French Baroque, Neo-Classicism, Bohemian style and elements from French history have been celebrated in my most recent work. Mixed Media paintings on canvas are created through thickly applied paints, Gold leaf, varnishes and even some collaged elements becoming multi layered textured surfaces. These layers being metaphors for the passage of lives, history and of time.
Newbury Weekly News Arts Review
The French Connection
Joanna Burton’s exhibition of new paintings at Ace Space, Newbury’s arts and community venue, stem from her love of the opulent French baroque and neo-classical periods. The work celebrates the eras’ extravagant design: rococo surface decoration, sumptuous furniture and fabrics, burnished gilding. The paintings’ rich materiality reflects the luxuriance of the subject matter; the very mark-making speaks of France. Joanna Burton works in mixed media or acrylic on canvas, in a palette of rich, saturated colours. Looking back to a medieval technique, she also layers gold leaf over the paint in restricted areas. It literally gilds the furniture, mirrors, chandeliers and picture frames within her images, adding surface dazzle.
The larger pictures sit within ornate gilded frames, perfectly matched to the subject matter and the artist’s technique. The works are built up with paint and collaged elements – sometimes pictorial images – with much overpainting, so they become multi-layered with a textured surface, the layers metaphors for the passage of lives, of history and of time. Some depict opulent French interiors, others take a single motif as subject: an escritoire, mirror, chair, harp or four-poster bed; stacked portraits in the corner of a room.
Other paintings are composites – a plethora of images, each treated as an entity, their scale often at odds with others – but compositionally unified. Some paintings contain figures; others are empty, like stage sets, as if waiting for a play to begin. Some images appear to be mirrored reflections; others are an ensemble of different viewpoints of one motif, as in the gloomy corridors of ‘Attic Interior’. Contemporary French history, its people and places, runs through the works. In ‘Les Chaussures de Marie Antoinette’, the luxury of the scattered shoes prompts comparison with the poverty endured by the queen’s subjects. So, too, the glittering green and gold of her ‘Chairs at Le Petit Trianon’. This way lies revolution. ‘Napoléon and Josephine’ offers glimpses of two infamous intertwined lives; other paintings allude to their grand houses: ‘Chateau Malmaison’ and the paired ‘La Rue de Victoire I and II’. ‘Le Français Préside’ comprises nine repeated images, formally arranged, of a pair of chairs. The fading, semi-obscured text tells us that these are displaced from their original setting, and are now antiques for sale: history projected into the present.
So, too, in ‘Brocante I and II’: a slew of gold-framed pictures and furniture on sale. And, of course, this is France, so food features. ‘Les Gateaux’ is a glorious formal composition of elaborate concoctions, cakes and piled fruits, each labelled with French script. Its neighbour, ‘Thermidor de honard’, is a feast of food, dominated by three oversized lobsters.‘Le Siège de Commerage’ repeats images of two fashionable couples within a magnificent gilded room; one couple features again, this time alone, in ‘Interior with Gossip Seat’, the clocks a disturbing memento mori.
In the showy ‘Empire Interior’, painted in rich maroons and turquoises highlighted with gold, we catch a glimpse of Velázquez’s ‘Rokeby Venus’, a reminder of the powerful art patrons who peopled these rooms. This informal exhibition can be seen by those attending events at Ace Space, and will run until the end of February next year.
Joanna Burton’s website is www.pineapplepalace.co.uk