Artist Interview with John Jones London

Alex Calinescu - 6th October 2016

A stool with a book on top
Work in Progress
Alex Calinescu was born in Cambridge in 1967. Calinescu attended the Art Foundation course in Cambridge in 1985, moving to London in 1986 to study painting at the City and Guilds of London Art School and from there attended the postgraduate painting course at the Royal Academy Schools from 1989-1992.

Calinescu has exhibited in England, Ireland and Japan, and spent three months as artist in residence at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Connecticut in 2006.

Calinescu's work is in numerous collections including Mittal Steel, Aon Limited, The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Cantillon Capital Management LLP, TDR Capital, Lawrence Graham, Banque AIG, The Albers Foundation, The Bank of England, Vincent Sykes & Higham LLP, British Land, Landmark plc, Reuters, Hanson Westhouse Ltd and private collections in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland and America.

Awards include the Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant, the David Murray Travel
Q Your latest works embody poetic movements, exploring change in form, colour and space. What inspired these works?
Nature and the Elements, music, and contemporary dance have, for a long time, been an integral source of inspiration in my work, and indeed life practice.

Being in nature, feeling the weather, land, sea, air, sun, around me, in me, I feel alive. I feed on this. That line of the horizon between sea and sky, sometimes so indiscernible and soft, sometimes such a hard line, in sharp contrast, draws me in again and again. As does experiencing cloud, mist, vapour, moving across hills, mountains, in valleys.

But, whilst such things inspire and excite me, these paintings, and the ones before, are not simply a recreation of my sense and experience of such elemental landscapes.

In music I am drawn to, and intrigued and inspired by, the space between sound, which becomes a sound in its own right.
The edge of a note, whether it is soft, drawn out, lingering, or hard, short and cutting. 
The breath. 

In dance, that space between human forms, and/or their interconnection. The expression of harmony and discord, anger and violence, tenderness and sorrow. 
Absence and presence. 
Weight, balance, imbalance.
acrylic and pigment on canvas
254 x 228.6cm
acrylic and pigment on canvas
122.5 x 109cm
All of these elements are in the creative mix.

But then there is that “Other” element. One which cannot easily be defined or explained in words. Essence. Soul. Spirit.

Scale is important and something that I am acutely aware of and consider carefully alongside proportion before the making of each and every piece. There is the intimacy of a piece that is the size of your hand and can be held. But my real love is to create pieces on as large a scale as possible whereby they create, for the viewer, a sense of an environment, filling their vision to the periphery.

Showing the paintings as a series allows a dialogue, like a line of music, individual sounds, together creating a journey. And, on a practical level, creates a physical environment which surrounds and encompasses the viewer.
Q You work across a variety of mediums; painting, sculpture, photography and print. How do you find the different mediums translate your creative practice?
I have always worked across a variety of mediums and, actually, I would add to your list drawing, which has, for me, been an integral part of my work since the very beginning.

Additionally, and relatively recently, I have also begun to make very simple, short videos. None of these mediums have been consciously sought.

Rather they have simply and intuitively become a part of my practice as the most appropriate way to express and communicate with others the different aspects of how I see and experience the world.

Very much different forms of the same fundamental language, but each with their own visual “sound”.
acrylic and pigment on canvas
254 x 228.6cm
2016-10090-no’s 3, 4 and 7
acrylic and pigment on canvas
254 x 228.6cm
Q How do you think your artistic practice has changed since you began painting?
I left the Royal Academy Schools 24 years ago, having been incredibly fortunate to have benefited from seven consecutive years in art school, and have had a studio in London full time since then. 

Spending that number of years solidly immersed in your practice, and with the evidence and weight of those cumulative bodies of work behind you, gives you strength and a depth of understanding and experience that only creating work over time can give you.

One of the valuable things I have learnt is the importance of the time spent sitting and simply being with the work. In my experience this time is often as important, if not more so, than the actual physical “doing”.

Understanding when to let a piece sit, to breathe, to leave it alone rather than fiddle or interfere with it. Learning to listen and trust, and to wait until I am drawn back into dialogue.

