Christine Jones: Line Drawings at a Crossroads

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Artist Manya Scheps, who wrote this post, is a recent BFA graduate of University of Pennsylvania and member of the Pifas collective. Subscribe to her new quarterly print publication, New Asshole, at the website, or pick up a copy at AHN/VHS.  The publication provides critical writing about Philadelphia’s DIY art scene.

Christine Jones, drawing, from her show, Crazy Ladies, at Proximity Gallery
Christine Jones, drawing, from her show, Crazy Ladies, at Proximity Gallery

How does sentimentality manifest itself as simultaneously ironic and sincere??  How does a deeply sinister sense of humor interact with the formality of drawing?   Christine Jones explores these questions in her show “Crazy Ladies” at Proximity Gallery in Fishtown.  The notion of the hyperbolic everyday informs Jones’s drawings.  Habitual occurrences—women fighting on a bus, shopping, watching Oprah—are stretched, prodded, dissected, abstracted, and compartmentalized.

The show features a variety of Jones’s drawings, accompanied by small gouache portraits of figures like Yoko Ono, Janis Joplin, Minnie Mouse—in other words, the crazy ladies.  The portraits act as gestural moments that inform the larger graphite drawings.  Not unlike Rembrandt’s many crayon sketches before an oil painting, these portraits outline the complex sentiments of the other, more finished compositions.  The graphite drawings are simultaneously visually satisfying and terrifying.  Eerily cute patterns interact with ominous black shapes and empty space, providing glimpses of clarity within unrecognizable frames.  Though fully abstracted, the drawings are not inaccessible.  They serve as theatres of emotional performance in which our own maudlin culture and art history are the key players.  A piece like Mom and Sister Give Inadequate Sex Talk, for example, reads as much hallucinogenic nightmare as it does a Mary Cassatt painting.  Figurative representation is superseded by emotional truth; the saccharine detailing yields to a larger management of loss.

Christine Jones, detail of another drawing, filled with hearts and deep black holes.
Christine Jones, detail of another drawing, filled with hearts and deep black holes.

Jones, of course, is keenly aware of the turf she treads.  The artist, who attended both Moore College and PAFA, has a firm understanding of the pragmatics of drawing.  I met Christine a while ago and was smitten with her watercolor and ink drawings that depicted the vanity of a bohemian lifestyle.  When looking at artists to represent in my senior thesis show, Physics Children, I immediately thought of Christine.  Her work fits squarely in a dialogue of formal aesthetics, conceptual rigor, and never-never land.

Composition, form, movement, and tone all drive the drawings.  Though the drawings feature intricate penmanship, they do not read as obsessive.  This is perhaps their greatest success. In an age where affected obsessive compulsiveness is ever popular among young artists, Jones’s work distinguishes itself.  Of course, the highly intricate pencil designs are incredibly labor-intensive.  But the materiality of the piece or, more specifically, the material’s sense of temporality—how long Jones spent creating the drawing—is secondary to the larger aesthetic experience.

More than technique, more than composition, the humor of the drawings is what makes them worthwhile.  The titles (It’s Like Anne Frank but with Less Attic, for example) and artist statement are amusing to say the least.  Jones writes of her work that it is “translated through both a fragmented and self-aware lens, one that is reliant on normalcy and coherence and above all, one that avoids the distilled honesty demanded throughout the work.”  Excuse me, what?  The drawings themselves are highly comical.  The cutesiness of the patterning serves to juxtapose the stark, confusing, and gloomy abstract shapes.  The emotiveness of hundreds of small hearts makes the drawings at once faulty and vulnerable.   We can’t help but laugh.

Christine Jones’s drawings are models of sensory management.   The drawing feels both optimistic and self-loathing; the paper’s possibility opens up space for failure. Yet ultimately, the works are emotional transmissions.  They expose the sentimental forces of the everyday by revealing what’s overwhelming and presenting a delightfully simplified distillation of experience.

‘Crazy Ladies’ by Christine Jones is at Proximity Gallery, 2434 East Dauphin Street in Fishtown.  The closing reception is Saturday, June 27 from 1 to 4pm.

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