Cremating Cats (A review by Oli Arditi)

Young artists don’t hang around the cosmopolitan Polstead/Stoke-by-Nayland metroplex much: instead they seem to hightail it off to London and other provincial cities. Sometimes they come back and we get to see their work however. The last time we saw Jess Charleston (seen above working on a piece involving wine) at The Open Road Bookshop she left us with a giant multi-coloured cat that has stood outside the shop ever since (actually I think it’s now been cremated, a fittingly glorious end for such a splendid heroic figure). Her work on her recent triumphal return derives from a life-drawing course she has recently undertaken, but it’s more diverse than that might suggest. There are certainly a good few pieces that look like they were made in a life-drawing studio, although these are generically atypical, as the models are posed quite comfortably for the most part, and rather than the usual bored, moderately pissed-off is their predominant facial expression (I wouldn’t like to be a life model). There are also a couple of etchings in among the drawings, presumably worked up from life studies, in which the human form departs expressively from verisimilitude, making for pleasingly exact and particular compositions, self-contained haikus of line and texture. A couple of architectural sketches, one very large, also broaden the creative palette: these seem less concerned with the anal-retentive precision that can blight drawings of such subjects, and more interested in the experience of the space. In the case of the larger work, made during several visits to the Victoria and Albert Museum, there’s something of an Italian futurist feel to the way she focuses on the dynamism of the building and of the objects within it, although her means are less fragmentary or geometric than that comparison might suggest. Seen rather poorly in the photo above there are two sketches of faces that seem quite unlike most of the other drawings, which use quite short lines and a good deal of modelling. These two pieces are, in contrast, executed with a small number of extended lines and a graphic approach, as though made quickly, and for my money they are the strongest work in the show, displaying an assured, emphatic visual analysis of her subject that seems muted, or more tentative elsewhere in this very small sampling of her work. It’s a very positive thing to see two consecutive shows from an artist that contrast sharply in style, technique and medium: Jess Charleston is clearly grasping for something, continuing to push herself into new territories in a creatively restless manner. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to see ground broken and risks taken by such an accomplished and clear sighted artist.

Read more of Oli Arditi’s musings on his blog:



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