‘For me the subject is of a secondary importance. I want to convey what’s between me and the subject’ Claude Monet
One of the major European painters of the 18th Century Sir Joshua Reynolds was an English painter specializing in portraits. He promoted the “Grand Style” in painting which depended on idealization of the imperfect. What is more, he was also a founder and first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, and was knighted by George III in 1769. One of his most important tasks that Reynolds had to fullfill as a painter was to present to the outer world a breathtaking image of a dignified, perfectly happy and self-actualized royal individual.
Sir Joshua Reynolds, ‘Sarah Campbell’, 1777–1778, British Museum
Sir Joshua Reynolds, ‘Admiral Augustus Keppel’, 1779.
As we all know things tend to change with the time passing by.
In 1917 The Exhibition of Royal Society of Portrait Painters in the UK was criticized for containing ‘too many portraits of the smooth, photographic type’.
One hundred years later, ‘the search for ideal’ that the old, royal painters were after, has been irreversibly set to fire and ‘burned in flames’ as a thing of the past, replaced by the less obvious, richer in meanings and blurry depiction of reality by the young and highly talented English painter Jake Wood-Evans.
(c) Jake Woods-Evans, Studio, Source: Artists Instagram Profile
From what I learned from Wood-Evans website, he was born in 1980 in Devon and graduated from Falmouth University with a BA Hons in Fine Art. The artists was subsequently awarded a scholarship from the Royal Academy for classical study at the Prado museum in Madrid. Based in Brighton for a number of years, he currently lives and works in Hastings.
(c) Jake Woods-Evans, Artists In His Studio, Source: Artists Instagram Profile
What immediately caught my attention while attentively studying Wood-Evans artworks, was the fact that his “noble and royal sitters” are captured in a quite unique, intriguing manner.
(c) Jake Woods-Evans, PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN IN RED, AFTER SIR HENRY RAEBURN, 2016, Unit London
To be more specific, the contemporary painter that I was introduced to by the contemporary Art Gallery Unit London appears to be incredibly successful in making the onlooker believe that ‘the presence of the models on the canvas’ is actually nothing that could be taken for granted and might be only temporary. The charming ladies wearing pearls, silk and satin dresses, gentlemen in their expensive royal clothes are ‘here and now’ for a couple of seconds but also – already somewhere else, in a space we could never name or identify.
(c) Jake Woods-Evans, PORTRAIT OF HUGH WILLIAM WILLIAMS, AFTER RAEBURN, 2016, Unit London
To me the sitters on the portraits seem to have just one thing on their mind, that is the William Shakespeare‘s words from his famous play ‘Hamlet’:
‘To be, or not to be, that is the question’
It is almost as if the dukes, baronesses, queens and princes from Evan-Woods artworks were about to do the least expected. They seem to be waiting for the right moment to kindly thank the Principal Painter in Ordinary to the King for his time and attention and leave the dull activity of posing, without turning back for a second, disappearing as a free spirit to the alternate reality, be it heaven or hell.
(c) Jake Woods-Evans, MRS FRANCIS RUSSELL, AFTER ROMNEY, 2017, Unit London
Let’s take a closer look at the way in which the artists skillfully plays with the hidden meanings. Why are the sitters from the Wood-Evans portraits ‘losing their face’?
(c) Jake Wood EvansDetail, ‘Portrait of a woman in yellow’
(c) Jake Woods-Evans, SIR JOHN FAWCETT, AFTER SIR THOMAS LAWRENCE, 2014, Unit Lodon
To lose ones face means to be humiliated or come to be less highly respected. And it’s plain to see that in this happens, we can no longer speak of a self-actualization, can we? In addition to this, if we analyze the relation between all that is literal and metaphorical, we shall come to the conclusion that ‘losing face’ is the last thing that a well-known and celebrated ‘royalty’ would ever permit to happen. Let’s think for example of ‘Lady Diana Case’.
When her love affairs came to light she was stripped of the ‘Her Royal Highness’ part of her title, but she continued to live in Kensington Palace and was still considered part of the Royal Family. Yet as she remained incredibly popular with the public, and The Daily Express newspaper in particular, there was a considerable outpouring of grief when she died in 1997 as a result of a car crash in Paris.
In this respect, ‘disappearing faces’ from Wood-Evans artworks might represent ‘nuda veritas’ – the sudden reveal of the naked truth about the seemingly flawless royals, whose life in fact is never really as it seems, often filled with scandals, love affairs and dramas, carefully hidden from the public eye.
(c) Jake Woods-Evans, PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN IN BLUE SILK, AFTER REYNOLDS, 2017, Unit London
On the other hand, the artworks speak not only of the ‘out of paradise’ vision of the ‘past noble generations’. What if any of us had to lose our face? Isn’t that something we are all, deep down in our hearts, secretly afraid of? Doesn’t the English artist touch something very important and fundamental about our human nature? What if we were to lose our dignity, honor and pride? Would it be much left then?
(c) Jake Wood Evans, LADY BAMPFYLDE, AFTER REYNOLDS, 2016, Unit London
Wood-Evans unfolds not only the ‘uncomfortable truth’ about the pas. In fact he also speaks generally of human condition in a thoughtful, yet provocative and universal way, showing us that what we tend to perceive as ‘the perfect world’ and ‘perfect human beings’ is often nothing but smoke and mirrors.
When the ‘perfect mask’ is gone the sitters are left disarmed and vulnerable, with nothing out there left for them to hide their flaws, fears and sorrows.
Wood-Evans ‘Transition’ is the voice of a real, powerful artists that speaks of ‘the darker side’ of the history and the present time.
Speaking of the ‘lost glory and splendor’ , the artist leads a fascinating dialogue with the 18th century painters and with the Art in general, showing his contemporary perspective and echoing on his canvases the Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, written in the early 1791:
“to the splendor of the foliage, to the neglect of the stirring the earth about the roots. They cultivated only those arts which could add splendor to the nation, to the neglect of those which supported it – They neglected Trade & substantial Manufacture…but does it follow that a total revolution is necessary that because we have given ourselves up too much to the ornaments of life, we will now have none at all”.
The exciting news for the art world in general and for the fans of Evan-Woods art is that on the 30th of November 2017 The collection “Transitions” is going to be available for a private view at the Unit London Gallery that according to many contemporary art critics is going to be one the one of the most anticipated art events of the year.
To find out more about Evan-Woods art please visit his website,