Justine Trendall's analysis of my practice (2015)
There is a consistency to the work of Locust Jones that has a distinctly modernist ring to it. He's an artist who operates around the idea of a signature style. Take for instance his chosen mode of image making, the drawn line. The lines that have been extending themselves out across the surface of his drawings for many years now have remained stubbornly clumsy. Even after all this time they retain a signature rawness. As someone who's long admired his work I've often wondered at this; been curious about the pains he's taken to preserve this rudimentary look. It's as if one part of his identity as an artist has been forged by the scrupulous suppression of technical virtuosity; a deliberate blocking off of the skills that surreptitiously attach themselves to actions we perform on a daily basis. Because Locust is someone who has been making lines on an almost daily basis for many years.
And this is perhaps as good a point as any to start an introduction to Locust's work from; the daily basis of his practice; his deep affinity with the idea of art being something that's done each day. I know that he doesn't actually make work every day and nor does he claim to do so. Nonetheless I get a strong sense, both from the work and from conversations I've had with him over the years, that continuity of process is very important to him; that he thinks about all he's made as somehow being part of one long indivisible project. I realise the idea of an artist's work having an invisible unity is common place; could almost be considered the default position when it comes to discussing such things. In Locust's case, however, it carries special weight. Continuity is something he clearly wants us to take into account; it's an explicit aspect of many works. Take for instance his scroll pieces: the 10, 20, 100 meter drawings that track the passing of days. Encountering one of these makes us realise that his individual drawings are all actually connected in some way to that same long roll; are on bits of paper cut off in slightly arbitrary ways to suit the needs of the occasion. And it's not just the material base that speaks of an overarching continuity. Continuity is also legible in the way in which the drawings unfurl themselves across the page. Mimicking the conventions of Western writing they are often laid down from right to left like some new kind of ideographic language system, spreading slowly across the blank surfaces of the paper; accidently recording the passage of time in a manner not dissimilar to the slow seepages of a stain.
Which brings me to the role of process in Locust's work.
The relationship between a finished artwork and its method of production was a central preoccupation of modernist artists. A growing awareness of just how tightly an artwork's meaning is entwined in the processes of it's making was one of the insights that drove the endless experimentations of the period. And this shift of attention away from finished artwork to the temporal processes surrounding its production has been carried over into contemporary art. It's rare nowadays to find an interesting artist who hasn't thought carefully about this relationship and who does not in some way exploit the extra levels of meaning opened up within a work's meaning by it's method of making.
This is certainly the case with Locust Jones's work. Process plays a critically important role in it, even if this is not immediately apparent. The methodical way in which many of his works are made; the orderly laying down of the drawings from right to left; their documentary/daily/diaristic ambitions; the scheduled regularity of the sessions: all these things point towards a relationship to the traditions of automatic writing, that artistic methodology par-excellent first used by Andre Breton. Originally conceived as a poetic practice it was designed to open up the creative mind to other levels of authorship and intention. It quickly made the transition from writing to drawing and since then has been endlessly re-invented to cover a multitude of practices and media. That drawing was the earliest area infected is no accident. The chain of linkages that connects language to cursive script to calligraphy to quick sketch is almost seamless, and there's long line of artist's who've operated in and around this connection (think Pollock to Pettibon) whose work has been informed by Breton's insights.
Locust's particular version of this methodology is in keeping with the original intentions of automatic writing. Essentially he's interested in surrendering away some of the decision making process that surrounds the choice of subject matter for his work. His structured work patterns are there to partially absent himself from his work's content. And he needs to do this because his work is crammed full of representational material and texts; all demanding attention and engagement. In fact he's one of those artists whose work is plainly 'too full' of content.
This is where his notion of art as something that gets done each day (or almost every day) begins to make sense to me: when it is linked, however tentatively, to the distancing ambitions of automatic writing. The regularity and continuity that resonates throughout his practice resembles the little rules sets that automatic writing employed to shift the weight of authorship away from the artist. To my mind this is one of the things Locust is doing when he puts forward the idea that art is in some way a daily activity; suggests that it is some kind of job or task. He is seeking to distance himself from his work's content. He wants to channel content without being entirely responsible for it.
