Lucy Jones was born in London in 1955. At London’s Camberwell School of Art from 1976-79, her innate expressionism was nurtured by two visiting tutors, the painters Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. For a number of years she painted incandescent riverscapes of ‘the simple architectural spaces’ around London’s South Bank. Initially, she found making self-portraits difficult. ‘I had not liked looking at myself in the mirror. I felt sexless (unlike Frida Kahlo). Things have changed quite a lot in the last few years and depression is far less prominent. I met my husband Peter just over 25 years ago, and my confidence grew. I began to paint the whole of me and paint the awkwardness of how I look – which is both personal and common to us all.’
Since moving from London to Shropshire in 2004, Jones alternates between painting flaring landscapes of raw, wild beauty (spending arduous, absorbing hours kneeling on the ground, making preparatory drawings of the Marches) and painting self-portraits. ‘I still use a mirror every time – in my studio I have two full-length mirrors, and another smaller one. I find that my self-portraits are often made as a response to portraying landscape – it’s when you need a rest that you turn from one to the other.’
In the 2013 self-portrait, her somewhat askance stare appears at once fiercely taut and anxiously anticipatory, as though straining to decipher some distant, unseen pictorial element or some perplexing inward enigma. The palette – ranging from the muted asperity of grey-black hair to her top’s glaring, gradated purples and the bluish mauves of fulsome lips and shadows around the eyes – is challenging yet dynamically coherent too. Of her predilection for areas of black paint, she says, ‘it’s always off-black. I think you need black or greys for relief against the heightened colours, to create a rhythm through the painting.’
The heightened red background sets off the figure – and especially too the artist’s displaced right hand – with pulsating vividness. The picture’s strident though subtle colorism shows an affinity with Northern European Expressionist painters, such as Munch, Beckmann and Baselitz. ‘It was perhaps the slightly sideways stare (maybe a little disconnected) that gave me the idea of moving the hand to the left of the painting. The dark blue shadow figure I had had there at first, was wrong. I then somehow came up with this pinky red backdrop which I think works with the icy greys of the face and hands.’ Such self-portraits explore ‘the awkwardness and ambivalence of looking and moving differently’ – symbolised here by the eery surreality of the separated hand.
This picture echoes early, audaciously coloured, equally dignified self-portraits of visceral intimacy by the French artist Émilie Charmy (1878-1974), who similarly challenged the way women were supposed then to represent themselves. Recent self-portraits by Jones include Wheelie (2012) – the artist, standing by her clinically bleak walking frame, appears resplendent in psychedelically striped jumper – and Glance (also 2012), in which the quite musical role of complementary colours (luminescent emerald green cardigan, pinkish whites of the eyes, a near tar black backdrop) is used to disquietingly poignant effect.
Lucy Jones has had numerous solo exhibitions at the Flowers Galleries in London and New York. Her work is in many public collections, including those of The Metropolitan Museum, New York and New Hall, Cambridge.