- Rachel Jones born 1991
- Oil stick, oil pastel and acrylic paint on canvas
- Support: 1603 × 2500 mm
- Purchased with funds provided by the Joe and Marie Donnelly Acquisition Fund 2021
lick your teeth, they so clutch 2020 is a large-scale landscape-format painting in oil stick on canvas. Like Jones’s earlier paintings, it employs a kaleidoscopic palette and boldness of form typical of her work. Here, fiery reds collide with fleshy pinks and acid yellows against the counterbalancing coolness of blues and greens, contributing to the sense of tension created by the competing forms and the interplay of textures. Jones’s characteristic use of oil sticks as her medium allows her to create an intensity of pigment, layering colour and melding different textural layers that result in a tactile painted surface suggestive of a physical, embodied and intuitive approach to mark-making.
Like two of Jones’s earlier painting series, A Sovereign Mouth and A Slow Teething, both made in 2020, lick your teeth, they so clutch demonstrates through the loosely figurative depiction of teeth how important the action of teething is in the artist’s conception and making of paintings. This idea of growth through pain is integral to her work. Her paintings occupy a constantly changing position between abstraction and figuration. In lick your teeth, they so clutch the imagery of teeth, freed from the conventional constraints of the mouth, moves in and out of visibility in the abstract composition of the painting, with a subtle allusion to gums or lips at the top of canvas. These oral forms act as ciphers for the body, while suggesting a vivid inner landscape. Through this increased process of disembodiment, Jones eliminates a literal depiction of the figure and instead conveys a sense of inner self as a visual, bodily, sensory and visceral experience.
Consistent with Jones’s wider painting practice, here the figure is notably abstracted and the focus is on ‘using motifs and colour as a way to communicate ideas about the interiority of black bodies and lived experience’ (Jones, in conversation with Tate curator Nathan Ladd, March 2021). Jones has also said of her painting that: ‘I try to use colour to describe black bodies. I want to translate all that lust for self-expression into a language that exists outside of words, and instead relates to seeing and feeling with your eyes.’ (Quoted in ‘Rachel Jones Joins Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac’, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac press release, 29 October 2020). In relation to this notion of interiority, Jones has drawn attention to an essay by curator Ladi’Sasha Jones entitled ‘A Grammar for Black Interior Art’, where she writes: ‘The interior is not concerned with representation, a counter-realness, or counter-imaginary. Its art is dissident; an active, energetic, and responsive compositional space. Black interior art is full presence. It echoes, amplifies, and guides. It never forgets.’ (Ladi’Sasha Jones, ‘A Grammar for Black Interior Art’, Arts.Black, 20 December 2020, https://arts.black/essays/2019/12/a-grammar-for-black-interior-art/, accessed 10 March 2021.)
The title, lick your teeth, they so clutch, is the first by Jones to include an instruction. Through this active title, Jones is exploring the voice attached to the work and the action of speaking to someone outside of it. She employs slang, using the word ‘clutch’ meaning excellent or referring to an accomplishment, to amplify a Black voice, the dialect of a particular community. She structures the title in a way that refuses conventional grammar to denote a familiar, informal or more tender tone.
Louisa Buck, ‘Rachel Jones: Interview’, The Art Newspaper, 7 December 2021, https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/12/07/rising-star-rachel-jones-on-her-latest-works, 4 January 2023.
March 2021, updated January 2023
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