TJ Boulting, in association with Mark Sanders Art Consultancy, is proud to present This Side of Paradise, a series of new paintings by British artist Jonathan Wateridge.
The title of the show refers to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 debut novel of the same title, which told of the downfall of its protagonist from wealth and privilege. Similarly in this series Wateridge presents a fall from paradise perceived through the backdrop of a swimming pool, the symbol of affluence, and the fulcrum around which all the works pivot. But where is this paradise, is it a reality or fiction, or both, and what does its fall represent?
We are first confronted with the pool itself, the painting eponymously titled This Side of Paradise, and already we are given warning signs that things are not quite what they seem. This is no idyllic poolside picture, there are no figures, the water is not crystalline but a dark swathe of blues and greens, psychologically charged and full of depth, more akin to the ocean with its connotations of fear and the unknown. Meaning here is generated as much by atmospherics as by content. Even the initial seduction of the soft light in the background landscape gives way to a wrought, scratchy surface of aggressive and jagged fronds. Alongside the pool are similarly large-scale portraits of individual swimmers, standing but uncertain and interrupted, as if tense and alert to some impending sense of threat. A woman in a yellow swimming costume turns to us with an arresting stare: we have been caught looking, and we are no longer carefree voyeurs but left feeling uncomfortable as to what we have disturbed.
These large works were begun in late 2019, and demonstrate a paradigm shift in Wateridge’s style of painting, with loose and suggestive brushstrokes and use of colour. The scrapes, sanding and range of marks by brush or knife echo certain formal aspects of early Modernism but which, crucially, carry other influences of narrative cinema and photography that imbue the paintings with a distinctive psychological charge. In Night Swim we see one eye peering out above the water, piercing our gaze with a barely defined smear of black paint; in Late Swim the shadows around the eyes and cheek of the middle-aged bather have been scraped and gouged away by the palette knife. The remaining electric greens reflected from the illuminated water render his face mask-like, the geometric, circular lines describing the curves of his towel evoking the distant echoes of a (now flaccid) Vitruvian Man.
As we move to the second gallery, featuring smaller paintings made more recently this year, Wateridge escalates the unsettling atmosphere to a more extreme level. Here we are confronted with scene after scene of bodies collapsed by the pool, lying prostrate and inert, enervated and barely conscious. Collectively they present a deeply disturbing viewpoint, while a realisation dawns in what we are seeing. This is indeed no paradise, the poolside offers no privilege or respite; confounded, the figures create a cumulative feeling of unease and ennui. The body language implies they do not lie in comfort, we are reminded of shocking scenes that greeted visitors arriving post the Jonestown massacre; bodies strewn calmly, collectively, across the landscape. This is the other side of paradise. It is disturbing but also strangely familiar, our collective memory forged by our interconnected world . The swimming pool here is our warning sign. But as with many allegories, it serves to give us the signs; whether we follow them is another matter.
Jonathan Wateridge was born in Lusaka, Zambia in 1972. He has shown in several international group and solo shows including ‘British Art Now’ at the Hermitage State Museum, Moscow, ‘Beyond Reality: British Painting Today’ at Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, ‘Another Place’ at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice and ‘Enclave’ at HENI, London, in association with Pace Gallery, between 2010 to 2016. He currently lives and works in Norfolk in the UK.