Though not the first opportunity to view Jacqueline de Jong’s paintings on UK soil, The Ultimate Kiss is the first full-scale exhibition for this remarkable Dutch artist, representing each segment of her six-decade career. There appears to be a concerted effort to deemphasise the ‘retro’ of retrospective, to avoid presenting de Jong as someone who burned bright in her relative youth (although she certainly did that) before becoming dispassionate or ‘establishment’ in twilight years.
The painting which lends its title to the exhibition is a case in point, listed as dating from “2001-2012” – de Jong was born in 1939 – but ripe with a dark, bestial strangeness that’s at least as radical as the swirling mixes of grotesquerie and social commentary that informed her canvasses in the 1960s. During that decade, de Jong threw herself into the Situationist movement, then at its most visibly confrontational: at only 23, she founded and edited a magazine, The Situationist Times, which lasted six years and, she says, served to make her a pariah with Guy Debord and his faction.
Across the decades, de Jong’s practise hasn’t so much evolved as mutated. Some work from the 1970s is larded with iconography of the time, and feels analogous to pop art without being that. Oil paintings from the 80s are slicker and more technically proficient, and from a clearer Surrealist art lineage. Later work, such as The Ultimate Kiss itself, sometimes borders on cartoonish in the scenarios it depicts, and in recent years she’s made the perhaps unlikely move into potato-based jewellery (the potatoes are dried and gold-plated, if that helps you picture it).
Interviews with the artist suggest she has an deep aversion to being put in any stylistic pigeonhole, also downplaying or dismissing other people’s suggestions of paintings’ subtext. Plausibly, this has meant de Jong has been less celebrated than her work deserves, but has made it easier to maintain relevance even when in her ninth decade. The Ultimate Kiss, which travels to Wales from Belgium and will subsequently show in Germany, is accompanied by a monograph of the same title which includes essays by various critics and an interview with the artist.
Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno, Sat 9 Oct-Sun 6 Feb. Admission: free. Info: 01492 879201 / here
words NOEL GARDNER
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