her. Visual syntax in this montaging of signs has become the product of a complicated editing process, facilitated by Jones’ use of translucent color. No longer organized in a lateral manner, meaning is emotionally less nailed down, less dependent on narrative, suggesting linkages between represented things that are more provisional.

In Woman Weeping Pears, 1989, four primary zones of slightly textured color float detached from the surfaces they describe. Each drifts in, at an angle skew to the picture plane, injecting a note of emotional uncertainty into the composition. Details are montaged against these chromatic planes, not as wishful symbolic identifications but as contrasts that generate determinate meanings: white insects against a blue sea, black measuring weights on a mauve sandbar, red lines veining an oversized green leaf, a cool Persian-green eye set within a woman’s distracted tan face. Meaning here is not merely a product of difference (of the perverse juxtaposition of things), but of difference within other established differences. At the center of the painting a vertical string of black pears also suggests tears falling from the eye. As the lowest of these reaches a green leaf, it turns suddenly ruddy.

Jones does not mythically link her personal symbols to so-called universal truth. Her narrative art, the way she frames her desire, exists wholly in the moment.

Jae Carlsson

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