Jake Grewal @ Thomas Dane
Emoji summary: 🌇🔥🌞
I walk into Thomas Dane and I am not paying very much attention. Not as much attention as I should be. I am texting and drying the rain from my glasses and I am also now thinking about ancient cultures and the way they conceptualised the disappearance of the sun at night, or during solar eclipses. Maybe this is just urban legend, but somewhere in the world they used to believe that the sun was eaten by an enormous dragon every night, and every morning it was reborn. Somewhere else or sometime else they used to believe that the sun was a horse pulled along by a massive chariot in a race across the sky. I don’t know where they thought he went, or if the chariot race ever ended. Like, was it the same race dragging over into the next day, or did they blow the whistle and set off again each and every morning?
If I had to come up with an explanation for it all on my own, I don’t think I’d say ‘the sun goes round in the sky because the earth goes round the sun’. Even though I know it to be true, why would that thought ever occur to me naturally? I haven’t seen it all for myself, but if I went up to space I think I would cry. Big fat floating tears that would drift off into the dense atmosphere of my spacecraft because life is so small and earth is so huge and so lonely in the black expanse. Now I am thinking about crying in a state of weightlessness. And it’s here: this is the point where I actually look at the paintings in front of me. This is where I meet them.
I could lie and say that I stopped thinking about the ancient sun in his ancient carriage. I could pretend my brain became flat static, that I cleared a space and became a perfect viewer. But I didn’t. My head was noisy and crowded and I came to these paintings with so many thoughts that it’s hard to pull them away, clean and in one piece. I’m not sorry. Jake Grewal’s paintings were hanging up on the wall and I was thinking about something else entirely. But maybe my thoughts were not too distant? I don’t know if this is a reach, but let me try and pull it all together.
Paintings of the sky and the sky itself full of clouds and paintings as a thing in general. Landscape male nude Romanticism etc etc. What is it about twilight? Or sunset? That moment when the sky is so thin it is just about ready to split. Maybe it is painterly, or takes on the quality of a painted surface. Maybe there is something impossible about it that deep down, we do not believe. Like, not really. Maybe there is a conceit concealed within it and its beauty. Something that is immanent, about to burst forward.
1: Matte surface, long canvas split in two by the horizon. Below, foggy green, dark with moss and shadows. Even the colour isn’t clear. Above, the dark sky is covered by the silhouette of a tree. Its branches are glowing with a blue light. It’s weirdly luminous, weirdly dynamic. It glows upwards in streaks like some kind of miraculous smoke show. The leaves are piecey, little dashes and hazy blurs. It’s like when you look at a tree with squinted eyes, pulling it out of focus. There are gaps where the sky’s dark wash denim blue pulls through — a cloudy spacious mess. The middle is torn open. Orange light splits across the horizon. I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m confronted by light like this in real life. I don’t think, my brain turns to a kind of chronic buzz. I know I like it, maybe even love it, but I don’t know why. I don’t know what it unlocks within me, what quality that space has.
So faint, I almost don’t notice it. I walk off, look at other things, I come back. That’s when I see it. Two figures. Small against the blown out landscape. They are only visible as outline. The negative space around them is cloudy white. They look like ghosts. That’s the way I imagine ghosts would look, if they actually existed or if I actually saw one. Like a misty relief. I think they are holding hands. They are facing out towards us. The horizon’s orange light is about to burst down on them. I think they are happy, quiet.
2: Matte surface, wide canvas like an open book. The facing pages are a pleasing mirror. A purple grey landscape where the sky isn’t ripe. It is a wash of cold colour. Below, a murky flat expanse. Bushes and bracken. The misty clouds are low and lilac magic. Two figures are thrust out at us, the mist curling around their heads and throwing them, clear. Wait, no. I can’t decide if they are hazy or clear. They are solid, they have real solid bodies. They feel fleshy and smooth because the light falls over their chests casting real shadows and making them shine silvery cold. But they are blurry too. They don’t have faces and they look like they are more a part of the mist and the landscape than anything else. I can’t decide. They feel less like people and more like bodies, mood, spirit, dream. They look lonely to me. Maybe it is because they are parted? Maybe it’s because they are facing each other but looking out at us. That feels like a kind of loneliness, doesn’t it? To look out at me when they could be looking at each other. It’s an incomplete gaze as soon as I decide to walk away.
