‘All or Nothing, Sun in Empty Rooms’

Sarah Jones, Violette Editions, 2013

 ‘All or Nothing, Sun in Empty Rooms’, is an essay written for the first major monograph of the work of Sarah Jones. 


An extract:

Every artist continually wants to reach the edge of nothingness

– the point where you can’t go any further.

Harry Callahan

Sarah Jones’ art draws upon many of the paradoxes of her chosen medium. Photography has the capacity to show and not tell. It can feel replete, even excessive, yet reticent. It can dramatize what it pictures while turning its subjects and motifs into enigmatic signs of themselves. It can open its arms while giving nothing away. The sources of its pleasure may also disarm and unnerve. And in these pictures, baroque opulence and austere purity collude, while the emotional tenor switches without warning from melodrama to quiet revelation.

The notion that the creative life gravitates inexorably towards a void has been powerful and seductive at least since the onset of modernism. The steady paring back. The gradual emptying out. The incremental casting aside of all but the most essential. It is difficult to imagine the visual art, music and literature of the last one hundred years without this tendency. Mark Rothko and Agnes Martin. John Cage and Eliane Radigue. Samuel Beckett. Nevertheless what this might mean for an artist working with photography has remained an open question. One response would be that it is simply not possible, that photography’s essential quality is description, which plunges it headlong into the world, or plunges the world into the photograph. No edge of nothingness, but the centre of chaos. Even so, at least two paths to that edge are open to the medium and they are both present in Sarah Jones’ pictures.

The first path involves something like a negation or suspension, taking photography away from depiction, perhaps towards the abstract.  This might include attention to the motifs of abstraction that are out there in the world. Jones’ photographs of studio coves, those monochromatic backgrounds used by the photography, film and television industries, could be thought of as examples of found abstraction. They are pensive stage sets awaiting the performance of things or people. Her photographs of the walls of artists’ studios evoke something similar. Grubby monochromes, smudged and stained. Then there are the great swathes of cosmic black, blinding white and solidly lush colour that haunt the entire span of Jones’ work. They emphasize her subjects but threaten to smother them.