Lavaughan Jenkins’s three-dimensional figures sit on turntables so you can see them from every side, but they’re not sculptures. They’re paintings. Jenkins, who last month was named an Institute of Contemporary Art 2019 James and Audrey Foster Prize winner, has a solo show at Suffolk University Gallery.
It’s the first of two “Materials Matter” exhibitions; the second will highlight “Lavaughan Jenkins and Friends.” Both address paint as an end unto itself.
Painters push the parameters of their medium, and probably have since pigment was invented. In recent decades, artists such as Jessica Stockholder have been making work that explodes out of the frame into three dimensions, often with materials other than paint. They still nod to essential elements of painting: the frame, the canvas, the wall.
Jenkins focuses on the alchemical possibilities of the messy, luscious goop of paint. The dozen works here, none more than a foot tall, feature oil paint layered thickly like frosting over small armatures. With blank-faced heads that are simply jet-black balls of paint, they offer themselves to the viewer’s reverie.
The head of one standing figure tilts; is he defeated? Others stand tall. Many are on both knees. Are they praying? Subservient? Making offerings? Or perhaps, like the illuminated victim in Goya’s execution painting “The Third of May, 1808,” facing death?
Jenkins calls them “the watchers,” and sozzles them with color and gesture. They all have paint-laden spare tires around their bellies — fingered, imperfect, sumptuous impastos with little cascades and curlicues. These bellies are not quite natural — not pregnant or rotund. The artist says they hold memories. Let’s call that the weight of history, or the accumulating legacies and experiences we carry around. They form us, and paint forms these statuesque paintings.
Because of their size, they’re like devotional objects. Every stroke and cajoling of their surface might be an act of prayer. Paint is generative. Jenkins uses it to coax spirit into matter.
MATERIALS MATTER 1 — LAVAUGHAN JENKINS
At Suffolk University Gallery, Sawyer Building, Sixth Floor, 8 Ashburton Place, through Nov. 27. 617-573-8785, www.suffolk.edu/nesad/galleryCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.