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Jon Elliott, Continental Drift

31 Grand
143 Ludlow Street, between Rivington and Stanton, 212-228-0901
East Village / Lower East Side
September 6 - October 6, 2007
Reception: Thursday, September 6, 7 - 9 PM
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31GRAND is pleased to present Jon Elliott’s “Continental Drift”, his second solo with us. Jon has continued expanding his complex commentaries on excess and waste in our society in a new grouping of paintings that are lush, gorgeous, and delicate; but are also dark, deep, and scary. Below is an essay by Daria Brit Shapiro, who has best captured Jon’s content and intent for this series.

Jon Elliott Continental Drift By Daria Brit Shapiro

“The past is a light train to unknown trash scapes” – Ellen Allien

At the outbreak of WWII, Walter Benjamin, in describing a Klee painting, identified a character he termed, “The Angel of History… with his face turned toward the past.” Benjamin goes on to describe, “Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

In his latest body of paintings, “Continental Drift”, Jon Elliott channels disturbingly beautiful imagery from the eye of this storm; commenting upon our current cultural landscape by exposing the dark, shadowy sub-reality that lurks just below the surface. Within these large-scale paintings, the gorgeous glossy patches, delicately gridded lines and deft depictions of outmoded technology, there seems a sense of the Uncanny, but not exactly the feeling that we’ve been there before, but rather the sense that we are there right now, here in the present. Elliott calls this a “Shadow History that runs concurrently with the commonly acknowledged present.” The artist is referring to a collective history, a history that we create in the present, culturally and politically charged, experienced en masse, throughout what we know as humanity.

In Jon Elliott’s work, there is no present which excludes the past. We instinctively turn towards the past, towards history; according to quantum theory, there are not only second chances, but an infinite number of chances. History is NOT unalterable, for we are still swimming in it; energies that existed then, exist now. The universe is alive with what physicists call wave functions- ecstatically charged forces undergoing constant change. By the fifth century, Heraclitus was teaching his doctrine of “eternal becoming”, flux, not fix, an identity of perpetual change, process not substance, the flow that makes it impossible to “step into the same river twice”. These forces exist within and without our bodies; there is little or no dividing line between tenses of Past, Present, Future; we live these “tenses” all at once, constantly propelled forward by the media’s notion of “progress”, which in Jon Elliott’s paintings, is not a moving forward, not a looking back, but rather a whirlpool into which everything swirls with a disquieting inertia.

Jon Elliott’s imagery is often mistaken as post-apocolyptic, implying an interpretation of the future. On the contrary, these paintings do not draw from “post”, but rather the “now” as we experience it. Imagery consisting of heaps of computers, trashed televisions that flash recognizable pictures from our media’s cultural detritus, draw the spectator into the work, depicting the dizzying present in motion, creating its own history in real time. Similar to the post-structuralist belief that language is a found-object, outmoded, which the writer then transforms, Jon Elliott’s paintings concern themselves with dead technology, investigating what happens to the meaning of these objects, when through planned obsolescence, they become garbage. According to the artist, “They retain what they were as symbols, and their corporeal existence, with all of its toxic potency, makes up in symbolic power for anything lost in utilitarian purposes.” Continental Drift addresses the fate of these objects when they lose their value and exist merely as symbols, signifying a culture of waste and toxicity, which is the very thing that imbues them with a continuously relevant meaning. Televisions, Computers: the transmitters of what we know as reality, also shape our imagination and fantasy; these objects are powerful disseminators to a receiving public. In Jon Elliott’s paintings, these devices are turned on “to display scenes of pride and shame, glory and disgust, myth tainted with visions of that which we would wish to ignore or conceal about ourselves and our history.”

Elliott’s work provides a skeptic’s vision of our collective mythologies, ideologies, and histories that are mostly ignored by a progressive society trained to partake in the act of forgetting. Ironically, there exists no present which excludes the past and in Continental Drift, our past is constantly recurring, happening in the present, involving the viewer in a continuous dynamism. For Jon Elliott, it’s not about recounting events long gone, and it’s not about predicting the future, it is about the act of painting itself, the act of the viewer beholding the work. Imagery arrives already dead in the eyes of the viewer- and in turn, the viewer revives it with new meaning by the simple act of looking.
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