Artist Profile: Rachel Jones

20 October 2021

The focus of this month’s Artist Profile is Rachel Jones, whose work lick your teeth, they so clutch, 2021, was recently acquired by the Arts Council Collection and features in the current exhibition Mixing It Up: Painting Today at the Hayward Gallery.

Rachel Jones’s practice, which includes painting, installation and performance, approaches abstraction through an exploration of her own identity in relation to the depiction of Black figures in art from the eighteenth century to the present. She examines the potential role of these representations in dismantling power structures. Rather than repeating figurative models from history, she experiments with motifs and colour as a way to communicate ideas about the interiority of Black bodies and their lived experience. 

I try to use colour to describe Black bodies. I want to translate all that lust for self-expression into a language that exists outside of words, and instead relates to seeing and feeling with your eyes.

Jones often repeats symbols and textures, creating close relationships between her works of varying size, from the monumental to the miniature. In her recent series of oil pastel compositions on paper or canvas, such as lick your teeth, they so clutch, 2021,  Jones repeats the motif of abstracted mouths and teeth. Portrayed to such a large scale that any sign of the face or body they belong to is obscured, the vibrant patches of paint and pastel seem to form a dense, vivid landscape. Upon taking a step back and viewing her work at a distance, the familial bodily forms begin to take shape.


In a video describing her process behind these series, Jones explains “It’s been interesting for me to think about if I don’t have really clear depictions of bodies and figures in the painting, then how can I make the work seem personal or about a group of people? That’s why the images are often repeated time and time again. And over a period of time you become more familiar with it, then you understand it better and so I feel like it’s important that the works are nuanced. They are difficult because what I’m describing isn’t like a one-liner.

Jones’ use of the mouth as a motif represents a symbolic and literal entry point to the interior and the self. The mouth serves essential functions such as breathing and speaking, while being a site to be modified for beauty or reminders of a gruesome past, such as during the Atlantic slave trade. Through her abstracted works, Jones uses the mouth, i.e the body, to represent Blackness in a myriad of historical and socio-political forms.

A number of Arts Council Collection artists are on view Mixing It Up at the Hayward Gallery, including Rachel Jones, Lubiana Himid, Hurvin Anderson, Gabriella Boyd, Peter Doig, Denzil Forrester, Louise Giovanelli, Andrew Pierre Hart, Merlin James, Matthew Krishanu, Oscar Murillo, Caragh Thuring, and Rose Wylie.


Mixing It Up is on view at the Hayward Gallery until 12 December 2021. Find out more about the exhibition here.


Related Artworks

Blessing iii

Gabriella Boyd
Two Figures

Merlin James
The Listening Sweet

Andrew Pierre Hart

The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.