Lisa Jones | The Menagerie
January 29 – March 5, 2016
Opening reception | Friday, January 29 at 7 pm
Artist Talk | Saturday, February 20 at 2 pm
Edmonton artist Lisa Jones is drawn to the circus and its exploitation of performers and animals for family entertainment, and in her dark oil paintings, luminous inter-species characters grit their teeth in pain or effort as they perform. Jones describes her paintings as a process of understanding parts of herself—the less desirable ones—through empathy. In her transparent shadow-worlds the relationships of the performance absurdly overlay the cruelty of its construction.
Lisa Jones and the Multifaceted Menagerie
By Sydney McNeill
As is inevitable when experiencing art, I am trying to find myself in it. Examining a carnival stripped of colour, I am influenced to dissect my role as an audience, as a performer and as a fragment of this civilization machine I so often feel uncertain about. Internal dialogues chatter while I work my way through a series of black-and-white multilayered oil paintings that tell the story of the circus in its strange splendour and sullen undertones. This is my journey through Lisa Jones’ Menagerie
1. I take my seat in the gallery.
In many ways, the exhibit asks that I put my hands in my lap and enjoy the show. Arranged in a fashion reminiscent of a filmstrip, the paintings offer a glimpse into the world of a travelling circus troupe. Entertainers practice and perform in grayscale, transporting me to a mid-1900s round top tent.
As a spectator, I am instantly captivated by the juxtaposition of comic and emotive elements. Bears balance on bicycles, grossly disproportionate. Human acrobats sport mischievous monkey heads. The somber expression of a sad clown hovers in space-like limbo. A striking balance persists between the coexistence of the show’s light façade and dismal realities.
Also intriguing is the blend of surrealism and photorealism. Yes, a bear could be taught to ride a bicycle. No, a human could not have the head of a monkey. Stylistically, the pieces are so engaging, emotional and vivid that things I know to be untrue seem possible. Similarly, the context is so bizarre that things I know to be possible seem untrue. Consistent with childhood notions that circuses encompass some sort of definite magic (light, dark or otherwise), I am charmed, uneasy and curious in this subtle alternate reality.
2. I join the circus.
Candid depictions of humanity challenge me to relate. Somewhere here, an invitation has been extended. I catch a glimpse of myself in the act and cross that distinguishing line between observer and participant. I have been a child in the tender hands of a clumsier primate. I often paint on my expression. I sometimes feel like a faceless woman trying to tame lions. Increasingly conscious of costume and contemplating routine, I set off to explore The Menagerie from the inside.
Pursuits of expectation rule human process. Examined objectively, most commonly recognized accomplishments prove bizarre, trivial, vain and even masochistic. Despite this, they remain integral parts of existence in the same way that the extortive culture of the circus perseveres for the sake of the show. We slip ensembles on and off between audiences. Like clowns, we assume the expected costume, make-up and persona when asked to amuse. We entertain our present public in our given arenas because we have their attention.
Yet from this mechanical grind, something tender grows. Compassion, companionship and a sense of individual purpose flourish backstage. Dignity is maintained even when we are put on display. Balance is again highly significant. We are the carnival, strange and in motion.
3. I return to my old life, slightly fazed by the broader implications of my experience.
Following immediate impressions and personal responses, I am left with a wider perspective. So often, pride sits inexcusably in the hands of conquerors. Nature’s magnificence, in which we find so many favourable parts of ourselves, is captured and compromised by smaller, greedier men. Performance, an essential part of life, takes personal tolls that are mended in beautiful, intricate moments of privacy. I do not want to undervalue these moments. I do not want to be part of a conscienceless show.
Proper adventures typically end in retrospect. As is probably evident, I found myself transported to a profoundly magical place through Jones’ work. Chronologically, the imagery gained depth and complexity throughout, allowing me to experience the narrative more clearly and respond more passionately to the work as I continued along its timeline. Solely on the basis of presentation, I was enthralled. More importantly, I had an experience. I was able to internalize it. I brought part of it home with me.
Primarily a poet, Sydney McNeill writes honestly and enthusiastically about anything and everything. She collects first-edition books and prefers pencils to keyboards.