Almost two years ago, deep in the woods in the middle of the Peak District, Jon Braley came across a skull submerged in the forest floor. Clearing away the pine needles and piecing together the bones, he unearthed the site that a wounded deer had long ago chosen as its final resting place. Much of the original skeleton remained, surrounded by trees that formed a kind of sheltered burial ground, away from the world in a seldom visited place. It was raw and powerful, an unmediated rite of life and death played out with instinctive simplicity. This deer forms both the basis and the centrepiece of his new exhibition, The Elements.
Jon Braley’s work has always been about the raw power of nature, and about our changing relationship to it. His slick liquid paintings use intense colour and organic movement to suggest the essence of “majestic nature”, which he then freezes mid-flow, capturing it in industrial resin. Like an insect trapped in amber, this romantic ideal becomes a relic of a distant and inaccessible past, a time before the tide of progress levered us away from the natural world. All of Jon’s work has orbited this central idea; and his discovery in the Peak District afforded him a new way to explore it.
The Elements takes the deer’s last resting place as a starting point. Jon has re-constructed the core of the skeleton and set it on top of a plinth of pine needles, as if elevating it onto an other-worldly altar. Surrounding it, positioned at north, south, east and west, are four paintings, organised according to the basic elements: air, water, fire and earth. Like the fruit of an animistic ritual, the paintings represent the elements in an abstract, instinctive way, as if they had been translated into an unfamiliar but still intelligible language. The same reasoning is used for gradually smaller paintings appearing in the rest of the gallery, as if continuing the ritual into smaller degrees of magnitude. Through his recreation of the scene, Jon translates this cycle of life, death and the elements into a vivid visual experience – a homage to nature on one side, but also an exhibition of how we are perpetually, unavoidably distanced from it.
Jon Braley was born in Leek, Staffordshire in 1976. He studied Fine Art at the University of Derby 1996-99, and European Fine Art at Winchester School of Art in 1999-2000, including a 10-month placement in Barcelona. His work has been exhibited nationally with solo and group exhibitions at the James Freeman Gallery (London) and Tregoning Gallery (Derby), and internationally at SCOPE Basel in Switzerland and KIAF in South Korea in 2009. He was shortlisted for the John Moores Contemporary Painting Prize 2010, exhibiting at the Walker Museum in Liverpool. His work is represented in collections worldwide, including Mountgrove Capital in London and Glaxo Smith Kline UK.
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