"there is no beyond painting."

Paige Williams
Remains Unconvinced
Ink on Paper
18" x 15"

This week, a story that I wrote ran in City Beat about the two-person exhibition Almost Certain at Aisle Gallery. Unfortunately, due to constraints in length and some heavy editing outside of my control, I wasn’t left feeling like the world got as much from the interview I conducted with Paige Williams and Jeffrey Cortland Jones as I would have liked. So I am posting my original interview/review piece pre-editing here, along with lengthier portions of their own insights into the work.

Jeffrey Cortland Jones
acrylic + resin on OSB panel

There Is No Beyond Painting
An interview with Jeff Cortland Jones and Paige Williams

By Matt Morris

There are few exhibition spaces in Cincinnati that are as dependable and consistent in the quality of the aesthetics they purport as Aisle Gallery, managed by Krista Gregory and Bill Renschler on the third floor of a complex on Findlay Street, shared with Carl Solway Gallery, the Country Club project space, and a range of artists’ studios. Aisle’s current exhibition, Almost Certain, which features two series of abstract paintings by Jeffrey Cortland Jones and Paige Williams, will not disappoint. It’s remarkable that this exhibition is the seventh these two painters have mounted together.

Matt Morris: Why do you make paintings?

Paige Williams: I think one of the reasons I paint is because I need the limits. Was it [Dave] Hickey that said ‘If everything is possible, then nothing is possible’? If I can do anything, then I don’t know what to do and I get freaked out. That’s what painting is; I like having limits to react against.

Jeff Cortland Jones: [Fiona Rae] talks about how painting is still there while installation is dead, photography is dead because these other things happen instantly, while painting is this process that you have to go through and go through. And to quote Chuck Close, ‘It’s always wrong before it’s right.’

MM: Am I assuming in advance that you would both describe yourselves as painters?

JCJ: I call myself a painter before I call myself an artist. I’m not an artist. We can start talking about Art with a capital ‘A’ versus art with a lowercase ‘a,’ and what that means. I introduce myself as a painter no matter what I’m making.

PW: “Painter” seems a little more humble too.

JCJ: Everything I produce is failure, because it’s not the absolute. I hope that I never get to the absolute.

MM: Paige, you said to me once that when you didn’t know what to do about a painting, you would describe it back to yourself.

PW: That’s how I figure out what it’s about. I just start describing it. I analyze them on a formal level, and then I recognize my daily stuff in the work, as opposed to putting it in the work. I think the trick is finding a way to make the work no matter what: when you’ve got angst, when you’re happy. But… I was just going to go back to the ‘why you paint’ thing. I think on the one hand, I’m too insecure to say that I’m looking for the perfect painting, because I know I’d never find it. That would be defeatist for me to have that kind of attitude. It’s a different kind of ego where I just like to make stuff and I get to say “I made this out of nothing.”

Even before they had met, Jones and Williams were running in the same circles; both are part of close-knit communities of artists with shared aesthetic concerns. Though, by their own admission, they don’t get together and catch up often, as Jones says, “We run these parallel lives.” When the three of us were able to meet at the gallery and discuss their work and the commonalities they share, both artists would relate their practices to their art educations in the area, the parenting of their small children, and their experiences as art professors (Williams teaches painting at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, while Jones teaches foundations classes at University of Dayton). With unassuming candor, they disarm cynicisms that abstract painting is detached from real life, instead presenting the direct relationships between the lives they are living and the products of their art careers.

From stunning local exhibitions at the Weston Gallery, the Art Academy and the Dayton Art Institute, Paige Williams’ paintings have the reputation of being colorful and awkward with designed minimalist leanings. So the biggest surprise in this body of paintings on paper is the near-total absence of color. The grids and blocks that have populated her paintings for some time are painted in even, flat layers of black, gray and silver, and framed with mattes that are the palest ice blue. For Williams, “The grids reference a lot of domestic things, like windows, doors, quilts, nets and ladders: things that are found in ‘the home.’” I wondered aloud if the bending, irregular lines in these grids made them more into “griddles,” in line with some of her references to home life. “They’re waffles?!? I make a lot of waffles,” she exclaimed back, looking around at the works. When asked about color and other tropes that had been in her paintings for a long time now absent, she explained, “I read Operating Instructions by Ann Lamott right after Max was born. It was about having a kid, but even more so, I think it relates to the artwork. She said that as kids grow up, the things you’ve loved about them in earlier stages don’t disappear, they just become incorporated into them. I think the same way about the things you work through in your work. It’s not like you get rid of it, it just gets incorporated as you move on.” I find this newest series to be wizened and gently grim, with a tension Williams intentionally creates between the shapes. To this, Jones added in admiration “Your work is so honest,” which seems to be the largest reason he continues to enjoy exhibiting alongside her.

For his part, Jeffrey Cortland Jones presents a series of paintings on OSB panel and a series of small transparent vellum works marked with black paint and installed ethereally across the entrance wall to the gallery space. I had heard that these were sections of Jones’ studio wall, cut out like a Gordon Matta-Clark piece and then worked over with layers of resin and acrylic painting. He confirmed this: “After my last big show, I looked at my studio wall and thought that it was the most beautiful, honest painting I had ever made. It was simply the accumulation of making paintings. So I ripped the wall down, took it to the woodshop, and cut it down into squares.” To which Williams added, “He’s way braver than I am. He’s gutsier than I am.”

MM: The paint on the front layer is from the wall?

JCJ: Yeah, these paintings are three layers: the painting already on the wall, the resin, and then the acrylic on top.

MM: Jeff, what kind of conversation do you want to have about the layering of paint and resin in these paintings?

JCJ: The resin is for multiple reasons. It’s to cover up a lot of the really bad paintings that goes one. It allows me to start a new painting without having to physically start over. I can go through and negate things and choose what I want to be seen. I can start creating physical, three-dimensional space on a two dimensional surface. I’m a big proponent of ‘versus’ in art. In painting: big vs. small, matte vs. shiny, thick vs. thin. The resin helps me get that really rough texture [from the wafer board] versus the smooth resin.

MM: That’s insane how that happens! That’s one of the things I get inside of in those. The information that I’m receiving optically is telling me this is a rough surface, but there is just enough information to create contrast and show that it’ would be smooth to the touch.

JCJ: Somebody asked, “When is a painting done?” And I said, “When I can touch it.”

PW: That’s awesome!

JCJ: The resin helps me touch it. It has a certain, velvety feel to it. I will tell you that the resin is a crutch. I have a love/hate relationship to it. It’s so easy to slap resin onto something.

Apart from clear admiration of each other’s painting projects, I wondered if there was more we could articulate about the consistency with which they contextualize one another’s work. Williams answered back, “We may be saying different things, but we’re using the same language. We don’t think about painting in terms of rules. I’ve tried to help make a community out of what I want my work to do. Jeff is so able to let the ego go when it comes to the work. There’s a humanness there. For me, it’s relationships and how we navigate our life on a day to day basis with what we encounter.”

As we finished up a nearly two hour conversation, I brought up Jeff’s installation of small works, asking if these were drawings or if they were somehow beyond painting. Engaged and defiant, he offered back, “There is no beyond painting.”

Aisle is located at 424 Findlay Street, Third Floor.
Almost Certain continues through March 27th.
Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 1-4 pm
and by appointment by calling 513-241-3403.

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