New Works


By Ulrike Bender

Enter the barn, look to your right, and the show begins with a cluster of small 9x12 abstract paintings — teasers, harbingers of the larger wooden panels that circle around the gallery and that represent self-contained units of space in which shapes and colours hold conversations with each other to create what Almonte-based multi-disciplinary artist Jennifer Noxon calls “a kind of visual congruence.”

A defining feature of these works is the incorporation of collage, sometimes subtle, sometimes more obvious. Jennifer first started using collage during “the slow motion of Covid,” as she describes the pandemic years. This period allowed her to explore the technique of putting one image on top of another, which created a kind of intriguing disruption, she realized. At the same time, as a musician and choir leader, she was exploring vocal improvisation — not scat singing, as I found out when I asked her to give me a rendition, but nonetheless jazz inspired, with vocalisations defined by timing, rhythm, repetition and timbre. Improvisation involves risk and relies on trust, the same components Jennifer embraces in her art-making process. She explains: “The ground in a work acts as a visual playground in which to overlap and carve out shapes. Only needed are curiosity and openness”.

Unlike her colourful pandemic works comprised entirely of collage, Jennifer’s use of collaged elements in this exhibition demonstrates sophistication and restraint. Close inspection reveals small recognizable snippets of scenes, for example, a tiny cityscape, a bank of forks, jars of beans, but these are used as compositional tools. More often the applied shapes offer no subject, but rather provide the foundation for an extended or contrasting coloured area, or are over-painted to become a hidden component of a coloured space. The paintings often evoke the transparent, translucent qualities of water.

Water, says Jennifer, implies surface, depth, clarity and suspension. With this in mind, she manipulates paint and paper, and in some cases netting, to produce well defined elements, while also referring to the hidden, the interrupted, the almost forgotten. In this way, the artist uses the qualities of water as a metaphor for memory. “Our memories are constantly changing,” Jennifer maintains. Like her improvised compositions, memories are often random. Certain events take precedence, others fade; sometimes they infringe upon one another or are suppressed. Sometimes they pop up unexpectedly, come in waves, or are triggered by a previous memory. In the same way, Jennifer brings together painting and collage to define, obfuscate, illuminate, reveal, link or hide.

Challenged by the ambiguity of the images, we navigate across the surface of the panels while attempting to decipher meaning or intent. In this we are helped by the repetition of colours, the placement of objects and, in particular, the artist’s attention to the edges and corners. In Tethered VII, for example, space is encased in a broken border of varying hard-edged, textured shapes in predominantly cerulean blue, encouraging our eye to circumvent the image and then proceed toward the middle where we encounter three intriguing shapes floating on the complementary burnt orange ground, only to be directed back to the sides and corners. Likewise, in Refractive, we travel from the muted chartreuse of one corner to the next, bouncing across luminous textured patches created with bubble wrap, past a daring collaged rectangle of black and white stripes, and on to the centre where muted lavender shapes lie buried.

In In the Mind’s Eye, the largest panel in this exhibition, we encounter a work that deviates from the others. Here we have a more intentional, perhaps traditional approach, in which a large irregularly shaped textured swathe of mostly pastel colours boldly spans the middle. Clearly it is the subject, positioned on a flat ground of muted, slightly nuanced green. In this piece, collage often seems incidental, although it is used extensively and is cleverly camouflaged. Only in the thick broken lines leading us around the surface do we recognize collage. Or is it paint? There is definition and ambiguity in this painting. For this reason, despite the more intentional approach, it is appropriately positioned among the other works in the show.

Unlike conceptual abstractions, which, according to Jennifer, are a fait accompli even before their creation, improvised abstractions — starting without an idea — will result in spontaneous works that evolve organically. However, these improvisations risk becoming simply an accomplished cliché. Gratifyingly, Jennifer’s paintings don’t fall into this category. They prompt investigation and offer interesting challenges while maintaining balance and harmony, the principles of an aesthetically satisfying composition. “My goal is to arouse a viewer’s visual curiosity, so they become actively engaged with a piece, in much the same way I do when creating each piece” says Jennifer.

Sharing gallery space with Jennifer Noxon’s paintings are three benches by Milford author and artist Peter Blendell. The benches — variations on a theme — all showcase the beautiful grain of hardwoods.

            “They’re designed to be made from scrap wood and offcuts,” says Peter, who mines his own carpentry workshop for materials. “I was brought up not to waste, and I like that idea as a basis for my design aesthetic. Like the Shakers.”

Simplicity, utility and craftsmanship characterize Shaker furniture, as well as Peter’s creations. In the main room of the barn, we encounter two benches on steel legs painted black and shaped to complement their respective tops: one consists of two boards angled inward to create a small gap; the other is inspired by a slatted design by George Nelson known as the “Nelson Bench.” The third bench, located in an adjacent room, comprises a live-edge slab of white ash from South Bay, sitting on maple legs that have been stained black.

Inviting as these benches are, before I leave the gallery, I can’t help but make the rounds to pause for a few minutes on each one.

Jennifer’s Artist Statement:  

I love the process of creating, be it art, music or a delicious meal. It’s how I try to make sense of this chaotic and beautiful world. I want to make a difference and hope that the music and art I create resonate with people on some level – providing hope, a spark, some kind of meaning.

As I’ve matured, I’ve become more interested in improvisation, both in my visual art practice, and as a way of making music. It is an approach that requires a solid foundation of skills, mindfulness, trust, presence and intuition. During the creative process I ask,“What does the painting want? What does it need?”, so that the painting becomes less about ‘me’, and more about ‘itself’. Trusting the process is something I have to re-learn all the time.

In terms of imagery, I am interested in the qualities of water and its ability to reflect, suspend, reveal, and conceal. We allow people, objects and experiences in our day-to-day lives to affect us on both conscious and subconscious  levels. While working on this body of work, I have thought a lot about how we are connected, by relationship, memory, and time, to everything that has come before us, and everything that will come after us.