August 14 – September 18, 2021
Nino Mier Gallery is pleased to present new paintings by Dallas-based artist Otis Jones. This exhibition will be on view in Los Angeles from August 14 – September 18, 2021, and features eleven new works in his signature reductive style, composed on a variety of irregularly shaped canvases.
Otis Jones’ art marvels at materiality and objecthood, but each of his paintings begins with just the outline of a shape. He takes pencil to paper and drafts a form—usually a circle, oval, or rectangle—that a trusted carpenter with whom he has worked for years recreates with stacked plywood. Jones instructs him not to manufacture imperfection, but to allow for small, organic errors, such as lamination drips. These plywood forms might technically be referred to as Jones’ frames, but functionally they are more than mere adornment, as they comprise the base and the sides to his paintings. Jones stretches and staples linen to the flat planes of the plywood structures, which he then paints with fields of richly-textured, monochromatic color. Within these color fields, he positions smaller geometric forms that mimic the shape of the work at large. These biomorphic, microcosmic shapes made with acrylic paint are opaque and sometimes impastoed. While the paintings on view in this exhibition are not “process paintings” per se, the visible elements of the construction process—glue, staples, lamination, excess paint—imparts an aura of hand-crafted uniqueness onto each work, fashioned with a sensitivity towards beauty that is derived from rather than at odds with a rugged pragmatism.
Such pragmatism has been a lifelong tenet of Jones’ practice. He grew up visiting his grandparents’ farm, where he became fixated with specific objects—his grandfather’s boots, for instance—that he attempted to recreate through artistic constructions. But he always was left feeling that the original object was better than his representation of it. Recently, while speaking about how he divines his compositions, Otis Jones said: “together, we work it out.” The “we” in his statement refers to himself and the painting-to-be. The power—agency, even—that Jones imparts on his works is essential to understanding their aesthetic effect. Rather than being representations of scenes or forms, his constructions are the scene and the form. It is as though his artworks were creatures, revealing more about themselves the longer one spends time with them. The personification of his works in this quote also reflects their uncanny, subtle biomorphism. Most of the canvases in this selection of recent works feature two small circles painted within an ovular frame. The proportion and scale of Jones’ circles are uncannily similar to eyes on a face. They stare back at the viewer, unblinkingly.
Jones’ paintings can be articulated alongside a variety of artistic lineages. Their meditative seriality and occupation with form recall tantric art, while their reverence for imperfection places them within a recent trend towards the purposeful “de-skilling” of painting. Most usefully, though, their insistent materiality recalls the interests of certain post-minimalists, particularly Eva Hesse and Ron Gorchov, who wanted to retain minimalism’s focus on formalism, but who favored the grimy, the anthropomorphic, and the hand-made over the pristine, the slick, and the machine-built. There is a subtle abjection in Jones’ paintings that, like Hesse’s late work, bubbles up to the surface the longer one regards them. Jones’ whites are never pure, but rather are stained with washes of a soot-like brown; dried, clumpy glue runs from the linen canvas down the sides of the plywood; and his monochromatic fields are scraped and scratched as though they were weathered surfaces, ravaged by age. These features might be understood as a kind of Bauhausian “truth-to-materials” bent, but they also tap into the repressed, libidinal underside of the pure, minimalist shaped canvas.
Jones’ recent works embody both a tension between the superficial tameness of geometry and its perversion through materiality; and between the instantaneous and the durational. Not only do Jones’ works represent time, but they also require the viewer to spend it. The glue drips are crystallizations of the long task of drying, and the many staples which affix linen to plywood are so excessively numerous that one can’t help but imagine how long the artist spent with a stapler. To take this all in, one must look closely, and from a variety of angles. The stratigraphy of Jones’ works requires viewers to regard his constructions from all sides; some even reveal their insides, accessed through gaps in the plywood stack. In a sense, they live up to Frank Stella’s statement about his own work, “what you see is what you get.” But in another sense, “what you see” must unfold in time.
Otis Jones (b. 1946, Galveston, Texas), has recently had solo shows at MARC STRAUS (New York; 2021, 2019, 2018), Barry Whistler (Dallas; 2020, 2016), Sorry We’re Closed (Brussels; 2019), Sunday-S (Copenhagen; 2019, 2017), Gray Contemporary (Houston; 2017), annex14 (Zürich; 2016), and William Campbell Contemporary Art (Fort Worth; 2012). He was the recipient of a Visual Artists Fellowship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (1982), and holds a BFA from Kansas State University, and an MFA from the University of Oklahoma. He has taught at Texas Christian University, the University of Texas at Austin, and has served as an Associate Professor and Visiting Professor at University of Texas at Arlington. Jones’ work is in many major private and public collections, including at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Nelson Atkins museum of Art (Kansas City).