Nicholas Jones’ work is arresting. It makes you stop to rearrange your senses: Is this an object to be read? To be touched? To be opened or closed? To be hung or mounted? To sit among the everyday objects in your life to be read, to be touched?
Across many years, Nicholas has been preoccupied by the book in all its complexity. And indeed, so have we – even though our preoccupation may not be a conscious one. Sometimes we see the book, but not the text – admiring its binding and its design, and most especially so witch vintage hardcovers. Sometimes we see the text, but not the book – devouring a story in a single sitting as we move our bodies into shapes of temporary comfort, negotiating the weight and the form of the book between our hands. Holding a book for any length of time can become uncomfortable. We lose ourselves in the story, becoming mindful of our posture only when the strain of holding the book suddenly becomes too much, making subtle shifts to our body so that the story can continue uninterrupted.
With every cut and every fold, Nicholas too has invested his own body painstakingly into the book, with a dedication akin to the disciplined focus of the monk copying or illuminating a precious manuscript. Atlases, novels, dictionaries, religious texts, treatises… each Nicholas Jones work is the complex symbol of countless hours of highly focused, highly precise work: a surgery of reinterpretation.
Children across literary cultures are taught with stern clarity that a book is a precious object never to be damaged. The word deface is reserved almost exclusively for the crime of damaging a book, as though to do so would be to disfigure it in a manner both immoral and grotesque. By folding, tearing and carving, Nicholas reinterprets the book – and invites us to do the same.
At this morning’s opening, Nicholas shows me an image of the Brent Harris work To the forest (1999) by which his The Restless Years is inspired. The fluidity of Harris’ work – the rapid starkness of his lines, the psychology of his narratives, the abstraction that remains intimate – offers a productive contrast to Nicholas’ own work, which is time-consuming, intricate and dense in meaning. We also talk about two companion pieces Perfect Imperfect – the one carved with circles, the other with a vertiginous heptagon – as a rare use of a new book, and as it turns out, a particular one at that: Perfect Imperfect by Karen McCartney is a presentation of “the beauty to be found in imperfection, impermanence and the authentic”, and features the work of Nicholas Jones.
Moving through the exhibition’s 67 works – arranged here as visual artworks, there as vitrined treasures – I am arrested by the thought of what sculpture is, and I find myself thinking about artistic process, about rendering something tactile, and about tactility which cannot be touched. Texture invites the hand, while text invites the eye. Close and precise cuts reveal passages of text that present themselves with new authority as a true meaning for the book, while in other works, folds and cuts bring letterforms together so tightly as to be indistinguishable as elements of meaning. One of Australia’s most important living artists, Nicholas Jones creates work with the power to rewrite your body’s response to objects you long to read or touch.
Not yet collected by the National Gallery of Victoria nor the National Gallery of Australia, this may be your last chance to own a Nicholas Jones object before the cost of the work more properly reflects its true value.
Nicholas Jones: Author and Finisher is upstairs and in the front windows at Kozminsky, 421 Bourke St Melbourne until Friday 8 July. All works are for sale with prices ranging from $600 to $3200. All photos by Esther Anatolitis at the exhibition opening on Saturday 18 June 2016.