Jason's latest paintings at once invite but simultaneously defy interpretation. They imply a narrative, with figures meticulously positioned in time and space, but that narrative is ambiguous in some way, or perhaps it is simply that we are missing a vital piece of information which would provide the key.
As viewers, we seek that meaning just as the subjects themselves are impelled to be seekers after significance: it is, after all, the human condition to search our lives for meaning and direction. Yet these are not works to offer certainties in the face of such inquiry; they remind us rather of Francis Bacon’s celebrated remark that the job of the artist “is always to deepen the mystery”. It is questions that occur to us more readily than answers in this exhibition.
The characters Jason creates, whether imposing solitary presences or the tiny Bruegel-like figures of ‘No Place’, are all distanced from us by their total absorption in the task at hand; they inhabit a world somehow separate from ours. Whether individuals or members of a crowd who surrender themselves to a group, social interaction or conventional communication is not for them: it would somehow trivialise their search for meaning, you sense.
This exhibition is the product of a lengthy period of gestation over several years which started with intensive reading – history, politics, theology and fiction have all influenced the work. While Jason will talk with enthusiasm about these books, he appreciates the danger of being too specific: no extraneous thoughts should distract the viewer from the paintings themselves, particularly since their creation owes as much to the spontaneous act of painting as it does to any conscious processes.
There are no preparatory drawings or sketches; instead, ideas are worked out on the canvas itself, layers of paint applied to create an impasto which, as we approach the pictures, we have the same urge to immerse ourselves in. For the artist, it is - in Jason’s words - ‘like painting the air’.
It is unusual, of course, to hold an exhibition in a studio and rarer still for the space itself to be so important in the making of the images: the influence of the Commercial Buildings warehouse which Jason moved to in January 2015 cannot be over-estimated. For this is work created in a large space, in the physical act of applying paint to canvas, the paint itself becoming part of the imagery, as one can see from the way some figures – in ‘Finder’, ‘Seeker’ I, ‘Seeker’ II, and ‘The Colour of the Earth’, for example - seem to be engrossed in the very picture surface of which they themselves form a part.
Visitors to the studio in the weeks and months leading to the exhibition will have experienced the curious sensation of ghostly figures disappearing beneath layers of fresh paint, as pictures develop and take a new direction.
The space, light and atmosphere of the studio encourage such reassessment which, in turn, requires the artist to be entirely unafraid of discarding previous ideas, irrespective of the time they may have taken to create, or how long the images have hung in the studio.
One of the most obvious benefits of the Commercial Buildings studio is that it permits scale, a monumental quality, quite different from some of Jason’s other recent work. But there is another interesting aspect: it encourages a relationship between artist and his public. It is as much a place for conversation and discussion - to which individuals and groups are warmly encouraged - as it is the refuge of the working painter.
And with this latest exhibition you sense a new confidence for the work openly acknowledges the very mystery and uncertainty that it seeks to capture: the artist is as much a seeker after meaning as his subjects or public. ‘In painting, you have to acknowledge that you also try to find out who you are’, as Jason puts it.
Cultural Development Officer and friend of the artist