‘Dada Delirium’ exhibit features 14 enormous canvases

Painter Janet Jones, professor and chair of York University’s Department of Visual Arts, launches a national tour of her solo exhibition, Dada Delirium, at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ont., March 13 to April 26.

The show explores the futuristic or “techno” sublime elements of major cities. Jones merges imagery inspired by sterile public spaces, like the lobbies of multinational corporations or hyper-lit passages on the Las Vegas casino strip, with the destabilizing, yet ecstatic blur of technology.

Above: Nowhere Everywhere #1 by Janet Jones (oil on canvas, 304.8 x 76.2 centimetres) 2003

“My work often focuses on the urban spaces where beauty and terror intersect,” says Jones. “Instead of the traditional ‘sublime’ connected to nature, the new sublime can be related to technology – from towering skyscrapers to massive media screens and the underground tunnels below them.”

Encompassing four years of work, the massive exhibit features 14 monumental canvases up to 10 feet long, plus a dozen small pieces. Half of the works have previously been exhibited internationally and in Canada, and half are being presented for the first time.

The show’s title refers to the ecstatic delirium the artist has witnessed and experienced in the information overload of big city life. “The Dadaists claimed that Dada was a completely nonsensical word,” explains Jones. “I was inspired to call the show ‘Dada Delirium’ as a critique on the meaningless spectacle by which we find ourselves surrounded.”

Jones starts her paintings with photographs captured on her night walks in cities such as Toronto, New York, Berlin, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. She often wanders spaces that seem public but are actually private. As she surveys these areas, she herself is also under electronic surveillance. “You can’t linger in any place for too long, or be obvious about taking photographs,” she says. “I’ve had run-ins with security in places like the PATH near King and Bay. There is an element of the clandestine, or being a spy in enemy territory, in my photo walks.”

Right: Delirio #4 (acrylic and oil on canvas 239 x 137 centimetres) 2009

For this exhibition, Jones has taken small sections of images that evoke a strong sense of place and of foreboding without showing any specific object or space, collecting them into a montage that she then recreated in painting.

Gallery director and curator and York visual arts grad Stuart Reid (BFA Spec. Hons. ’86) is coordinating the show’s national tour and will be publishing a companion catalogue. “In these paintings, the future is now. Light and colour optimistically infiltrate cavernous dark spaces, turning the ominous into the illuminated,” says Reid. “Janet’s works have smooth surfaces that hover between ‘skin and screen’. Evidence of the painter’s hand is barely visible.”

The catalogue will include an essay by Reid that locates Jones’ work within the history of painting, as well as an article about Jones’ creative process by visual arts Professor and Fine Arts Associate Dean Nell Tenhaaf. The publication will also feature an interview with Jones by Georgiana Uhlyarik (MA ’98), assistant curator of Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

"Dada Delirium" is the first of three major solo exhibitions that Jones currently has slated for 2009. A show at Toronto’s Peak Gallery titled "A Las Vegas of the Mind" is scheduled for September, with another show set to open at Tarryn Teresa Gallery in Los Angeles later in the fall. Both exhibitions will present new works not represented in "Dada Delirium".

Jones, a well-known art theorist as well as practitioner, has exhibited her paintings in solo and group shows across Canada, in New York, England, Germany, France and China. She has also presented papers on contemporary painting in France, England, Russia, China and Cuba. In 2003, she was a visiting artist at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, and the Willem de Kooning Art Academy and Hogeschool, both in Rotterdam, Netherlands.