Improvised Actions – Abstract Paintings by Jane Cornwell

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Action defines American painter Jane Cornwell’s paintings, as juicy streaks, swipes and slabs of paint are smeared across paper, torn cardboard and chopped up old photographs. Driven by intuition and impulse, she works quickly without forethought, opening up unexpected pathways through the process of making. Whether painted or collaged, her artworks are built up into rich, tactile surfaces through a process of layering, as actions and marks interrupt and overlap one another in a tussle for our attention. Working on paper and cardboard allows her to splice apart old artworks and reconfigure them in new ways, opening up an endlessly recyclable process of making.

Cornwell divides her working methods into several distinct areas, each of which creates a framework within which to experiment and play. ‘Paintings’ are made onto flat sheets of paper with mixed media, often leaving areas of the white page still visible in the background. Uneven patches of paint in an array of naturalistic colours are scumbled over the surface, sometimes in liquid, fluid passages which fall into rivulets and drips like angry rain from a passing storm cloud suspended in a moment. Other times paint is dry, thick and patchy, flickering from one colour to another in sculptural mounds resembling cold, wet rock faces being lashed by the sea. Jagged graphite lines as crisp and angular as wire form angry tangles in amongst the paint, bending, swirling and twisting to add greater textural intensity and dynamism to the works.

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Cornwell’s ‘Collages’ are more geometric and constructed, made from cut shapes and shards of old, discarded paintings that are given a new lease of life. Cutting and ripping old works apart gives Cornwall a greater range of marks to juxtapose against one another, including the clean precision of scissor lines, the straight edges of paper sheets, painterly streaks and the jagged surface of torn marks. When layered on top of one another into complex arrangements these fragments become low-relief, sculptural forms, projecting outwards from the flat page with a rich and appealing tactility, much like Ben Nicholson’s constructions of the 1950s.

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In Cornwell’s ‘Photo Collages’, cut out pieces of photographs and old photocopies are integrated with swishy or smeared on painterly marks in unusual colours from mustard yellow to pale turquoise and hot pink. These works open up quiet hints of underlying narrative, with moody, silhouetted trees, urban pavements or quiet interiors just visible in amongst the visual noise. But ultimately Cornwell reduces these photographic excerpts into further passages of textural surface to be cut up, layered and manipulated, noting, simply, “I find my way in the doing.”

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