Jilaine Jones: Sculpture
New York Studio School
8 West 8th Street
New York City
June 5 to July 19, 2008
This show is dynamite. All four sculptures in it are excellent, but Wonder World (2006), the massive one that all but fills the entry gallery, is particularly powerful. Rising into three successive angular peaks, nearly eight feet tall, twelve feet long and four feet wide, Wonder World is built of hard steel rods, bars and sheet steel that interact with somewhat more malleable slabs and blocks of concrete and rock board. The whole is tough, hard, aggressive and muscular—yet also slender, graceful, sensitive and wise.
Wonder World’s creator, Jilaine Jones, was born in London in 1959 but has long since emigrated to the U.S. and lives in Connecticut. She studied at the New York State College of Ceramics in Alfred NY and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as working as a studio assistant to the American sculptor, James Wolfe, but she’s also benefitted from contact with two important British sculptors, Anthony Caro and Tim Scott, having worked as Scott’s assistant, too. All this was in the 1970s and ‘80s; more recently she’s taught at the New York Studio School.
Central to her endeavors is the combination of two materials she starts with and has been inspired by: steel (welded in the constructivist tradition that began in the 1920s with Picasso and Julio González, continuing on through David Smith to the present) and clay (shaped or modeled, then translated into more durable materials through casting or fabrication). Jones’s use of clay represents a break from the formalism of welded steel sculpture for its own sake. With its more organic outlines and palpable workability, clay suggests the human figure, and Jones has gone through an intensive period of working with the live model.
As Susan Rosenberg explains, in her illuminating catalogue, during this period of study in 2003-2004, Jones instructed a model to move through an architectural scaffolding of her own making, and through a tripartite succession of poses, so that she could see how the moving body related to its space. The most direct fruit of this preparation appears to be Wonder World, since it has three elements. They can be compared to sculpture’s three modes of addressing the viewer–floor, pedestal and monument–or as three stages of life–childhood, adolescence and adulthood, but being true abstractions, the human presence is implied not stated, felt not said. Should the viewer wish to play around with the larger theme of clay v. steel, it can be interpreted as life versus art, nature versus culture, warm versus cool, lighter versus darker, and any number of other dualities–which, however, in the works themselves fuse into integrated wholes.
Of the remaining sculptures, largest is Portrait of a Solitary Walk (2007), another floor piece seven feet tall and nine feet long. Composed of a complex open horizontal rectangle of thin steel rods and bars, with a spiky vertical concrete shape in the middle that encloses small rocks, it’s inspired by the country walks that the artist likes to take. One of two smaller works on pedestals is Five Cart Loads (2008), combining a relatively simple frame of steel rods with three softly, clearly modeled smaller shapes of Hydrocal (an extra-strong gypsum cement or plaster of Paris). Most intricate, intimate and charming is She is Like Her Children(2005), only twenty-two inches long and eighteen inches high. It situates two equally yielding small modeled shapes of Hydro-Stone (another extra-strong plaster) within a fragile cage-like environment of silvery steel wires, with a third Hydro-Stone shape outside the cage, lonely but still essential to the composition.