Mary Lloyd Jones: ‘A Journey from Devil’s Bridge’, 3 December 2014 – 16 January 2015, The Arts Centre, Aberystwyth.
Ancient landscape and primitive forms of elemental written language dominate this painter’s interests. There is a deft interweaving of cultural background and personal history. Yet what sings out joyously above all else in this exhibition is her striking use of reverberant colour.
The first painting in the room immediately engages me. It is a visual intake of breath, a brilliant intensity of blue and luxurious golden yellow. Painted very recently (2014), ‘Cynghanedd: ‘Maen oedd a wnai blwm yn aur’ is intoxicating and fresh. Patches of colour, a characteristic feature of her work, are rich and perfectly balanced. Childlike mark-making brings layers of history both cultural and personal to the composition. These marks are not tentative but bold, like the echo of an insistent child with its repeated questions about family, about learning, about her place in the world. This painting is about colour, but it is also about probing me about my engagement with the cultural background of my own existence. I find myself considering my own links with the ancient past, my own eclectic roots. How much do I know of it? How much am I a product of it? I register the richness of this visual interrogation.
Next to it a set of three unframed works on paper are exhibited together. Also made in 2014, these paintings combine a concentration on the primitive beginnings of written language with a sense of Neolithic existence. Time is concertinaed. I am struck by the certainty of their statements.
Similar preoccupations are discernible in the wall hanging on display next to them, made slightly earlier in 2013. Using acrylic and dye on cloth rather than canvas or paper, an additional element becomes dominant. Plainly referencing traditional female roles in connection with weaving and the making of cloth, the artist brings in a sense of struggle with poverty, both on a material level, and in relation to the education of women, through the text ‘When land is gone and money spent, Learning is most excellent.’ The colours used are predominantly earth colours, but there is a cleanness, a sharpness about them which is unexpected. Multiple layers of fabric are visible through rents and holes, a visual rendering of the artist’s multiple preoccupations. At the same time there is a focus on the materiality of the support. I go back to the set of three paintings to its side and wonder about the use of paper as a support in their case. Are these asking wider questions? About the roles of writing, language, learning? About how these affect women?
The exhibition is generous in its scope. There is a satisfying wholeness about the range of the work, the spanning of the years, intriguing uses of texture and form, expert handling of colour. Yet it is the very first painting which has the final word for me with its delight in the natural world and its hope for the future. I reacquaint myself with it on my way to the exit. I find myself smiling as I finally turn away. I feel I have made a friend.