Working in series very much helps me with this. I can step away, interact with another piece and move in and out, rather like a dance, or playing with other musicians. And, as such, this creates/enables a natural dialogue and development in the flow between the individual pieces in the series.
Work in progress
I have also learned the importance of taking the time, even when I think a piece is finished, to just sit with it, almost surreptitiously glancing at it, over a number of days and weeks. I often speak of the work in terms of its resonance and vibration. And so, as well as considering every minute detail visually, checking that each mark, form, element, line, splash, is absolutely necessary and adding something, it is only when the resonance and vibration feels and sounds exactly right, that I know a piece is truly finished.
Q Which contemporary artists do you admire / find inspiring and why?
Whilst there have been, and are, artists who have been important to me in my journey as an artist, the people who have been the greatest source of inspiration have primarily been composers, musicians, and choreographers/dancers. 

Of especial note: the composers/musicians Arvo Pärt, John Metcalfe, Ólafur Arnalds, and Max Richter, and the choreographer Wayne McGregor, and the works he has created for Company Wayne McGregor.
Work in progress - stretching the canvases
Q - Can you tell us about your studio environment - where do you like to work and what helps you to focus?
I took on my first studio half way through my Postgraduate course at the Royal Academy School in 1991. It was a very basic, pretty humble, but purpose built, wooden studio space with high ceilings at the end of a long and very wild garden in Knollys Road Tulse Hill, London, with a family of foxes living underneath, and a hilarious access route which included stepping across a stream, not easy given the scale of my work. It was cold, and very damp but it was entirely mine, private, and it gave me the opportunity to learn how it was to work alone before I left art school, something that I instinctively knew was going to be important. It also meant that when I left the RA I was already familiar and settled in the space which certainly made the transition, having gone straight from school into art school for another 7 years, less of a shock.

From there I moved into a studio in Camberwell until the late 1990’s when I moved into a 550sqft first floor, beautifully light, space at Acme’s Childers Street studio complex in Deptford.

In 2006 I had the opportunity to move into Sean Scully’s former studio on the ground floor of the same building. Having worked on a large scale and in series since the late 80’s, taking on this studio with 1700 sq ft of space and 4m high ceiling gave me the opportunity I had longed for to create larger work and significantly increase the number of canvases I could work on at once.

There was one compromise; a serious lack of natural light but, at the time, my tendency was to work late into the night and so it wasn’t such an issue. However, recently I have felt an ever increasing longing to be in a studio with more light, large windows, and thus to feel more aware of the time of day, and connected to the weather, and changing seasons.

This was something that I was fortunate to experience when I was invited to spend three months as artist in residence at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Connecticut in 2006.

Indeed my time there, the joy of being in such a beautiful live work space surrounded by nature, having the opportunity to be fully immersed in my work, to walk the same paths each day, so acutely aware of the weather, of time passing, and the shift in the season, both whilst working and living in the studio beneath the huge windows, and in the time being outside, was an incredible gift and the experience was absolutely life changing. I do not have the words to express my gratitude to the Albers Foundation for giving me such an opportunity. What I can say is that the experience of my time there has been present in each and every day of my life, and in every piece of work, since.

But there are aspects of being in London, such as being able to easily access and feed on music, dance, art, architecture, that are also important. Yet the time I spend in nature, beside the sea, or in landscape, is also essential to my work and life practice. Trying to find a balance isn’t easy. As such it has always been my intention to have a studio in a rural location, in addition to London and that remains my ideal. What helps me to focus at the studio…..

Music. Listening to music and/or creating sound myself.
I can very quickly use specific pieces of music to stimulate certain emotional states, which takes me into a particular creative zone.

My violin is a regular visitor to the studio, so I will often play there, or use my voice whilst painting. In this way music/sound very much flows in and out of the work.

I also have a very special and much loved collection of Japanese Rin Temple Bowls (like extremely large singing bowls). Sitting on the floor in the studio with the work around me, and playing these creates a state of stillness, calm, and space.

And there is a certain and very particular focus that comes about by working late into the night. Those hours before dawn, when nature is at its most still, have a certain quiet and feeling of peace that is quite simply magical.
Work in progress - preparing the canvases

Q - How important is choosing the right canvas surface when completing your work?
The quality of the materials I use has always been something I’ve been unwilling to compromise on. I would rather make less and buy the best materials I can afford. I only use John Jones stretchers, my canvas is 12oz Cotton Duck, and the primer and acrylic paint I use is made by Lascaux.

For me there is an important ritual in the preparation of each canvas. A powerful intimacy in the stretching of the canvas, and the painting of every layer of primer and base colour. Honouring this is something that matters greatly to me. It is an integral part of the journey of each piece. Each body of work has different requirements. With this series of paintings I have used two coats of Lascaux Primer, and then two coats of base colour. 


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