Mr Jago in his studio, 2019
Duncan Jago (b. 1972, Bristol) began his career as ‘Mr Jago’ in Bristol, as part of the acclaimed graffiti scene of the late 90’s. He was one of the founding participants in the Scrawl movement: a school of street art that took in members based on their ability to manipulate line, capture movement and develop narrative through composition. He was featured in the movement’s seminal, eponymous book Scrawl, published in 1999.
Having studied illustration at the University of the West of England, Mr. Jago’s style – initially heavily illustrative – has evolved into something far more abstract and expressive. Over the last twenty years he has taken spray painting to a level of sophistication the medium has rarely seen; there is maturity and depth to his use of colour, something he uses to interact with the natural world and the cosmos.
Nil - 2015
Before Nil in 2015, Mr Jago had put on a handful of solo shows (including Mr Jago in Paris and New Coordinates in San Francisco). However, it was his first show in London and first show at Unit London (then just a fledgling gallery of two years) that fully kickstarted the street artist’s move indoors. Nil announced Mr Jago to the contemporary art world, introducing viewers to his abstract, splattered compositions. The show’s title alluded to Jago’s sense of new beginnings, to coming full circle, ending one chapter to start another. Five years on, it seems we can look back and say with some certainty that Mr Jago was embarking on something that would turn out to be exceedingly impressive.
“I start with a white space, be it a wall or canvas, I break it up and I put my robots or characters in. Then add some quite gestural brushstrokes, I start with that, like my skeleton piece. There are characters in there, these people these forms and then from there, with colour, I tend to sort of dissolve them and add them in – add landscapes on top of them or burn them into the landscape… it is very much a freestyle process.” Mr Jago, 2015
Nil - Studio
Nil - Works
Strata - 2018
2018 saw the arrival of Strata, Mr Jago’s second solo show with the gallery. The name Strata, as the plural form of stratum (a layer or series of layers of rock in the ground) referenced the complex process of layering taking place in his work. Strata celebrated the ever-increasing depth in Mr Jago’s pieces: like a series of vibrant palimpsests, they had a kind of layered meaning that allowed them to be unpicked by the discerning viewer, opening up the psychological state of the artist.
In Strata, Mr Jago’s abstraction leaves interpretation up to the spectator, inviting them to decide what lies beneath the gestural brushstrokes, drips, splatters, and scrapes. The paintings in Strata balanced opposing dimensions: a skilful manipulation of light and dark evoked feelings of love and despair, hope and defeat, celebration and mourning, near universal emotions that can be shared and analysed.
Strata - Video
Strata - Studio
Strata - Install
Strata - Private View
Last year, Rewild – born from the term ‘rewilding’ – sought to examine the environmental initiative concerned with conservation, restoration and protection of natural processes and areas. In this body of work Mr Jago aligned his practice closer to nature. In these dripped and splattered scenes, landscapes begin to form before the viewer, verdant foliage seems to grow from the dark cracks of the canvas. Chaos and calm are conveyed in equal measure across the surfaces. While anxiety was undeniably a key source of their making, these works also represent a sense of hope that perhaps verge on an escapist fantasy.
With a total absence of the figuration that was first seen in Nil, Mr Jago’s works in Rewild – as well as the work he is making today – is unambiguously tethered to nature and natural processes. As a result, the work is looser, broader, freer, unconstrained by the limitations of the human form. Mr Jago has entered a new decade with a new direction. This is hugely precinct work, in our highly controlled, highly restricted present, it can seem as though nature is recouping, growing stronger and louder by the day; a cacophony of bird song or stars in the unpolluted night sky are more common sensory experiences for us today, as nature undertakes its own rewilding. As Mr Jago rather prophetically claimed in 2019: “a love of nature has been the biggest influence on my work, the forms and flows that exist within it seem to be appearing … more and more nowadays.”
Rewild - Studio
Rewild - Works
Rewild - Install
O, Luminous One
Right to be Wrong