Which brings me to content.
Locust's interest in continuity of process is not the only thing that embeds his art in daily routine. His primary source of inspiration - the daily news - also points unequivocally in this direction. There are two aspects of Locust's practice that have remained consistent for many years. One is the rudimentary nature of his mark making and the other is the fragmentary scraps of daily news that make their way into his work. Yes, there are other ideas and information streams feeding into the mix; but it is material gleaned from his daily sampling of various news sources that dominates the tone and content of his practice.
For me these news fragments are critical; they are what make his work contemporary. They shift it into the present and mark it off from a set of earlier traditions that also cultivated rawness of gesture: expressionism, abstract expressionism and neo-expressionism. The presence of contemporary news stories helps prevent Locust's work from becoming overly entangled in notions of authenticity; a reading that his expressionistic style and emotive subject might otherwise attract. The news is a foil.
The fragments of news inserted into Locust's work are clearly intended to trigger political and moral emotions. They are ciphers that lead us back into the narratives of death and destruction we have grown used to encountering every day in the news; the meta-narratives of middle eastern conflict, global financial crisis and climate change. The years have come and gone and these serialised catastrophes still have no end in sight. On and on they go, like the paper scrolls of his drawings, providing an endless array of material for his work. Locust's drawings seem to follow them involuntarily, as if tethered to their dismal progress by the same combination of routine and disturbed fascination that underwrites our daily viewing habits. His work is almost as much about repetition as it is about moral distress and political outrage. About the dulling down of feeling that comes with routine.
This is the distancing effect that I mentioned earlier. In his work the news is offered up in a surprisingly deadpan way; presented with an evenness and regularity that make it ordinary. The same events and issues appear over and over again; become in some way emblematic of the contradictions that surround the way in which we relate to world events through the distanced lens of media. The news is a part of our everyday routine that not only rehearses a strange new sense of connectedness to the planet we live on but also makes manifest the indifference and sense of ordinariness that colours this vastly enlarged understanding of the world.
Selected Additional Press Coverage
- Tasmanian Times, The Stuff of Life
- Locust Jones, Subterranean Output, Five years of drawing, 2010-15 ISBN 978-0-646-96678-6
- Hobart Mercury, Embracing Reality.
- ArtGuide, Locust Jones draws the news by Briony Downes
- Live Streaming, Raven, April, by Rachel Vance
- Art Monthly, A week in the life of the world, by Locust Jones
- ArtsHub, August, by Gina Farley
- What’s on in Melbourne, The Age, April 2015, Dan Rule
- Art plague? No, just a Locust Blue Mountains Gazette
- Holding up a mirror to society, Hobart Mercury, July 19, Clyde Selby
- The Age, In the galleries by Dan Rule, Feb 22
- Printeresting, New York, Review of Burn Freeze at David Krut Projects, April
- Christchurch Art Gallery Bulletin Magazine, Sept-Nov, by Felicity Milburn
- Sydney Magazine, SMH, August
- Financial Review
- New Zealand Herald, by Tj Mcnamara
- Art Profile issue 15, Australian Art Collector, Jan-Feb.
- Art Nation, ABC Television
- June/July edition of Art in America - Review by Roger Boyce
- In the name of art, rub out the drawing board, Andrew Frost for Sydney Morning Herald
- On their marks, get set, go, John Mcdonald for Sydney Morning Herald
- ABC Sunday Arts, interview with Fenella Kernebone
- Exhibition Review Wellington, Catherine Macdonald writer for Imprint Magazine
- Pulp friction, Tracey Clement for The Sydney Morning Herald
- Large-scale comment on life, Jamie Hanton for The Christchurch Press, NZ
- The end is nigh - Locust Jones draws a world slowly going to hell. Tracey Clement for Sydney Morning Herald