Zebedee Jones

Born in I970, Zebedee Jones has been showing his chunky monochrome paintings on a regular basis in London since 1994, and in that time he has built up a devoted, if still small, following. His works are all made in a similar way, starting with deep, modestly scaled, square or rectangular stretchers. The paint is applied in a thick layer using a brush or palette knife that is then dragged across the surface horizontally or vertically, forming furrows of varying depth. (The edges of the support are left unpainted.) The process might sound formulaic, but variation occurs because Jones does not iron out the imperfections and accidents that invariably occur. Not only is the picture surface distinctively marked and manhandled, the paint silts up at the edges to form a crusty uneven ledge that extends well beyond the stretcher.

In his recent show, each untitled picture (all works 1998) is a single but distinct hue—a range of muted blues, grays, browns, and blacks, with the occasional red or turquoise. The darker the paint, the more deeply chiseled the surface. The pale blue and the gray canvases recall the artists who earlier in the century lived and worked in St. Ives, a fishing village in southwest England. This close-knit artistic community, inspired as much by the Arts and Crafts movement as by continental modernism, produced a lyrical kind of abstraction rooted in nature. Its leading lights were Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, and the potter Bernard Leach. Jones is a self-confessed admirer of Leach, and one wonders how often Jones has been to the Tate Gallery’s museum dedicated to the St. Ives artists, which opened in 1993. Certainly Jones treats his paint almost as though it were a day slurry.

But Jones is more than a discrete footnote to St. Ives. There’s a claustrophobic and swaddled feel about his pictures that is very much of the moment. If the horizontal brushstrokes and some of the paler colors seem to allude to an open sea and sky, the way the paint is fastidiously piled up on such boxy supports suggests there’s a blockage in the system. We are not so much gazing at something distant and oceanic but at something local and confined—say, the scummy film that’s formed on a stagnant pool or on an abandoned kitchen sink; or some architectural feature that’s been cemented over. The roughed-up paint surfaces further suggest that a viscous substance has been interfered with as it congeals. In some sense, Jones’s works function very much like wall reliefs: Surfaces and support cannot by pried apart. These pictures are enigmatic packages, Pandora’s boxes that would not be out of place next to work by Christo or Rachel Whiteread. If Jones’s paintings allude to St. Ives, then it is a St. Ives that has been given Pompeian treatment.

James Hall