Jonah Pontzer’s paintings feel like a hangover, a comedown in unbearable heat, stuck in a suffocating, airless room.
Mounted on transoms (half-openable window panes) each painting in ‘Fresh Hell’ hangs slightly ajar. They’re filled with mosquitoes and cats eyes, aerials and eyeballs; a jet fighter screams as it passes overhead, blazing sunlight singes out of the middle of every work, piercing through tightly drawn blinds.
Everything is lilac and gold, haze and smog; lens flare and heat, paranoia and sweat. The transoms are open but there’s no escape, they just don’t open wide enough for that. They let in just enough air to breathe, but still keep you trapped and smothered. Transoms are meant to be above doors, so the works are high up, looking down at you. You crane your neck to see them, like you’re locked in some basement desperately looking up for a glimpse of the outside world.
They have the same aura as the first part of ‘Apocalypse Now’, or the interview scene in ‘Bladerunner’. Dank, wet, hot, fetid, oppressive.
The idea of an openable frame is a clever device too, it promises possibilities – like there’s something hidden within the work – but never fulfils that promise.
These are heavy, gross, stifling paintings, and best of all, their suffocating atmosphere is infectious. It leaves you feeling sweaty and hungover, terrified and clammy. If this is hell at its freshest, you’d hate to see it past its sell by date.