Twinning: Why Jenny Bloomfield Creates Diptychs

George Lawson
Jun 17, 2016 12:42AM

Jenny Bloomfield’s bold and intimate paintings grow out of a poetic dialogue between her external and internal worlds. Her process is about the play between her observation and experience of the “outside” realm beyond the studio and the “inside” or "interior" realm of her process in the studio. 

This “twinning” approach—the bringing together of these two inseparable parts of her practice—is reflected in the title of Bloomfield's recent exhibition at George Lawson gallery. It is also amplified by Bloomfield’s choice of the diptych format, which continues the long tradition of evocatively pairing of artworks together. Artists have created diptychs throughout history, from exquisite ivories during the Medieval era to Renaissance panels (hinged to relate to each other, formally and symbolically, like the pages of a book) to Cy Twombly’s monumental complementary juxtapositions. 

The diptych is central to some of Bloomfield’s formative artistic experiences, from the Wilton Diptych at London’s National Gallery, with its panels contrasting the earthly and the heavenly, to Piero della Francesca’s double portrait of Federico da Montefeltro and his late wife Battista Sforza, a copy of which hung in Bloomfield’s childhood apartment.

fig. 1 The Wilton Diptych, ca. 1395-99 tempera, gold leaf on hinged oak panels overall dimension: 14.6 x 20.9 in. (37 x 53 cm) collection, The National Gallery, London

Bloomfield's series began just over a year ago, when a friend accidentally broke a small bowl that Bloomfield valued. Bloomfield gathered the pieces and reassembled the bowl, but took this idea of bowl fragments with her into the studio. The marks that she made that day took on the life of the arced pieces, and she found that if she extended the lines across the canvas, they formed sturdy, satisfying shapes, that jumped back and forth between figure and ground. A new figurative language began to emerge. 

While the bowl was almost left behind, elements of the shape persisted, especially the relationship between the reassuring roundness of its form and what Lao Tze termed its “empty innermost,” which is what gives a bowl its usefulness. In Bloomfield's paintings, the individual fragments break up the empty space of the canvas—it is almost as if the pot fragments have taken on a revolutionary life of their own, brimming with light and texture.

From Our Walk, 2016
George Lawson Gallery

Introducing a gusty movement, the strokes in diptych From Our Walk (2016) stem from an experience of seeing white blossoms blowing across a tarmac road. Bloomfield has recreated the impression of a moment, observed and suspended, as powerful and poignant as the falling blossom. 

Creating the diptychs within the series was initially intuitive, but soon became an integral part of Bloomfield’s process. The piecing together of canvases and panels provides a more explicit nod to the intimate relationship between her exterior and interior worlds. These twins are clearly not offspring that were produced in the same moment, nor are they deliberately designed to form conscious parallels with one another. They are more akin to the twins in Greek myth, oddly paired individuals who were conceived when a woman made love to both a mortal and a god on the same day. Or like the god and goddess twins, Apollo and Artemis, identified with the sun and the moon, they convey something about our dualistic nature, and the interdependency of light and shadow. 

Formally, the paired paintings are not necessarily an obvious match. Some are offset against each other, some have an inch divide between them, and yet they make sense together. In this respect, the most interesting parallel is perhaps that of geological twinning, occurring when two separate crystals share some of the same lattice points. The result is an integration: the two become a whole, but with a twin boundary separating one from the other.

Tin Hat, 2016
George Lawson Gallery

In the diptych Tin Hat 2 (2016), the two panels are related to each other by shape, form, and color, but they are deliberately differently-sized, which undermines the strict notion of the diptych form. Each panel has a separate life, but each clearly has a bearing on the other. The right hand panel is confident, dynamic, brilliant as a blue sunny day, while the left is smaller, chunky (about an inch thicker than the other), thickly built up, darker, more complex, more internal, like an x-ray or photographic negative. It is as if the marks in the right hand panel are exuberantly borne on air, while the marks in the left hand panel revolve through darker matter. 

For these new works, Bloomfield has returned to her early use of saturated color, moving away from the characteristic earths and tertiaries of recent years to high-keyed secondaries and primaries. This radiant mood is matched by a more purposeful drawing, with broad arcing marks and looping strokes creating a pictorial and painterly dynamic that is quite her own. Bloomfield is intrigued with the way one painting activates the other. The twinning process gives her the advantage of placing one painting alone and then placing its partner or twin next to it and seeing the moment the relationship is created. This relationship remains with the pairing; it hovers somewhere in the space between the two, existing just beyond the surface of the canvas, and subtly activates the whole. This whole may be perceived in the movement or interlocking of marks, the jump between different colors or tones where the individual panels meet, the dissonant shift between the two, and the accepting or questioning of the decision to place them in this way. Bloomfield compares this effect to the way in which the meaning of a poem is created, and how it resides in the atmosphere generated by the words and the spaces in-between.

—Alison Cole, London, May 2016 

Alison Cole is an independent arts critic and consultant based in London. She is former Executive Director of Arts Council England, and a celebrated art historian and author. Her latest book, Italian Renaissance Courts: Art, Pleasure and Power, was published in February of 2016.

George Lawson