JEFF JENNINGS : VANISHING AURAS
By Surpik Angelini
After experiencing the harrowing devastation of Katrina in New Orleans, Jeff Jennings found a gripping attraction to Bangladesh with its port city of Chittagong, equidistantly located exactly half way around the world from Louisiana. Interestingly, both cities border river deltas, and share similar weather and poverty levels that numb the senses.
Through this exhibition, Jennings seems to propose a new genre of memento mori, memorializing poignant scenes of industrial degradation involving two types of contemporary vessels: ships in Bangladesh and cars in New Orleans. Both scenes allude to destruction, one by the hand of man and the other by the force of nature.
Created after the artist’s recognizance trip to Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards in 2009, the first group of paintings captures the vanishing aura of powerful, stoic maritime vessels in different stages of mutilation, dismantling and disintegration. With a series of large scale paintings, we confront the unfathomable, abysmal wasteland in which these ships come to shore, while we are offered glimpses of the mysterious labyrinths of their entrails. In another series of smaller still portraits in square or round format, these monumental vessels with distinguished names seem metaphysically aloof in a timeless, alien atmosphere.
A closer view of their severed structures suggests phantom buildings, re-imagined as silos, cathedrals, barns, skyscrapers, modern monuments. Thus, If the shipyard wrecks are a memento mori of the exuberant past lives of Patrick Henry, Adeline S, Frederick R, or Richard Trimble, the scenes of a disintegrating Ford Explorer or a Jeep Wagoneer, languishing in a dilapidated industrial neighborhood in New Orleans, only bring back memories of times when camping out with the family was a choice.
With his most recent paintings of 2016, Jennings records a series of anonymous interventions transforming these dismantled vehicles, observed and photographed during his daily drives to his studio after Katrina, ten years ago. Thus, in Jeep Wagoneer #1, the date and number scribbled on its side mark the car’s demise, while oil bleeds under it. In JW #6, a bright blue tarp partially thrown over its carcass evokes an allegorical deposition, following looting and violation. Ford Explorer #2 is a scene of chaos and disarray, after further abuse and abandonment.
This is not to say that the artist’s vision is strictly apocalyptic, for the beauty and poetic quality of Jennings’ masterful rendering exude a redeeming sign of human compassion, a rare gem in our troubled times.
Surpik Angelini is the founder and director of Transart Foundation for Contemporary Art and Anthropology.
© Surpik Angelini 2017