A sharpness of focus, at once joyous and disconcerting, is a feature uniting Jon Wealleans’ approach. Suggesting the restless antennae of a bee in pursuit of pollen, Wealleans’ vision has a cinematic quality, as the viewer’s eye is drawn from one intriguing cluster to another, the entire vision in every finely observed detail ablaze with the artist’s exceptionally hot and shocking palette.
The breadth of reference in Jon Wealleans’ subjects may surprise, but it is never contrived: the objects, furniture and artefacts on view are more in the way of an autobiography and have come together as one experience follows another. Rare pieces from the Arts and Crafts and Art Deco movements sit alongside Victorian and contemporary tourist paraphernalia acquired from around the world, from fine craftsmanship to primitive folk art and valueless local tat, with the happiest hunting grounds located in India and Mexico .
‘It may be reasonable to suggest,’ writes Will Self, ‘ that Wealleans - fine and honest artist that he is – paints the way he does because he knows how intrinsic to his own creative process is the concept of ordered chaos: a seemingly random agglomeration of objects, that yet contain within their interrelation the lineaments of the mind that assembled them. Far from harkening back to the Old Masters, Wealleans’ paintings evoke shamanic ‘symbol sets’: ritual objects which are arranged then re-arranged in order to provoke remote effects’. The other side of chaos, orchestrating these compositions and giving them their unique energy is magic of another kind, the artist’s ability simultaneously to surprise, challenge and excite us.
‘I have attempted a subversion of the Old Master still life tradition, but what astonishes me is that while modern interiors are full of memento mori – there hangs the never-used nutmeg grater that tells us our meals are numbered – there isn’t a single available light source. Natural daylight, from a window, falling from left to right across skulls, fruit and cloth – these are recognised as the essential signifiers of mortality: the eye reads the image as a narrative of life itself, with a beginning, middle and end.
‘Now, instead of this quite orderly basis for sciagraphy – the creation of perspective by the rendition of light and shade – the painter is faced with hideous sciamachy: he must fight with the scores of jinn-like, wispy little shadows that are created by those cursed halogen bulbs!’
“In place of the unified focal length of the photographic image, Wealleans substitutes the saccades of the human eye as it surveys a prospect, zooming in and out, panning continually. This is, of course, quite like an analogue of memory itself, as it ranges over space and time… While his paintings at first glance seem fairly straightforward, on closer inspection they suck you into their golden glow of be-here-nowness”
Jon Wealleans (born Yorkshire 1946) studied architecture at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art followed by post-graduate studies in design at the Royal College of Art, where is now an Honorary Fellow. Attracted from the start in his architectural studies by the arts of perspective and the study of shadows as taught in sciagraphy, Wealleans relished the computer free environment of the time with its encouragement to wander between different departments and disciplines.
Wealleans’ career in architecture began with his work with the Building Design Partnership, then Foster Associates before he went on to develop his own practice. In the 1960s he designed shops for the now legendary Mr Freedom and other pop-linked environments as well as furniture which gave him a high public profile and appearances on two BBC TV programs, Design by Five. Concurrently, Wealleans taught architecture and design at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, the Royal College of Art and Kingston University. At around this time he collaborated also with rock musicians and their management, including the Elton John Organisation and Led Zeppelin. Having always painted, though self-taught, Wealleans has devoted increasing time to his painting since the 1990s, and has participated in several of the Gallery’s theme exhibitions including Roma (2000), Lair of the Leopard (2005), РОДИНА: contemporary painters from the West winter in Russia (2008) and This twittering world: Contemporary painters celebrate TS Eliot’s FOUR QUARTETS (2011) . One-person exhibitions with Francis Kyle Gallery 2009 and 2011.
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