You'd better be a flosser, because young English painter Rachel Jones is obsessed with mouths and teeth.
Like a dentist turned abstract expressionist, each of her big, wild, colourful canvases in this new show hides a world of lips and pearly whites. You're greeted by a big plane of writhing colours and marks, reds and blues and neons and black, each chunk hinting obliquely at teeth. There are cracked pink canines and molars on black, rough enamel white on blue, pink gums, red tones and lips.
These new works feel different to the ones that were on show at her recent exhibition at Thaddaeus Ropac. They’re bittier, tighter, more full of shapes and nodes and elements that clash and combat and gnash, like the teeth here are crowding the mouth, pushing each other about, in desperate need of conceptual braces.
The yellow painting is like a patterned fabric, the oblong canvas is smudged like lipstick, a little green work is like a single rotten tooth.
They can be grimacing and tolerant, or sarcastic and wide, or beaming with joy.
It’s not immediately obvious that these are, in some way, figurative. Instead, teeth and mouths are like compass points to help you navigate her art, they give the shapes she paints meaning and direction. Instead of just plain old abstraction, this is an aesthetic built around the gloss of enamel and the shine of uvulas, plaque and halitosis, rot and fluoride.
It’s clever, because smiles can mean so many things. They can be grimacing and tolerant, or sarcastic and wide, or beaming with joy. There’s a racial element to her use of teeth (think of the objectification of smiling black men on things like packages of hot chocolate), an emotional element and a sneering, satirical element too; and all those ideas have been pushed to an extreme.
At a really young age, Jones developed her own visual language, tied it to a strong concept, and executed it with tones of brilliant technique. No wonder she’s smiling.