"It sometimes feels like I’m excavating different layers of our being. I’m fascinated by the beauty and evocative potential of oil paint."
Jean-Luc Almond is an emerging British artist who received his BFA from the City & Guilds of the London Art School. His paintings pose an evocative exploration of what it means to be human - what lies beneath the surface of our outward features. Through a process of obscuring, destruction, scratching, and, at times, a powerful play with colour, the artist renders his subjects unrecognizable - searching for what lies beneath the familiar, an inner world where emotions and memories rule.
INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST
Q. Did you always want to be an artist?
A. Art has been within me since childhood. I would always be content with a pencil and paper or just drawing with a twig in the sand.
Neon Face, 2020
Limited Edition Fine Art Print
Q. What drew you to painting portraits?
A. The psychological aspect. The face is the first thing we see when we’re born. However, there are so many deeper layers to us than face value that intrigue me more than the outward appearance.
Q. There is a certain layeredness and sculptural quality to your work. How did you arrive at this technique and how did it evolve over time?
A. When I was young, I was obsessed with neatness and had a very literal idea of realism. I was scared of paint and getting my hands dirty. Therefore, I mainly drew. I had to break away from this and conquer the fear. I felt compelled to take the image beyond just the literal representation - there needed to be something more tangible. The subject matter became like a skeleton and the thick impasto paint like flesh. I enjoyed taking painting to the verge of breaking so that it felt to be in a constant state of flux. I found this truer to life, as we are continually changing both externally and internally. The layers of our personalities are a lot deeper, more visceral and rawer than just what our features may imply.
Q. Is a tangible aspect an important element for you in painting?
A. Certainly! I’m fascinated and obsessed with texture and paint itself. It’s interesting how scientific painting can be. The outcomes of experiments with paint and how it reacts can be unexpected. I often let paint take on its own form, which contrasts against the more technical and ordered aspects in my paintings. The strokes are heavily layered and the thickness of the impasto can take months to dry and be tempting to touch!
Woman in Hat, 2020
Inkjet on Hahnemühle German Etching
Q. There also seems to be a process of scratching or destruction that goes into your paintings. How do creation and destruction relate for you? Are they contradictory actions or two sides of the same concept?
A. I think they belong together in life. There is order but also chaos. When you think you have control, life throws something else your way. I find my paintings most emotive when there is balance between both elements. I spend hours carefully rendering an image with subtle colour blends only to find that when I throw paint over the image or scratch and peel off a section, it speaks more powerfully. It sometimes feels like I’m excavating different layers of our being. I’m fascinated by the beauty and evocative potential of oil paint.
Q. Your subject matter remains anonymous, as any recognizable facial features are obscured or destroyed, does this anonymity serve a specific purpose?
A. I don’t want to be a slave to the subject. I reach a point during the process where I ignore it altogether and feeling takes precedence over likeness.
Ambiguity appeals to me as I don’t want to give everything away. There are subtle hints at what is underneath, but you have to work to find it. People say that the more they look, the more they see. I often find the chaotic textures more fascinating than what’s beneath. Obscuring can also be like giving the painting a new life or entity. The element of surprise can be both strange and seductive.
Q. What plays the superior role for you in your body of work, materiality or subject matter? Or do you consider them equal parts of the end product?
A. It’s hard to choose. The materiality slightly wins it on the physical level as I couldn’t remove it and be satisfied with a painting. However, subject matter is important too for composition and triggering ideas and emotions. I don’t think I can separate them; they need each other. I mentioned earlier it’s like a skeleton and flesh - the flesh can’t have structure without the skeleton.
Q. Do you think that the obstruction of recognizable subject matter allows you to access a more emotional layer in the process of perception?
A. I think so. If you have something recognisable to hold onto, it allows you to reflect more and appreciate the ambiguities. I like them to exist together.
Oil on Wood
Q. What role does ambiguity play in your work?
A. It’s a crucial element! I find it fascinating, especially texturally. There is so much potential with oil paint. When I obscure elements, the paintings can become like an apparition or fading memory of what’s beneath but I could not obscure it without first creating it.
Q. I have read that some of your work takes inspiration from Victorian Photography, Post Mortem photography, and death masks. Could you elaborate on why these things appeal to you and how they influenced your concept?
A. They have timeless and haunting qualities I find provocative. They can be simultaneously eerie and beautiful, often peaceful expressions with a light appearing to emanate from them. The photographs tend to be very pixelated so they lend themselves perfectly to a process of reinvention, recovering their lost colours and textures.
Oil on Wood
Q. What would you like your work to evoke?
A. I like there to be elements of drama, mystery and emotion. I want people to feel something, even if it’s challenging. I use paint to articulate what I can't in words.
How we perceive is different for everyone, so one person’s horrifying experience can be another person’s notion of beauty. I enjoy this subjectivity in art.
Polarities coexisting in tension – forming and breaking; creation and destruction; representation and abstraction – as the subjects teeter on the brink of disappearance, reflecting human experience itself: fractured, disjointed, and deeply layered. My faith also plays a part. There’s a spiritual relationship between darkness and light.
Q. What do you think the main challenges are that artists face today?
A. Social media can be distracting to the creative process and affect mental health. Although it can be a great tool in many ways, there is a fine line between balancing the positives of it while not letting it become too addictive and cause us to lose focus. It also replaces valuable studio time.
Q. Which other creatives do you admire?
A. Going back, I have always loved Rembrandts works. As a contemporary, I appreciate the works of Adrian Ghenie.
Woman in Hat, 2020
Inkjet on Hahnemühle German Etching
Q. Could you describe your work in three words?
A. Visceral - Textural - Emotive