Just as in the second part of a verse bad poets seek a thought to fit their rhyme, so in the second half of their lives people tend to become more anxious about finding actions, positions, relationships that fit those of their earlier lives, so that everything harmonizes quite well on the surface: but their lives are no longer ruled by a strong thought, and instead, in its place, comes the intention of finding a rhyme.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Human, All Too Human’
The title of this exhibition is ‘Woman’. On the surface this is not a fist pumping exhibition about ‘feminism’, a subject where I concede that there would be at least 50 percent of the population better placed to write about it than I. Instead, this is an exhibition that reflects paintings unceasing capacity to plough beneath the authors personal surface in order to reveal universal truths.
I started working with Joy Wolfenden Brown 12 years ago. I remember her first solo exhibition with my gallery vividly - her young sons running excitedly around the space as the enthusiastic and enthralled guests arrived to the preview. It was Joys first major exhibition and my second ever solo show. I remember it clearly as a time of innocence and optimism. My world and my career have changed a great deal since then - things are now ‘much more grown up’, and those impish children of Joy’s have also grown in to fine young men. Wow - that all happened fast!
Bertrand Russell wrote in ‘The Problems of Philosophy’; “Some care is needed in using Descartes’ argument. ‘I think, therefore I am’ says rather more than is strictly certain. It might seem as though we are quite sure of being the same person to-day as we were yesterday, and this is no doubt true in some sense. But the real ‘Self’ is as hard to arrive at as the real table, and does not seem to have that absolute, convincing certainty that belongs to particular experiences.” I ask Joy Wolfenden Brown some way through making this exhibition how she is feeling about the work that she is making. She tells me how some of the figures remain frozen, a record of her standing firm but also struggling to move forward in to the uncertainty of the next era, but she notes a tentative blossoming. ‘A winter flowering’ she describes it as. I am pleased to hear of this personal florescence.
From the first moment I saw Joy’s work all those years ago, I recognised the rarest of gifts - a complete inability to conceal what was deeply felt. Even the thinly veiled almost crude brush strokes displayed a virtuosity but didn’t hide behind the sort of mannered techniques we are used to seeing in illusionistic painting, nor did they hide behind the heaviness of the material. They were instant. Like a breath. These works were the epitome of that cliched holy grail - these works were ‘honest’. And over the years, if anything, that delicate veil has grown thinner, even if in many ways the protective armour has grown harder, as is its tendency.
Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart… live in the question.” These paintings yield to these sentiments claiming and affirming the qualities of gentleness, love, vulnerability, ageing, peace, sadness, imperfection, truth and awkwardness. With that our layers peal away. Reminded of what it is to be an individual, in my case a man and in Joy’s case a woman; human beings, in our state of vulnerability and isolation still yearning for glory. Not one dimensional as reflected through the contemporary lense of improbable fortitude and glossy flawlessness of the mass media ideal. As Joy says ‘‘We lose sight of each other when we look at the mass. Every life is significant, each person carrying with them their own story. My paintings record one life, echo one heart and trace one souls journey.”
We live in strange times, of faceless communication and mounting fear of others - one that many see as a path of worrying de-humanisation. I love these paintings because they remind us of something of profound importance - that when we dare to reveal ourselves to others, a gift is being held out. We must not let the curtains block out the light. We must not concern ourselves with whether or not the ‘other’ wishes to or is ready to receive that gift. Everyone, however imperfect, is there to be loved. A tricky complex message, of course, but I am glad we have an artist here prepared to lead by humble, nervous but magnificent example. What more can one person do?
Joseph Clarke . 2016