Friday, 7 March 2014


At PaintUnion in February, Jemima Brown and Juliette Losq discussed their use of Watercolour:

A few things spring to mind where watercolour is considered and I am sure you might agree that the words amateur, nice, mediocre, outdated, formulaic and washed-out are a few of them, and possibly even domesticated. Watercolour isn’t proper art, it isn’t critical and isn’t contemporary. Wrong, wrong, wrong. On every count. A nice watercolour can be Sunday painteresque, but a competent watercolour is a completely different kettle of fish. Here we are talking watercolour that gets under the skin of watercolour. Used by contemporary painters, critically within their practice around the notion of ephemerality.

Jemima Brown, a sculptor dealing with identity and social critique. Using her Facebook contact list to create a huge series of profile watercolour portraits made with watercolour pencils. Just like flicking through your face book contact list, the actual process of working in watercolour itself has to be a swift one. It’s momentary, as marks cannot be erased out unless caught in the act of dispersing when initially applied.

The large groupings of these individual personas that are chosen by that Facebook contact; to represent themselves; to be their formal online identity, which they are essentially judged upon. Through this medium Jemina Brown cunningly not only questions her contacts need for a likeable image, or a real image at all, but also reflects on her own identity just as her sculptural work does with Dolly her doppelganger.

Here our ideas about the authentic are challenged. Traditional portraiture, and then the photograph were used to capture a person, to capture their authenticity. The camera never lies is a myth and for these poor quality Facebook images to be used as source material which is then mediated for a third or fourth time is not actually an unusual way for any public to engage with images in the 21st Century. In fact it is probably more normal than going to see a series of small water-colours in the flesh, as it were.

Small portraits of women’s friends would in the past have been completed in a domestic environment. These portraits are drawn as much as they are painted.
Does watercolour reek of domesticity? Not knowingly in this context. Many male and female artists worked in this way, watercolour often being used as quick, experimental sketches, such as those used for architectural drawings or fashion illustrations rather than finished pieces. We can throw in the names Picasso, Kandinsky and Matisse, who all famously amongst others used watercolour to great effect. Using watercolour as the final medium could be considered almost brash, it’s a statement. The one off sketch, the throw away drawing being the finished article that depicts that portrait, as flippent as scrolling through your Facebook pages.
What this collection of portraits do is to bring up the question of what is real, what we can trust and what an authentic portrait is today.

Juliette Losq engages with watercolour through transient large-scale installations that depict derelict and demise. The question of aeon, of perhaps circular time, as it is only when things fall apart, that they in fact feel welded together. This is the nature of these transitory installations. That sublime experience has to be held onto by the viewer, as then it is only the reproduction through a photograph that once again creates a flat pictoral plane for future viewers to engage with. This momentary glace where we actually get to experience that torn paper edge, smell the antique wood, peer around the back of an installation and feel the tension between the proximity of large wasted volumes of watercolour, reflects the impermanence not only of the work installed, but of the scenes or the times depicted and further a reflection on our own mortality.

Image: Juliette Losq, The Ploutonion

To witness such an intricate scene, which has in fact been created using negative space, almost a construction in reverse, which appears finished because we can see how it began is a logic puzzle, a labyrinth for our eyes especially to feast upon. Watercolour is essential a series of stains, marks that are fleeting movements and momentary glances. Juliette Losq captures time in this way and uses it to great effect, with layer, upon layer of fine watercolour.
Watercolour also has a history as a medium for landscapes. To name but a few: Constable, Turner and more recently Hockney. In 18th Century Britain, landscapes became an appropriate subject for painting, especially as the British started to consider a European tour as a normal aspect of either education or exploration. Watercolour portraits of places made by those who had travelled became a rite of passage and have a flavour of the notion, when we view them today of the aged old British Empire and the associations of sovereignty and perhaps faded splendor and cynicism that only the British seem to hold onto. The sad and derelict chaos of Juliette Losq’s subject matter, that shows those Turneresque landscapes reclaim the land in a dichotomy of space, which has dynamics of the habitable and the abandonment.

So yes, yes, yes, to the contemporary use of water and colour combined. At the end of the day, we have here two artists daring to use such a medium and without the limitations of gendering such a choice as they have both firmly rooted it into their very different contemporary practices with a gusto, further challenging the boundaries of what watercolour can do and how it can critically do it.

Sam Mould

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