Kitchen Kitsch


22 September – 17 October 2009

Francis Kyle Gallery, Maddox Street, London

Introduction to the Kitchen Kitsch exhibition catalogue by Will Self:

The GU10 halogen bulb has a lot to answer for – in art as well as in life. Like so many, my kitchen is completely illuminated by these small recessed bulbs, and while the light they shed is even and strong, they have an irritating tendency to blow easily. I’ve spent a good deal of the past decade fiddling with the little metal prongs that retain them in their housings, then peering up through a mizzle of plaster dust as I try to marry new bulb with dangling socket.

How many writers does it take to change a light bulb? Well ideally one: I’d prefer to describe the experience on a purely theoretical level, while someone else does the actual research. Jon Wealleans feels the same as I do, although as a hyper-realist painter he doesn’t have the option of reducing complex manipulations to the mere pecking of plastic keys; instead, in his new series of pictures, Kitchen Kitsch, he has chosen to embrace the perverse clarity of the contemporary cluttered kitchen.

Wealleans says of the GU10 in relation to Kitchen Kitsch: ‘I have attempted a subversion of the Old Master still life tradition, but what astonishes me is that while modern interiors are full of memento mori- there hangs the never-used nutmeg grater that tells us our meals are numbered – there isn’t a single available light source. Natural daylight, from a window, falling from left to right across skulls, fruit and cloth – these are recognised as the essential signifiers of mortality: the eye reads the image as a narrative of life itself, with a beginning, middle and end.

‘Now, instead of this quite orderly basis for sciagraphy – the creation of perspective by the rendition of light and shade – the painter is faced with hideous sciamachy: he must fight with the scores of jinn-like, wispy little shadows that are created by those cursed halogen bulbs!’

Of course, it might be fair to rejoin to Wealleans: ‘Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, why on earth paint these busy little garish modern interiors?’ And he would be forced to admit that he, and his wife, Natalie, have just such a kitsch kitchen at their seventeenth century townhouse in London’s Borough neighbourhood. True, Jon, likes to claim that the vast profusion of china, glass, figurines, fetish objects, bibelots, enamelled tins, Toby jugs, corn dollies, gonks, wonks etc. etc., are all the responsibility of his wife, Natalie, but the extravagant profusion of small objets in his own studio would seem to belie this.

Indeed, I think it reasonable to suggest that Wealleans – fine and honest artist that he is – has decided to paint the Kitchen Kitsch series because he knows how intrinsic to his own creative process is the concept of ordered chaos: a seemingly random agglomeration of objects, that yet contain within their interrelation the lineaments of the mind that assembled them. In this sense, Jon’s kitchen paintings, far from hearkening back to the Old Masters, are in fact evocations of shamanic ‘symbol sets’: ritual objects that are arranged then rearranged in order to provoke remote effects. After all, what could be more magical than the rite of gastronomy itself’?