These words from E.E. Cummings’s “Maggie and Milly and Molly and May” could be used to describe Penelope Jones’ oil paintings on panel and precision-cut paper collages which are anti-heroic in scale, and yet her stripped-down abstract visions, often no taller than her outstretched hand, could easily fell a Goliath.
If Jones’ recent paintings in oil and gouache come from the heart, the compressed collages of her “Border Series” spring from the head. Jones’ decades of teaching painting and drawing at Bates College lend authority and grace to her intimate compositions and carefully orchestrated color relationships. Warm and cool tones vibrate in arresting tension, while pure hues sing out against more muted shades. Subtle patterns of variation in value and texture repeatedly delight the eye.
Paper (often affixed to a wood panel), is Jones’ silent partner. Fibrous and resilient, it responds to the touch, absorbing wet media and withstanding repeated wiping, scoring and abrasion. Jones lays down her first marks as transparent washes and loose gestural strokes, and then builds up and sweeps away layers of hard-edge pattern and geometrical structure, paring down details and leaving behind their ghosts. Lines, grids and diagonals may suggest horizons, architecture, movement, passage and depth; curves evoke plant forms and the female form. On first impression, these restrained marks appear to stand alone as mere surface design, abstracted from referential meaning. As the eye familiarizes itself with their relationships, however, they fall into place as diagrammatic indications of fragments of dimensional space.
On a recent studio visit in Portland, Maine, we discussed Jones’ upcoming exhibitions. For “3 x 3,” a three-person show at the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, Maine scheduled for April, she will exhibit a dozen of her completed collages and a handful of new oil panels. In August through November, she will exhibit jointly alongside a multi-media installation by Mass College of Art and Design professor Deborah Klotz at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland. By then there will be more collages, new oils on panel (large and small) and works of oil and gouache on paper.