Mary Lloyd Jones
Ruthin Craft Centre, Wales
20 June – 6 September, 2009
From the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, Mary Lloyd Jones created a series of textile-based works inspired by the saturated colours of her native Welsh landscape. Frustrated by the lack of attention her textile work received at the time, Jones returned to painting. Recent belated interest in her textiles has found Jones’ interest in the medium “rekindled”, as the accompanying exhibition text for the Ruthin Craft Centre explains. Along with this exhibition, the artist recently designed a series of banners to line the Washington Mall for the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. This critical attention makes looking back over Jones’ early works an even more curious exercise and I, for one, find it difficult to piece together a justification for the lack of critical attention the work experienced at its conception.
Time has done little to diminish the rich palette of painterly marks that define the six large landscapes on display. Suggestions of the earliest mark making found in cave paintings (bison, the human form and enigmatic symbols) appear in the corners of many of these stormy compositions. Jones confirms that “early man made marks of the Ogham and Bardic Alphabets” are a source of ongoing interest. But also apparent is a comfort with the tradition of landscape painting that resides on the gallery wall, combined with gestures of mopping moisture and subsequent staining that the textile so readily records. “The boredom usually associated with domestic maintenance,” Jones explains of the series, “was avoided as the wiping of surfaces, sudden spillages, bed making, the pinning out of articles on a clothes line, folding, wrapping and stacking all provided a new expression and vocabulary.”
Most of the works on display use multiple layers of thick cloth with overlapping edges. This evidence of materiality not only celebrates the textile, but also provides a very real representation of the landscapes Jones’ depicts. Stormy skies and the infamous wet weather of Wales are apparent throughout the series. But as Jones explains, “Tears, rips and unexpected folds indicate threatened countryside and an unstable situation.” For example, “Wounded Landscape” opens up to the viewer like a book with pages yet to be revealed. Set in contrast to the blood red “wound” dripping down the left hand side of the work is a burst of yellow sunshine on the right. A central trough or channel of seams and folded cloth divides these two perspectives. If this landscape, as the title suggests, is in turmoil then it may also capable of its own, partial, repair.
“Tree Felling” is made of two pieces of cloth that hang like tent flaps: a scarred mountain under a cloudy sky appears on the right and a detailed view of fallen tree trunks or rain mixed with fossils or symbols from an unknown code appears on the smaller left hand panel. Again, Jones has chosen to depict a landscape damaged and scarred, rather than bucolic. In “Ilyn y Fan” it is the inhabitants of the landscape that seem to be under threat. Here the drawn shapes of a bison herd to the left of the work move towards an enlarged bloodstain of the same shape in the centre of the composition. “Figure in the Landscape” and “Bog” are dominated by darker, moodier colours framed by a patterned border cloth that provides one of the few elements to feel slightly dated in the series. Curiously, little else reveals the decade these works were made.
Throughout the series the landscapes Jones’ records are less threatened by the stormy skies above them, than the damage the human hand has marked upon them. Sadly, this fact has changed little in the decades since these vibrant works were first imagined.
Surface Design Journal (spring 2010: 56-57)