Text by Emma Hart, Never Be Cool, February 2014 Never be cool was a piece of advice I was once given. So here it is; I think Jonathan Baldock’s work is incredible. I am an unrelenting fan and it gets better, as each time I see his work I fall deeper for it and deeper in to it. I feast on it; and chew it over and over.
I can still feel the sharp breath I took in on my first encounter with his work. Elaborate sourdough busts, highly detailed and coloured glare straight at me. Their intense odd force grabs me by the eyeballs and snaps me out of my resigned art stare. My head knows that I should recognise their plotted co-ordinates, but my guts are telling me this is news. The busts nod towards historical moments, but they are spewing up hair and this resonates with how I feel currently: like I’m always choking. Time has been condensed and repackaged to create something I have never seen before. The work demands the attention of all my senses. I can taste and smell that hair too. My whole body is called upon whilst my mind is rushing to build a new place in my head for what I’m taking in; I am changed.
Then in 2012, it gets even better, I do a residency with Jonathan at Wysing Arts Centre and then, it gets better still, we become good friends. We work together in the ceramics studio, and I hungrily observe him at work.
Across the various materials Jonathan uses, such as ceramics or felt he has invented his own techniques with which to work. This thinking up of processes means that he can start an artwork without being actually sure what the results will be yet take strength in this freedom. Initiating his own methods ensures the work comes from within whilst not being contrived. This approach can too easily be dismissed as a definition of style, but it goes much deeper here–it’s a new language with materials. It is the production of an imagination. My hunch is that if there is an infinite amount of vivid stuff in your head it can be overwhelming to try and get it all out. If you can instead extrapolate methods that all these things can be made by, you can at least begin. You can take the risk that they will manifest as you have imagined them. Jonathan can operate with conviction.
Jonathan’s commitment culminates in unswerving attention to detail. Something I recognise from my own work is a desire to overwhelm the viewer with detail, preventing them from being able to take the entire work in. This is close to how we encounter the world around us, editing our own experience from a bombardment of information. Detail closes the gap between art and life. Jonathan’s recent solo exhibition at Wysing Arts Centre was rich; spilling over with ideas and potentiality. Clusters of small ceramic objects–helmets, batons, hoops, rulers, spatulas–had gathered around large felt monuments whilst stuffed club footed costumes wobbled and swayed. Everywhere you looked you found something and everything you found needed to be looked at more than once. It was a fertile jungle of invention; it was alive.
His interest and work with items such as masks and costumes is revealing, suggesting he harbours a psychological attachment to things that cover us up. Looking at things is an important part of his process. Jonathan researches things he loves – from masks and costumes, to Boy George, to corn dollies and on to Barbara Hepworth. One of my favourite memories from the residency was our research trip to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Together we pored over ceramic artefacts. However, Jonathan does not push his ideas into the form of something that already exists, he filters the things he researches through his ideas. This is not semantics; it means that he does not mimic, he transforms. He makes odd things, dark things, weird things, sacred things, magic things–but all of them are new to me and I have to alter the way I think to experience them.
Energy is what I strive to transmit through art. Energy can be kept in an artwork and released to a viewer when she encounters it. The smouldering and spitting heat radiating from Jonathan’s work has been stored there through his passionate relationship to his materials. He works intensely with his hands and his work gains in intensity. He relishes his tasks; Jonathan is making what he wants to make. This simple observation is deceptive. As an artist, making what you want to make without being thrown off course by doubt, anxiety, vagueness, fashion or addiction to attention is very difficult. What is he making? He does not stop moving; it is infectious. He is rolling, pinching, slapping, shoving, poking. He may well, as he describes, be thinking through doing, but he does not falter or waver. Ceramic hand tools (made with his hands) emerge, they would break if really used in this world, but are purposed to underpin the other world he is producing. To dig into yourself and honestly create the weird and unruly images in your mind without adjusting them according to your perception of what is expected is my definition of having vision. Jonathan is not dangling his big toe in the shallows: he is in headfirst. Spending time with Jonathan, taught me to be brave.