Four Paintings, 2014
In the paintings of the last year, IAA Faculty Fellow Robert Jessup has been working to redefine his painting in more purely formal, non-representational terms. Practicing a methodology of continuous improvisation, he has been pursuing pictorial inventions that have a feel of drama and a sense of narrative without relying on recognizable images or symbols. Through the compositional dialogue of line, shape and color, he has been seeking powerful configurations that have a resolute identity without being identifiable.
The four monumental paintings in this exhibition summarize and extend the issues of form and meaning Jessup has been exploring in the large body of work he has created during his fellowship year.
Besides the idea of configuration without representation, Jessup has been exploring the relationship of line to shape and how the interaction of the two can activate the entire field of the rectangle, going beyond the simple figure/ground relationship. Central to Jessup's idea of form-building is what he calls the thematized brushstroke. Seeing the brush's mark as essentially a set of directional parallel lines, he creates a language of stripes and bands, created by brushes of different sizes, toothed scrapers and knives of various widths. These directional bands have become a major motif in the new paintings. They can pile, push or collide in dramatic compositional confrontations. They can form large architectonic structures that frame open fields of color. They can overlap and intertwine, creating convoluted knots. Or they can form and break apart into dozens of directional shapes, filling the plane of the painting with a jostling syncopation.
Another crucial element that drives Jessup's compositions is the particular interaction of color in each painting. For Jessup, each painting must find its particular emotional tone through the color. In Storm Catcher, for instance, dark oranges and greens collide with brooding blue-black. In Norsemans's Song, a white of dirty ice dreams of an elegiac spring across bands of ocean blue. Claustrophobic maroons and olive greens combine with faded linen bands in A Prisoner of Madrid. Pale yellows and faded viridian shimmer in the high cool desert air of Ghost of the High Plateau.
Although the paintings eschew the use of recognizable imagery, Jessup's paintings are everywhere filled with feeling, memory and emotion. Gustav Mahler once said that a symphony must contain the world. Jessup has always felt that a painting should do the same. Paradoxically, by leaving behind the tropes of representation, Jessup's new work has come closer to realizing this goal.