This May, Unit London presents a new solo exhibition by British artist Jake Wood-Evans, Legacy & Disorder. The highly anticipated show centres around Wood-Evans’ fascination with the coalescence of past and present. The artist’s large-scale oil paintings and drawings convey an altered atmosphere: in his own words, Wood-Evan’s work is “a process of conflict with the ambiguous space between representation and abstraction.”
Legacy & Disorder follows Wood-Evans’ recent 2018 museum exhibition, REPORTRAIT, at the Nottingham Castle Museum and previous solo shows, Subjection & Discipline and Transitions with Unit London. His new body of work focuses on contextualising his fragmented historical figures within transient and synchronously enveloping and imploding spaces. Wood-Evans views the art historical canon as a precious bounty of possibilities that can be studied, excavated and re-appropriated in original representations. His canvases celebrate the dynamic relationship between the past, present, and the possibility of what is yet to come with fragments of each in the harmonious confluence.
Jake Wood Evans’ Studio. Photography: Lucy Emms
The area surrounding Wood-Evans’ figures has become a fertile ground for new energy and experimentation. These spaces evoke a dream-like version of the countryside idylls and stately landscapes often presented in full-length portraits by the likes of Gainsborough and other influential 18th-century artists referenced by Wood-Evans. Profoundly unnerving, his work is suggestive of the uneasy fantasy of an English ruling class that cannot quite believe its rhetoric and grandeur. The figures, vibrating with ambivalence, are located in a space that refuses to stand still: all is change and movement as if we are viewing the passage of time.
Embracing an element of chaos, Wood-Evans again echoes the practice of past masters, such as Gainsborough’s famous Blue Boy. By reworking and reusing previously painted and discarded canvasses, he introduces an anarchy of shape, form and colour that reflect the pandemonium of life, with past and present in a frenzied overlay.
Jake Wood-Evans, The Blue Boy, after Gainsborough 1, 2019
Jake Wood-Evans’ heightened focus on the grandiose dress worn by his subjects is also prominent in these works. His figures are themselves dichotomies – they remain simultaneously relevant whilst beginning to vanish into a threatening obscurity. In this way, the paintings are no longer ‘about’ the individuals depicted on the canvas, but contain an essence, an imprint, that stretches beyond their physical reality. Delighting in the tension between incidence and absence, what Wood-Evans chooses to erase holds the same importance as what remains on the painted surface. In front of our eyes the figures scintillatingly reveal and conceal themselves, inviting the viewer to catch a thread from the unravelling story in front of them. Ultimately, Legacy & Disorder offers a refuge amongst the sublime beauty and tranquillity of the paintings, and the turmoil of a constantly shifting, fractured reality.