I’ve never really known what the sublime actually is. I have my suspicions, but I don’t want to offer them up for inspection. I wonder if they are wrong or close-but-not-quite. Maybe I have a private understanding that is intimately my own. Every time I google THE SUBLIME it doesn’t actually become any clearer. Edmund Burke’s theory of the Sublime: the sensation of delight and/or terror created by looking out at a vast, rugged expanse. A greatness beyond all possibility of calculation or comprehension. Like Turner skies or Turner seas, beyond the ordinary and onwards, into new territories of feeling. What does that mean! I don’t know when I last experienced terror because of the enormity of nature. The world is glossy and beautiful but it doesn’t elicit terror, I don’t think I’ve ever actually experienced terror to be honest. And as for delight, I’m not sure about that either. Both those things feel like extremes that pass me by. So, rather than be alienated by an old word, I think I have just clung to my private understanding of the sublime. Even if it is not actually what the sublime is.
3: Two figures trudge along a flat beach. They are naked. Their skin is dull and matte. The surface of the image is matte, so it all matches. But behind them, an orange sun is peeking out from the top of a wall of dusty blue clouds. A strip of sky visible above the cloud-wall. It is brilliant orange, yellow. The surface of the painting is matte, but this feels like brilliant light. It is reflecting off the bottom half of the painting, wobbling back at me from the water.
Maybe the sublime is not about the enormous or the vast. It’s not about scale. What if the sublime was very very small!? Sometimes there is terror in quiet, or loneliness in quiet. In 1815, a giant volcano erupted in Indonesia. The dust cloud from the eruption covered the sky around the world, as far as England, obliterating the following year’s entire summer. Street hawkers sold pamphlets announcing the death of the sun. I think that is scary because it is sad. I think that is terrifying because it is about an absence that is made painfully present, visible, unavoidable. But also: small. It is personal, affecting.
Because Jake Grewal’s paintings aren’t operating on the scale of the enormous or the colossal. They’re big but they aren’t vast. He has taken little pocket sized moments and blown them up large. The images shrink and collapse. I should say something clever about the emotional life of a landscape. Maybe something about the male nude, the landscape, the sublime, the Romantic, the painted window falling open into another world that is a dream a portal a rupture and a mirror all in one. But I don’t feel theory or convention, I don’t feel clever!! In that moment I feel small and safe and warm in the presence of these images. These lonely happy paintings. I want to wear them inside a locket around my neck. I want to keep it all to myself. I don’t want to share it with you or with anyone!
1: A small crackle of orange light appears at the edge of the horizon. I don’t even know where the horizon is, but I assume it’s there. The sun must be peeking through. There are twinkling white lights from houses on the headland across the water. That is where the sun rises and sets. And here I am, awake and at my window. I am waiting for the light to spread. It will bleed up and out from that little crackle. It will happen so gradually I won’t even notice the change. I will blink and my eyes will flood with light, bright orange. I’m not joking! It is neon orange like a satsuma orange like literal orange-orange. Orange!! The sea is silvery grey beneath me and the sky. It is always grey. But when the sky splits open with orange light, the grey sea will turn into a mirror liquid. It will magnify the orange a thousand times over and when I wake up again properly I will blink and feel hot and blinded for a second. Creeping orange.
2: It is pitch black down my road. Only the faint white street lights and the stars. They’re both cold and small. I didn’t think you’d be able to see stars in Tottenham, but there they are. Tottenham stars in the Tottenham sky. I want to rise up on the wind and kiss them. I want to kiss them ever so gently. Precious stars. My legs are cold and bare and hairless. They slip through the air, completely frictionless. I am frictionless. I am smooth, seamless, liquid movement. I turn the corner and the sky is pink and bursting. The darkness has shattered. Clouds are erupting, blushing hot and gold and the sky is crying! Just here. Just in this one spot visible between the shops and the bus stop. The trees send branches to catch the pink tears that pour down, terrible clouds! My body is a ribbon twisting in the wind and I cannot see or think of the sun, but the sky and the air and the clouds are on fire.
3: I am in a dark room. I am warm. I am looking out of a square window. You can see the gherkin from here. The sky curves up and away at its corners, peeling itself away. It becomes a bowl. The clouds skim flat and low despite it. The city is only a shadow, an outline. It has returned to shape or line or form or — whatever! Anything but real. It can’t be real, surely. It isn’t actually there. I am looking at the sky. It is juicy peach. It is midnight blue, then normal blue, then white, then juicy peach at the bottom. Like the juicy peach is a climax it must build up to. It is a slow gradient. The sun is sleepier than I am. Maybe the sun is shy. Maybe he’s embarrassed! I want to extend my understanding to him, crumple the city in my rush to close the distance between us. I nod my head in silent acknowledgement — I see you, my brother, my friend. The city isn’t really there between us. It is a mirage, a fingerprint kiss on a pane of glass. I carefully wipe the condensation from it and now I can see you clearly. We are together and your skin is warm and my skin is warm and we are touching.
Jake Grewal’s Now I Know You I Am Older is on at Thomas Dane until 24th Jan 23